My FreeNAS Project Part 4: The Install

August 20, 2009

As I mentioned in Part 3, I fried my Compact Flash card as I was making final modifications on the machine build.  That meant I had to reinstall FreeNAS on a new card.  This was an interesting problem to have this early in the project because I learned how to recover from a lost FreeNAS install, which was one of the questions I had that I’d need to answer before I go full-bore production with this NAS.  But before I get to that and other configuration topics, let’s talk a little about the install.

There are really good tutorials on how to install FreeNAS, including the documentation on FreeNAS.org.  I don’t think it’s necessary for me to recreate the wheel here, but I would like to walk through a couple points that I feel need additional commentary.

You probably won’t, but read the docs

I encourage you to read through the documentation on FreeNAS.org.  If you’re like me, you’ll zoom past the requirements and introductions and go straight to the meat of the matter.  Well, by doing so you’ll also bypass some very important information that may save you time, such as the use of the term “LiveCD.”

Aside:  I think the semantics used on the FreeNAS.org download page are a bit misleading.  To me, LiveCD has a different connotation altogether and “install disk” is not one of them. But this LiveCD does indeed contain the installation needed if you are going to install to a hard drive, USB or Compact Flash card.  The documentation explains this.

There are two options to install FreeNAS—LiveCD and IMG.  Do not bother with the IMG file if your NAS machine has a CD drive.  You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache and time.  This is especially true if you’re using a Mac because the IMG file is not recognized by Apple’s Disk Utility application.  I even purchased Toast 10 specifically because it says it can handle IMG files.  It can not handle this one. Installation from the LiveCD is the only supported option.

Verbose is your friend

When you boot from the LiveCD, the first screen you’ll encounter is the boot loader.  You have five seconds to make a choice before the system starts with the default boot option.  Choose the option to boot with verbose logging (option 4 at time of this writing).  This may save you some time, especially if you built your machine from scratch.  The verbose mode will tell you exactly what’s happening as the operating system loads.  This information can help you identify potential problems with your system.  In my case, when I first booted the LiveCD it was stuck on a status and I didn’t understand what it was doing.  I assumed it froze so I kept rebooting.  Turns out it was having an issue “calibrating clocks” and I still don’t know what that means, but at least I knew it was trying to do something and to wait it out.

Secure Your NAS

You can take some very simple steps to secure your new FreeNAS installation.  First, change the admin password.  It defaults to “freenas” so go into System->General and click the Password tab to set a new one.  And when I say change, I mean don’t make it your dog’s name or your first born’s birth date.  Use lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers and at least one punctuation mark.  Try to create a password of at least ten characters.

While you’re in the System->General area, change the port of the WebGUI.  Use HTTPS protocol if you’re going to expose your FreeNAS to the outside world.

Stick your FreeNAS box behind a firewall (or router du jour).  Make sure your router has the latest firmware installed and no ports are forwarding that you don’t know exactly what they are and why they are forwarding.  While you’re at it, turn off UPnP in your router’s configuration.

Be Informed

FreeNAS has very good options to notify you of its health.  It does so using email that you can configure in the System->Advanced menu then on the Email tab.  Again, be secure when possible and use a mail server with SSL authentication.  If your FreeNAS box is configured to reach the internet, you can use any of the free web-based mail hosts to send emails.  With smart phones (like an iPhone), you can get really creative about how your FreeNAS notifies you of events.

Once your email is setup and tested, go to Status->Email Report tell FreeNAS to send you a daily report.  I receive a report each morning at 7am.  I’m mostly interested in the health of the drives, so I use the System Info, System Log and the S.M.A.R.T log (but you have to enable S.M.A.R.T enabled on each drive attached to FreeNAS).

Overall the FreeNAS installation is really simple.  There’s really not much to it.  Next we’ll talk about configuring your array and some other services that I’ve started using.

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