2014/03/17

NAS4Free: the heir of FreeNAS 0.7, an Open Source Network Disk

NAS4Free version 9.2.1 is a free distribution of FreeBSD 9 that has been optimized to provide a service of Network Attached Storage (NAS) or external network drive. It is a software distribution that can be installed on your obsolete computers and turns them into storage disks with redundancy and security features often available only on paid and high-end products!
NAS4Free logo

I have already reviewed a previous version of FreeNAS (exactly the versions 0.7.x and previous in FreeNAS - How to create a network drive free), but since then there has been a fork of the project by the new partner / sponsor iXsystems, which has brought several changes, so now there are two types of products: 

a) FreeNAS 9.1.1 - which is a new project, always open source, completely renovated and improved both in graphic and in functionality and that is managed by iXsystems which bought the brand FreeNAS in 2011. 

b) NAS4Free 9.2.1 - the direct heir of the old FreeNAS version 0.7, which has been renamed and is developed and maintained by a team of volunteers and also Open Source.

NAS4Free volume manager


NAS4Free 9.2.1 supports data sharing systems: Windows, Apple, and UNIX / LINUX

Hard disks and volumes can be managed with:
  • ZFS v.28 (RAIDZ, RAIDZ2, RAIDZ3), 
  • Software RAID (0,1,5) or mix (1+0,1+1, ecc…), 
  • disk encryption (with adapter hardware acceleration if available),
  • Filesystem ZFS v.28, UFS, Ext2/3, FAT, NTFS, 
  • Partition (MBR andGPT)
  • iSCSI (initiator), 


Supports the following network protocols:
  • SMB/CIFS (samba3, samba2, samba) 4.1.5, 
  • AFP (Netatalk), 
  • NFS, 
  • FTP (ProFTPD), 
  • TFTP (tftp-hpa), 
  • RSYNC (client / server), 
  • Unison, 
  • SCP (SSH)
  • iSCSI (target), 


The Extra Services available are:
  • UPnP server (FUPPES), 
  • BitTorent client (transmission)
  • iTunes/DAAP server (Firefly),
  • Webserver (Lighttpd),
  • Network Bandwidth measure (IPERF),


About Networking:
  • 802.1q vlan tagging,
  • Wireless,
  • link aggregation,
  • Wake On Lan,
  • Bridge
  • CARP (Common Address Redundancy Protocol)
  • HAST (Highly Available Storage)


About monitoring::
  • S.M.A.R.T (smartmontools)
  •  E-mail notification
  • SNMPSyslog
  • UPS (NUT) 

Everything is configurable through its web interface.

NAS4Free 9.2.1 can be installed on Compact Flash memory / USB / SSD and HDD, or it can be started on LIVE CD and can use a small USB key to store the configuration data. Also exists in two versions: 
  • 32bit, with which you will be able to use the hardware with MAX 4 GB of RAM
  • 64bit, with which you can install and use more than 4GB of RAM

Despite having improved compatibility with newer hardware (thanks to an upgrade of the operating system) remains compatible hardware "obsolete" and therefore suitable for use on a PC also "very old" for their re-use. Here is the list of compatible hardware supported
The user interface (GUI) has undergone a makeover but remains very similar to the previous version. 
Among the goodies available, there is also the possibility of installing an LCD panel that displays in real time the most important information, and that is managed through the service LCDproc.

NAS4Free 9.2.1 adds support for SMB3, the ability for FreeNAS to be a Windows Domain Controller, and advanced features like server-side copy support in Windows 2012 and later.

[Source:] NAS4Free

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE :
I recently upgraded an older PC (already used as FreeNAS ) and consists of an Intel Pentium III with about 704 MB of RAM, reformatting and passing from the old to the new FreeNAS 0.69 NAS4Free 9.1. Because I thought that the hardware of this particular PC was NOT suitable for use as Zettabyte File System ( ZFS), due to the limited RAM and processor 32-bit inappropriate, I decided to fall back on a simple RAID 1 volume mounted on two SATA disks and shared with the service through Windows CIFS / Samba. Everything works great !
Also on this NAS4Free also use the service RSYNC client to synchronize the contents of a folder on disk to another PC version of FreeNAS 0.69 ( so for now not yet updated ) .

For some years now I'm running some old converted PC , here's the list :
n.2 - FreeNAS 0.69.2 PC - Intel Pentium 3
n.1 - FreeNAS 0.7.2 PC - Intel Pentium 3
n.1 - NAS4Free 9.1 PC - Intel Pentium 3 (*** Updated ***)
n.1 - FreeNAS 8.3.1 PC - Intel Pentium 4 (*** new project created by the fork ! ***)
Until now ... I was very pleased with their behavior !

One of the features I like the most in these products ( FreeNAS and NAS4Free ) is the ability to upgrade the firmware ( or the whole operating system software ) without having to reformat the whole thing!
Another feature important to me , is the presence of both an editor of an internal file manager, which eventually delete or modify files and folders that you do not have permissions to the share level .
NAS4Free has developed very good diagnostic functions and LOG disks , and the system.

Now some advice about the options in the BIOS of the PC:
If you can enable BIOS to automatically start the PC every day at a set time , so if you miss the current PC would restart by itself at the latest the next day!
Select the option that indicates hardware failures other than the keyboard , or "ALL, but keyboard" , so you can run the PC without having to connect a keyboard .
Disable the cache VIDEO or otherwise any kind of cache memory that subtracts the main RAM , since in any case there would benefit significantly to the functioning of the operating system.
Update of 03/09/2013 : Occasionally you have to upgrade the operating system of yours NAS devices in order to fix bugs and possibly take advantage of the new features implemented. So I proceeded to upgrade to one of the 5 NAS systems that use. In particular, I updated the software on the NAS already mounted NAS4Free 9.1.0.1 (revision 531) NAS4Free to version 9.1.0.1 (revision 847) using the function updates the firmware. I did not expect any particular problems in upgradin , in fact everything went well , very fast!

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2013/10/28

4 different ways to network and share a printer or photocopier

At work or at home it could be useful to share one printer with several devices (tablet, notebook, smartphone, PC) both to save money and to gain more efficiency.
To connect a printer to the local network, in order to print with the LAN (Local Area Network) connected PCs, there are several options, depending both on the printer’s characteristics or on the printer (or all-in-one device) itself, and on the user’s needs.
First of all you have to verify the printer’s characteristics, if it has already an internal network interface controller (Ethernet or Wi-Fi) and if it is predisposed for a LAN connection, or if it has just a USB port  (or an old parallel port). 
Then you have to consider if it is destined to a domestic use (few users that use it occasionally) or to professional purposes (many users that need it always on and ready  to use).


1) If the printer has already a built-in ethernet network controller
usually  you should just connect it to the network switch or to the router and assign it a free static IP address (such as 192.168.x.y) or you could even use the dynamic IP configuration (DHCP) service, which dynamically and automatically assigns an available address. Generally, every kind of router (included the ADSL one) can give a DHCP service or at least it has to be enabled to function as SERVER DHCP, whereas the printer becomes a CLIENT DHCP.
Then you should install the print driver related to your printer model on each PC of the network
In case of  Wi-Fi connection you should follow the same advices.

2) If you’re not so lucky and you have to use a USB or Parallel connection then you should directly connect the printer to a  PC of the network (e.g. the network "SERVER") installing the printer driver on it. Then you should share it with all the other PCs and install the driver on them. Here, the printer is available through the SERVER, thus this computer must always be on and working in order to allow the users to print!

Share files and printers on Windows 7
Click the Start button, then Control Panel and open Advanced connection settings. Type network in the search box , click on Network and sharing center  then select  Change advanced connection settings in the left box.
Click the down arrow button to expand the current section.
If printer sharing is off, turn on printer sharing  and click Save changes.

Then you have to share the printer
Clic Start and select Printers and devices. Right-click the printer you want to share and click Printer properties.
Click the Share tab and select the control box Share the printer.

3) If you don’t want to set apart  a PC for the printer or to leave always the sharing PC on, you can buy  a print / printer server, in other words a usually small and low energy consuming device, which incorporates an internal  network interface card and one or more USB/parallel ports. By this device you can connect one or more printers to its ports and connect it/them to every PC of the network by the LAN. Of course it has to be configured by following the advices by the device’s manufacturer.

4) If you have an ”evolved” ADSL router with a USB port and you can activate it as "printer server" then you can connect the printer to the ADSL router and share it with the whole LAN. Even in this case you don’t need to set a PC apart, it is sufficient to leave the ADSL router on and connected to the LAN switch. For a domestic use, if the ADSL router has more than one Ethernet port, it could also substitute the network switch; it could be even “underused” as printer server and switch (avoiding to use it as a system to access to the internet by ADSL).
For instance, in the ADSL router  "ALICE GATE 2 PLUS WIFI" or "ALICE GATE VOIP 2 PLUS WIFI" you need to access to the router IP address (the default one is 192.168.1.1) by web browser, type the password (default "admin"), move to the section relative to " USB Port ", activate "USB Printer server" and assign a name to the device. You have to connect the printer to the master USB port of the router. Finally,  you need to add a new device "printer" specifying the pathway, the name of the router (\\alice gate) or the IP address, and the device name on every PC Windows that  is to be connected to the printer. Finally, you have to choose and install the correct driver relative to the printer model used.


PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:
If you use either Windows or LINUX, the sharing of peripheral devices is within everyone’s reach; you have just to remember that the sharing PC (that is physically connected to the printer) may suffer the extra-work due to print spooling
On the other hand, true "print servers" (e.g. D-LINK DP-300U with 2 parallel ports and 1 USB) may be very useful in a company, where they need to be H24 available. 
Finally, I would underline that ADSL routers as printer servers  may result in higher efficiency, compatibility and performances if compared to other solutions.
In detail, if you want to share an all-in-one photocopier equipped with one USB only, (e.g.: KONICA Minolta Bizhub 163) you can use an  ADSL ALICE GATE VOIP PLUS WIFI router (Pirelli) configured as printer server, with the further advantage of allowing not only LAN but also WIFI sharing!!! 
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2013/10/04

HDD LLF: how to low level format the Hard Disk

HDD Low Level Format is a free software tool ( for personal / home use only ) that allows the Low-Level Format (LLF) of hard disks (and mass storage devices in general).
What is LLF
"Typically this involved subdividing each track on the disk into one or more blocks which would contain the user data and associated control information. Different computers used different block sizes and IBM notably used variable block sizes but the popularity of the IBM PC caused the industry to adopt a standard of 512 user data bytes per block by the middle 1980s. " Source Wikipedia English

HDD- LLF has the following characteristics :
  • Supported interfaces: S-ATA (SATA), IDE (E-IDE), SCSI, SAS, USB, FIREWIRE.
  • Big drives (LBA-48) are supported.
  • Supported Manufacturers: Maxtor, Hitachi, Seagate, Samsung, Toshiba, Fujitsu, IBM, Quantum, Western Digital, and almost any other not listed here.
  • The program also supports low-level formatting of FLASH cards (SD, MMC, MemoryStick and CompactFlash) using a card-reader.


HDD- LLF can also work with external drives connected via USB, and Firewire as well as with supports SD , MMC, MemoryStick and CompactFlash .
There is also an option to quickly delete the partitions and the sector MBR (Master Boot Record) of HDDs .
The utility is available in two versions: can be installed on Windows or directly executed ( portable).

WARNING: After running this low level format tool, the whole disk surface will be erased.
Data restoration is impossible after using this utility!


PERSONAL EXPERIENCE :
I used HDD- LLF for low-level format an external drive connected with USB no longer wanted to learn to operate and above who do not " want to be" formatted by Windows. With both Windows XP and Seven, the format utility (which try to format only high-level) returned an error message and did not proceed . With HDD- LLF I managed to break the deadlock and then, through the utility of Windows XP " DISK MANAGEMENT " , I was able to format ( high-level) disk with the NTFS file system and now it works !
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