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Checkpoint: FreeNAS Edition

I still need to purchase a storage drive for my new PC — specifically a 500 GB SSD for $140 or so — but I’m effectively done tinkering with it. Focus was shifted to the home server which has been running on a Core 2 Quad system running Windows Server 2012 R2 and FlexRAID. It always felt like a hack job to me.

In order to facilitate Apple Time Machine needs, I installed NAS4Free in Hyper-V. It works but not without toggling the save states in order to get it to boot properly. FlexRAID became a bit of a pain to manage as cleanup tasks were failing to complete requiring me to suspend the Hyper-V VM. There’s also the reality of it being old tech and consuming so much power during idle.

It was time to move on and I was itching to attempt my home server setup.

The Dream

I was hoping to install VMWare ESXi 6 hypervisor with a FreeNAS VM accessing the physical disks and another VM running Windows Server 2012. Ideally, this would be accomplished with Intel’s VT-d Technology but I was hoping VMWare figured out a way to allow access to the physical disks by “passing the entire storage controller“. Turns out that wasn’t the case and I wasn’t able to figure out how to just pass the SATA controller to the VM. I was considering Raw Device Mapping hack but it’s not recommended by the community or FreeNAS themselves.

I had to check it out for myself though and it wasn’t easy. The Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3’s onboard NIC and secondary storage controller were’t recognized by default and required a custom ISO. Once everything was in place, I was able to confirm that my dream was dead.

Plan B

FreeNAS gained the ability to host virtual machines through phpVirtualBox. It’s not a type 1 hypervisor but it’s better than nothing. Like with VMWare ESXi, the plan was to install FreeNAS on a USB stick so I could maximize the storage controllers on my motherboard. Installation was easy but my PC stopped POSTing with the power LED blinking.

That was strange. I’ve never seen this kind of behavior before. Thinking it was a PSU problem, I spent an hour or so swapping power supplies with my old server and rewired everything. Same behavior. Was it memory? I tried removing all but one DIMM. Was it the motherboard or the CPU? Then I started unplugging hard drives and eventually the USB with FreeNAS installed. A successful boot.

There’s an incompatibility between Gigabyte’s EFI and FreeBSD installed on a USB that prevents the motherboard from booting. After a half hour or so of unsuccessful tinkering with GDisk, I installed GParted and simply turned on the boot flag on the second partition. (Pro-tip: GParted doesn’t boot with ATI Mach64 or RAGE 3D cards)

An Impressive Start

FreeNAS is impressive once you read the documentation. It could be more streamlined and user friendly but the bottom line is that FreeNAS works. I’m still tweaking things but being able to manage so much with just a web interface is admirable. I haven’t installed a VirtualBox VM yet but I’m willing to bet it’s easy as pie (after I read some documentation).

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