We’ve passed the point-of-no-return in the digital era, and more of our lives are stored in digital media and “cloud storage” than aren’t, it seems like. When most people are looking for a way to keep all of their media from feeling artificial, fleeting, or unsafe, they turn to software like FreeNAS (or one of its several alternatives) in order to see that done. Truly, that’s a smart move, and if more people paid attention to their personal information, files, and stored data, the world would probably be a safer, happier place with regard to digital space. Some people don’t realize the importance of this, however, and that’s going to be Appamatix’s mission today–we’ll not only hook you up with a good FreeNAS alternative, we’ll tell you why it’s so important to safeguard all of your computing information and saved files in the first place.
The beauty of FreeNAS, for most people, is the fact that it works across a myriad of hardware platforms, regardless of the operating system that you have installed. This makes it great for people who constantly switch between multiple operating systems, and also for Apple, Mac, and Linux users alike (yes, they are still Linux users out there. I know several!) However, like most types of software that don’t exist alone in a vacuum (read: all of them) there are competing entities that offer similar services, fine-tuned in different ways for users with different needs.
While FreeNAS may not be the best choice for every user out there, I’m willing to bet that one of the software options similar to it will fit the bill nicely. The thing that’s hardest to beat is FreeNAS’s accessibility–it does most of the server setup work for you, which is convenient in that you don’t have to learn a great deal about how it works before it’s able to start safeguarding your files.
However, that learning can be invaluable, and FreeNAS isn’t particularly hard to set up or run once you get the hang of it. Similar server operating systems will work in the same general manny. It utilizes unused storage drives (hard-disk drives, most of the time) in correlation with a simple boot program saved onto some form of portable media, usually a USB thumb-drive or optical media, like a DVD drive. Because of the somewhat demanding needs put forth by a legitimate storage server that’s going to be shared across a network, many users opt to use an older desktop computer to see it done. Several well-regarded publications have covered FreeNAS installation and personal server setup, and while they make for interesting reading, they all point you towards FreeNAS. Today, we’re looking in a different direction.
To the best of our ability, we’ll keep in mind any hardware and software requirements put forward by any these FreeNAS alternatives. For all of these solutions, you’re going to need separate storage drives than are available on your primary computer. Since server software requires its own, dedicated operating system, you’re probably going to want to set up a separate machine entirely, or if expenses allow it, purchase a server storage tower that you can simply fit storage drives into. You’ll know what you’re getting into should you choose one of them for your own server needs. Price will also be included in our summaries because tech and budgeting are always walking hand-in-hand.
This is a particularly popular alternative to FreeNAS because it is, quite aptly, free. It’s an open source project that’s kept relevant and up-to-date, both in terms of the server operating system itself and all of the documentation supporting it. I’m a big fan of FreeBSD, and actually prefer it to FreeNAS, as far as personal server design goes.
If you’re a newbie to the entire process, there’s hardly a better place to begin. Much of the orientation literature associated with FreeBSD is written for people that don’t have a firm grasp on the technology and programming that personal servers often utilized–in this case, Unix. An entire section of the FreeBSD website is dedicated to learning everything you need to know to feel confident in setting up a server through FreeBSD.
The setup process and hardware demands are very similar to what you’ll find in FreeNAS, but the overall experience is much more approachable, and it’s clear that the community responsible for driving FreeBSD forward care quite a lot about onboarding new users that haven’t yet learned the ropes of Unix, server setup, or the design that they’re built upon. Even if you’re not interested in setting up your own personal server, the resources available here are invaluable.
When you need a storage solution that takes the form of something as strong as a personal server, you want it to be easy to manage. OpenMediaVault provides that easy management in the form of web-based administration tools that will have you constantly connected to the server you’ve set up, with very little troubleshooting required.
That toolkit takes the form of analytics and diagnostics that will always keep you in the know about what’s happening on your custom server, and while the operating system differs slightly from what FreeBSD and FreeNAS are offering (it uses Linux rather than Unix), the overall setup process is very similar, and it takes advantage of similar hardware.
OpenMediaVault is particularly suited for home, home office, and small business needs since it provides extensive coverage over a limited storage design. Enterprising solutions might be a better choice if you’re looking for a storage network for a larger business, but this will take care of your personal needs in a pinch. It’s not quite as user-friendly as FreeBSD, and will require some prior knowledge of network attached storage (NAS) procedure before getting started with it.
While NAS4Free is built on the FreeBSD software solution, it differentiates itself enough to have a place on this list. Like its progenitor, it’s open source, which means that it’s a relatively cost-free solution apart from the hardware that your personal server will be set up on.
Like many successful open-source software platforms, NAS4Free sees more regular updates and attention than NAS solutions that you’d pay a licensing or rental fee for. This is the sort of reassurance that helps to balance out the learning you’ll have to go through as a user if you want to use NAS4Free. Like other FreeNAS alternatives on this list, this is far from a point-and-click solution that will have your server up and running in seconds, and it won’t take care of the setup process for you.
There is, however, a great deal of documentation aimed towards new users. Once you do have NAS4Free set up, the administrative tools at your disposal are more in line with the offerings from OpenMediaVault, which means that you’ll have swift, fast access to any alteration, updating, or changes you wish to make on your server.
The last alternative on this list is a bit…odd. It differs quite a bit from FreeNAS in that it’s usually an enterprising solution that can cost thousands of dollars, but thankfully, since neither of those things is of interest to us, an OEM only license for Windows Server is absolutely free. That limited availability alone might otherwise disqualify it from our list of recommendations, but it actually sees very widespread use, such that you should consider it if you’re setting up your own server system.
Officially titled Windows Server 2012 R2 (based on its most recent iteration), it’s an exceptionally strong server solution that has more drive capacity than most individual users will ever need. On top of that, learning the ropes with Windows Server 2012 R2 will prepare you for the impending release of Windows Server 2016, which is currently available in a “preview mode,” indicating that it’s getting closer and closer to final release.
The aptitude of Windows Server for business environments shows in its scalability, and if you’re in the habit of managing more than one server at once (hey, I know that’s some of you), then you’ll be pleased to know that you can do that from one, single administrative control panel. Manipulating and controlling multiple servers at once isn’t as functionally feasible on other platforms, which gives Microsoft Server a definite edge.
This list only scratches the surface of the many personal server solutions available online, and this isn’t even a comprehensive list of all the free options available to you. However, for your time and money (and time is money) these are among the best FreeNAS alternatives that you’re going to find. They’re all free to download and use, leaving the only cost for setting up your own server to be the price of the hardware that you’re using. If you’re one of those that has an older, unused PC sitting around, then you can reduce that startup expense to “zero” as well!
Further documentation is available for each of these server solutions in the links that we’ve provided, but if you need more specific help or direction, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! Additionally, if you found our guide helpful, share it on Facebook and Twitter. While many users are going to keep relying upon FreeNAS for the foreseeable future (it’s a good platform!), these like-designed alternatives are each quite popular as well.