Interview: FreeNAS for No-Cost Network Attached Storage

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 29, 2008

Few recent trends in storage have had as much momentum as Network Attached Storage (NAS). A NAS device can make a network more efficient and secure by supplying file-based data storage services to networked devices, or it can be used for applications such as streaming media. FreeNAS is free, lightweight, open source network-attached storage server software, based on FreeBSD. You can find a good tutorial on how to set up a free NAS server with it here. We recently caught up with Olivier Cochard-Labbe, FreeNAS founder, and Volker Theile, project administrator.

OStatic:  Who is your typical user? How do you support your users?

Volker Theile: I think the typical user is the person who simply wants to use the product without deeper knowledge of the OS and the services. In other words, he simply wants to stream music or videos via UPnP or DAAP, or share data on a network via CIFS/SMB. As far as support, it's done via our forums and the knowledge base.

OStatic:  How did you get involved in FreeNAS?

Volker Theile: Two years ago I had a hard disk crash and lost some of the data that had been stored on it--photos and documents. I began to search for a solution to store data more securely. I did not want to buy a commercial NAS.
     I had some hardware components lying around in the cellar, and I searched the web for an free NAS solution. OpenFiler was a little bit too big for what I was looking for, so i came across FreeNAS. It was easy to install and use.

OStatic: How have you monetized your project thus far?

Olivier Cochard-Labbe:  Google Ads provides the main revenues for this project. This generated, in the begining, over 300 Euros per month. I gave all the revenues to the main developer, because I don't want this money to corrupt my relation to FreeNAS by pushing me to add lots of ads on the website, for example. The donations we get are very small, but a lot more valuable to us than the Google ads, because the donations come from happy users who choose to pay.

OStatic: How do you benefit from the particular license you've chosen?

Olivier Cochard-Labbe:  The BSD licence is the most open license from my point of view. I didn't have time to read (and understand)  all the concepts in the GPL, and I needed a simple license. BSD is simple. One benefit to the license is that a company can sell FreeNAS embedded in their servers without any problem.

OStatic: What does the open source movement need?

Olivier Cochard-Labbe:  It needs contributors and time. Regarding contributors, it's very easy to contribute (sending a patch, giving advice, providing documentation), but very few people do it. When I chose to create FreeNAS, I was not a developer. I discovered PHP and FreeBSD by looking in the m0n0wall code (it was the model that was the closest to my needs). And in only one week, I created the first alpha release of FreeNAS.

Regarding time, one of the best things for open source would be for our employers to give us time to work on our open source projects. I've had to stop my contribution to FreeNAS because I have no more free time for it (but I have lots of ideas for improving it).