DIY Low Power Low Cost FreeNAS solution built as the ISCSI SAN


Yes low power. And why low power you may ask? Because this NAS was meant to be in my house and the last thing I need is the additional heat and monthly power costs. So I built this system myself keeping low power in deep consideration. In addition, its a low noise system so I don’t have to listen to noisy fans running 24 hours a day such as you would hear in a typical data center.

The NAS was originally meant for my two Vmware ESX 5 hosts to connect to a shared storage via ISCSI so I can do things such as vmotion. But I also use it for other things such as CIFS and FTP. I use it as my main source of backup for all of my personal computers and I am able to achieve near gigabit speeds with CIFS and gigabit speeds using ISCSI. Its actually an amazing system for the low cost. For the quantity of virtual machines that I need to run, the system is sufficient, but as many of you know, I/O is the main factor for virtual machine performance due to the constant disk access.

CIFS performance shown below. This is a local copy of a Windows 7 ISO file to the FreeNas Server. As you see, I am getting 73.6 MegaBytes per second WRITE performance which is ultra fast for CIFS performance. In addition I also get 106 MegaBytes per second READ performance.

FreeNas write performance

Copy file from PC to FreeNas server using CIFS

Some of you may be wondering what parts are used for my setup. Just keep in mind that I needed a system that was low power, low cost and low noise. This system was meant to run a maximum of 8 virtual machines spanned across these two ESX hosts.

Parts Used:

  • Rack: Skeletek C12U Rack Mount Frame with 24″ Base
  • Server Case:AIC RMC-2A-0-2-R No Power Supply 2U Rackmount Chassis (Black) - 17″ deep !
    • Motherboard:ASUS P8B-C/4L
      • I chose this motherboard because I needed additional NICs dedicated for ISCSI and they needed to be PCIe based and INTEL. INTEL NICs are far superior to anything else, especially when they are onboard!
    • CPU: Intel Xeon Quad-Core Processor E3-1230V2 3.3Ghz TDP of 69W
    • Memory: Kingston ValueRAM 8 GB of (2 x 4GB) DDR3 PC3-10600 1333MHZ
    • Power Supply: Athena Power AP-U1ATX50 20+4Pin 500W Single 1U EPS Server Power Supply
      • PSU is a 80 Plus BRONZE
    • Disks:(3) Western Digital WD Green WD20EARX 2TB 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5″
      • These are the disks I used for actual storage in a raidZ. The motherboard supports (6) SATA2 3Gb/s so I have some room for expansion. The difference between 3 and 6 Gb/s is almost nothing so I still went with a 3 Gb/s motherboard.
    • Disks:(2) ADATA S599 AS599S-40GM-C 2.5″ 40GB SATA II Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
      • I used these disks for the FreeNas Logs which improves performance.
  • OS: FreeNas 8.3 booted on simple USB drive.

One of the things to note is that I had to disconnect the blower fan that came with the rackmount case due to the noise it made. It already had two large system fans and the temperature was ok without it.

So there you go. Using the (3) WD disks for storage I am able to use 3.6TB of data. I chopped about 600GB for ISCSI and the rest is used for normal data storage and backups.

One thing I must say is that this server is cheaper than a comparable QNAP rackmount server such as the TS-469U and it runs faster. The only benefit of the QNAP is that its all prebundled together and ready to use so your basically paying extra for the convenience. I have a friend who owns the TS-569 Pro and he gets 50-60 MB read and write performance.

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