An in-depth look at the four best free NAS software solutions for home and business users to keep your data from loss.
Table of Contents
- What is NAS
- 1. TrueNAS SCALE: Overall Best NAS
- 2. TrueNAS CORE: Best Enterprise-Grade NAS Software
- 3. OpenMediaVault: Best NAS for Home Users
- 4. Rockstor: Linux + Btrfs File System
Nowadays, NAS is used by everyday families who want to share photos and enjoy access to a digital library of entertainment, no matter where they’re at.
So whether you’re looking to build your private network, gather movies, music, and TV shows, or take data backup to the next level, NAS might be what you’re looking for.
What is NAS
NAS (Network Attached Storage) is a term used to refer to storage devices that connect to a network and provide file access services to computer systems.
The simplest way to think of NAS is as a specialized file server. It allows data storage and retrieval from a central location for authorized network users and various clients.
In other words, NAS is similar to having your private cloud in a home or an office. However, it is faster, less expensive, and offers all of the benefits of a public cloud on-premises, giving you complete control.
NAS software solutions come in all sorts of flavors. Finding the right one for your needs is the real challenge. Many NAS servers and options are available today, but how to find the best NAS software for your home or business needs?
With that being said, let’s look at the four best, in our opinion, free NAS software solutions.
1. TrueNAS SCALE: Overall Best NAS
TrueNAS SCALE is built on the same foundational software and middleware as TrueNAS CORE, which is probably the best known, the world’s most widely deployed, and powerful free and open-source storage software.
It is Debian-based as opposed to the original, which ran on FreeBSD. That dramatically increases the available tools for users who want better control and additional features over their networked storage devices.
In other words, TrueNAS SCALE supports existing TrueNAS CORE features plus new Linux-specific capabilities, including Docker containers, Kubernetes, KVM, and more.
At the heart of TrueNAS SCALE is OpenZFS which combines the features of a file system and a volume manager. This means that ZFS can create a file system that spans a series of drives or pools, unlike other file systems.
It is a scalable file system and includes extensive protection against data corruption, support for high storage capacities, efficient data compression, integration of the concepts of filesystem and volume management, snapshots and copy-on-write clones, continuous integrity checking and automatic repair, RAID-Z, native NFSv4 ACLs, and can be very precisely configured.
Of course, TrueNAS SCALE provides all possible network file-sharing protocols like SMB, NFS, Gluster, iSCSI Block Storage, S3 Object API integration, etc. However, on top of that, it goes far beyond “just a storage solution.”
The point is that TrueNAS SCALE provides simple access to the well-established Linux container ecosystem and makes application deployment easy.
With support for KVM virtual machines, Kubernetes, and Docker containers, it is easy to customize and add countless applications to suit various needs.
So who should use it? Well, it is primarily for home usage, smaller businesses, and tech labs. But, of course, there’s no reason why users shouldn’t also use TrueNAS SCALE for large-scale corporate solutions, where it excels.
At the moment, we believe this is the best free NAS solution available, with features considerably exceeding those of its paid competitors.
TrueNAS SCALE Pros and Cons
- Gorgeous user interface
- OpenZFS support
- Clustering capabilities
- KVM virtual machines, Kubernetes, and Docker containers support
- Support for countless additional apps is available via Docker containers
- Built-in Dynamic DNS, FTP, LLDP, VPN, Rsync, SSH, TFTP, UPS, and WebDAV functionality
- Because TrueNAS SCALE wants loads of RAM, it is not the best choice for old, low-spec hardware
The hardware that will run TrueNAS SCALE has the following minimum system requirements:
- Dual-Core 64-bit CPU
- 8 GB RAM (16 GB Recommended)
- 16 GB SSD Boot Device
- 2 Identically Sized Devices
- Network Port
- Hardware RAID Not Required
TrueNAS SCALE is entirely free to download and use. So, what are you waiting for? Join the “Storage Freedom” movement and enjoy the benefits of open-source economics.
2. TrueNAS CORE: Best Enterprise-Grade NAS Software
TrueNAS CORE (known as FreeNAS) is a FreeBSD-based operating system that provides free NAS services. It is a community-supported, open-source branch of the TrueNAS project, sponsored by iXsystems.
TrueNAS CORE is probably the best-known NAS software out there. It’s been in development since 2005 and has over 10 million downloads. However, it is more focused on power users, so this may not be recommended for people making a NAS server for the first time.
The OpenZFS file system is the heart of TrueNAS CORE. It is an enterprise-ready open-source file system, RAID controller, and volume manager with unprecedented flexibility and an uncompromising commitment to data integrity.
It eliminates most, if not all, of the shortcomings found in legacy file systems and hardware RAID devices. Once you go to OpenZFS, you will never want to go back.
RAID-Z, the software RAID part of OpenZFS, offers single parity redundancy equivalent to RAID 5. The additional levels RAID-Z2 and RAID-Z3 offer double and triple parity protection, respectively.
So if you want to eliminate almost entirely any possibility of data loss and stability is the name of the game, OpenZFS is what you’re looking for.
TrueNAS CORE has some of the best features that you can find in NAS software, such as data snapshots, a self-repair file system, encryption of their data volumes, and so on.
In addition, almost every file sharing is supported via TrueNAS CORE, which includes significant file systems like SMB/CIFS (Windows file shares), NFS (Linux/UNIX files), and AFP (Apple file shares), FTP, iSCSI, and WebDAV.
It also supports integration with cloud storage providers like Amazon S3 and Google Cloud out of the box.
If TrueNAS CORE has one goal, it simplifies complex administrative tasks for users. The web-based management interface allows you to handle any component of the system.
As a result, administrative operations ranging from storage configuration to sharing and user management to software updating may be completed confidently without skipping a vital step or encountering a silent failure.
Even though storage is its primary feature, there is much more that makes this product shine. TrueNAS CORE supports plugins to extend its functionality, such as Plex Media Server, Nextcloud, BitTorrent, OpenVPN, MadSonic, GitLab, Jenkins, etc.
This means that it is capable of more than just storage. For example, TrueNAS CORE can be used as part of your home entertainment setup, serving your media to your Home Theater PC, PSP, iPod, or other network devices.
TrueNAS CORE is recommended if you make an enterprise-grade server for your home, office, or large business where data is stored centrally and shared. In addition, TrueNAS CORE is the best choice when looking to find a reasonable storage network.
On the other hand, TrueNAS CORE is not perfect for low-RAM users. Instead, it is a highly advanced level and feature-rich NAS software solution that recommends at least 8GB of RAM, a multi-core processor, and a reliable storage drive to keep your data safe.
TrueNAS CORE Pros and Cons
- OpenZFS support
- Encryption support
- It can be extended with its plugin and jail systems
- Gorgeous user interface
- Very popular with a large following and frequent updates
- Incredible enterprise storage features
- Many features are overkill for home users, especially those looking to build something simple.
- It is not the greatest choice for old, low-spec hardware. It wants loads of RAM, particularly if you plan to use OpenZFS. This is more an OpenZFS thing than a FreeNAS thing, though.
One thing we should notice before installing TrueNAS CORE on some old specs systems is that it needs a good amount of RAM (you need a minimum of 8GB RAM) to work, especially when you are planning to install an OpenZFS file system.
In addition, for every terabyte of storage, TrueNAS CORE requires 1 GB of RAM. Because of this, you will need newer hardware to make a server.
You can install TrueNAS CORE by downloading an ISO image which you then burn to a USB drive, stick it in the PC/server, and boot.
3. OpenMediaVault: Best NAS for Home Users
OpenMediaVault (OMV) is a Debian-based Linux distribution for NAS software and is best known for home users and small businesses. It supports all major protocols such as SSH, (S)FTP, SMB, CIFS, and RSync and offers a straightforward way to set up NAS servers for home users.
In addition, the server is modular and can be extended with various official and third-party plugins. For example, you can turn your NAS into a torrent client to download data directly into the NAS storage.
You can also use it to stream stored music and videos across the network via the Plex Media Server plugin.
OpenMediaVault is straightforward to roll out and simple to manage, thanks to its well-designed web-based user interface, making it suitable for non-technical users. The user interface can further be enhanced by using its plugin directories.
OpenMediaVault supports all the popular deployment mechanisms, including several levels of software RAID, each of which necessitates a different number of disks.
The project shares some features with TrueNAS CORE, like storage monitoring, file sharing, and disk management, and supports multiple file systems like ext4, Btrfs, JFS, and XFS.
However, it doesn’t have some more advanced features than TrueNAS CORE has, like hot-swapping or the OpenZFS file system.
One of OpenMediaVault’s best NAS features compared to TrueNAS CORE is its low system requirements. You can run OMV on low-powered devices like the Raspberry Pi.
The project is complemented by an extensive support infrastructure with plenty of documentation for first-time handhold users.
OpenMediaVault is a capable and one of the best NAS software deployment distro right out of the box. However, it can be more advanced with many features that integrate plugins into the base system and even third-party plugins using the OMV-Extras repository.
OpenMediaVault Pros and Cons
- Based on Debian, thus easy maintenance of updates using the apt command
- Easy to install
- A simple and easy-to-use web-based management interface
- Supports multiple filesystems
- Multi services
- Lots of plugins
- Dated interface
- File-sharing options are limited
OpenMediaVault installable media is available for 64-bit machines and even supports some ARM architectures, including the one used by the Raspberry Pi.
Users can also use the ISO image to create a USB stick in addition to hard drives and SSDs, which is especially useful if you plan to use a single-board computer like the Raspberry Pi.
4. Rockstor: Linux + Btrfs File System
Rockstor is a free NAS software management system and probably the best alternative to TrueNAS CORE. It is a Linux-based NAS server distro based on a rock-solid openSUSE Leap and focuses solely on the Btrfs file system.
The previous Rockstor releases were based on CentOS; however, CentOS development considerations have been deprecated.
In addition to standard NAS features like file sharing via NFS, Samba, SFTP, and AFP, advanced features such as online volume management, CoW Snapshots, asynchronous replication, compression, and Bitrot protection are also supported.
The most significant difference between TrueNAS CORE and Rockstor is it uses the Btrfs file system, which is very similar to ZFS used by TrueNAS CORE. Btrfs’ big draw is its Copy-on-Write (CoW) nature of the filesystem.
Btrfs is the new player among file systems. It knew how to capture many looks in the community because it competes directly with the advanced functions of ZFS.
Rockstor lets you arrange the available space into different RAID configurations and control how you want to store your data. You can also resize a pool by adding or removing disks and changing its RAID profile without losing your data and disrupting access.
Furthermore, Rockstor supports two update channels. First, there’s the freely available Testing Updates channel that gets updates that haven’t been thoroughly tested.
Conversely, the Stable Updates channel updates have been tested for use in a production environment but are only available at a yearly subscription fee of £20.
One of the best things that Rocktor’s NAS software provides to its users is its plugin system, which has various plugins, more well-known by the name Rock-ons. The plugins are available as containers, which Docker virtualizes on the host system.
These Rock-ons, combined with advanced NAS features, turn Rockstor into a private cloud storage solution accessible from anywhere, giving users complete control of cost, ownership, privacy, and data security.
If you need a reliable NAS server with no frills, the Rockstor NAS Server is the way to go.
Rockstor Pros and Cons
- It’s a Linux OS that uses the Btrfs file system, which like BSD’s ZFS, includes splendid data integrity and security features like snapshots, pools, checksums, encryption, etc.
- More reasonable hardware requirements than TrueNAS CORE, especially regarding RAM.
- Intuitive interface
- Multiple protocols
- Some components are paid for
- Btrfs is still considered experimental by some
There is nothing about Rockstor that requires special hardware. You can check the minimum system requirements in the official project documentation.
You can download the Rockstor ISO file from Sourceforge. The ISO image can directly install Rockstor into a virtual machine like VMWare or Virtualbox.
In addition, to install the software on real hardware, you need a boot media like a bootable USB stick. Then, burn the downloaded ISO image onto a USB drive.
These NAS solutions have added choices for businesses, small offices, and home users.
Considering the significance of data in this day and age, you would be wise to take one of these solutions to manage your NAS efficiently.
- TrueNAS SCALE: Best in the class free NAS distro offering unlimited possibilities.
- TrueNAS CORE: Superb enterprise-grade NAS distro. Suitable for experienced Linux admins and power users with BSD knowledge, lots of storage, and powerful hardware.
- OpenMediaVault: Best NAS software for home users and small businesses, especially with low-powered equipment. If you don’t need enterprise features like ZFS, OpenMediaVault is the way to go.
- Rockstor: The best of both worlds – Linux OS + the strength of the Btrfs file system. Rockstor is an excellent NAS software solution for businesses and home users alike.
Whether you choose TrueNAS SCALE, TrueNAS CORE, OpenMediaVault, or Rockstor, you’ll have software in active development, well-supported, and plenty of available features.
In addition, when these storage solutions are implemented and maintained correctly, they provide the required safety to data.
I’ve been using XigmaNAS for years now. It’s on the same level as TrueNAS. It’s built on FreeBSD, stable and extensible. It’s updated regularly and has always been free.
It’s worth noting OpenMediaVault 6 still doesn’t support encrytion – several OMV 5 plug-ins are not yet ported. …
Great writeup, thanks Bobby!