Network-attached storage (NAS) solutions have long been a valuable way for networks to store, organize, and migrate data securely. Luckily, there are plenty of free and open source solutions to consider.
While enterprise-grade NAS solutions often provide clients with the hardware and software needed to deploy network-attached storage, open source offerings allow anyone with the appropriate hardware to download, install, and configure NAS software.
Long after license or support expires, businesses can upgrade existing storage devices at little to no additional cost through one of several available NAS applications.This article looks at the best free and open source NAS solutions, their features, pros, and cons.
Comparing Free and Open Source NAS Solutions
|Solution||File Sharing||Monitoring||Backups||CIFS/SMB||NFS||S3||SAN||iSCSI||Disk Pooling|
Best Free and Open Source NAS Solutions
The Amahi Home Server is an open source Linux distro based on Fedora and a major contender among top free NAS solutions. Also dubbed the “Home Digital Assistant,” Amahi’s software includes file management, backups, internet access, and integrations for third-party applications.
The Amahi HDA’s modular application architecture lets users quickly port and install applications for media, business, education, and gaming use cases. Interested users can download and install Amahi with a Linux DVD and personal computer, which takes as little as 15 minutes.
- Manage files across devices within a network, including access and edit rights
- Built-in and configured OpenVPN server with one-click install for IPsec VPN
- Pool disk space across multiple drives
- Integration with Microsoft Outlook and iCal
- Backup options for full-disk network, periodic Windows, or macOS via Time Machine
Amahi Pros and Cons
- Access to plenty of apps
- Fit for beginners and experienced users
- Dedicated team and active community
- Lacking consistent updates and protocol support
- The interface could use an update
- Apps often require additional configuration
Enterprise Storage OS
The Enterprise Storage OS is powerful, free software for administrators needing to manage block-level storage volumes. Based on the SCSI subsystem for Linux (SCST), ESOS is an open source storage server ideal for VMware ESXi, Linux disks, Windows NTFS volumes, and VMFS datastores.
With further development, ESOS bolsters its high availability storage clusters for larger workloads. Users can boot ESOS from a USB flash drive through a Linux host and server, including all binaries, files, and directories. In case of USB failure, administrators can easily copy the configuration and boot the new drive without data loss.
- Support for RAID controllers and targets including Fibre, iSCSI, SRP, and FCoE
- Inline data deduplication, encryption, and compression with accessible tools
- Components for clustering, high availability, and redundancy
- Automatic migration and placement of data chunks for tiered storage devices
- Text-based user interface (TUI) for simple management and storage provisioning
ESOS Pros and Cons
- Very active community and forums
- Optimized for SCST and virtualization
- Regular updates and releases
- Lacks cloud storage capabilities
- No commercial support is available
- Requires use of a USB flash drive
Openfiler is a top consideration for open source NAS software with features to deploy an IP storage gateway, NAS, or SAN appliances. Using an existing virtual machine or x86-64 server, Openfiler allows users to quickly deploy a network storage appliance with a web console for management.
Fit for Windows, Linux, and Unix clients, Openfiler offers fibre channel and iSCSI target capabilities to integrate virtualized environments like VMware and XenServer. Administrators also have access to RAID software support, scheduled point-in-time snapshots, and volume usage reporting.
- Per-volume space and file quota management for groups, users, and guests
- Options for synchronous or asynchronous volume migration and replication
- Account management through Active Directory, LDAP, NIS, or NT4 domain controller
- Block storage virtualization, including support for iSCSI and Fibre channel targets
- Protocol support for Linux, FTP, CIFS/ SMB for Windows, and NFSv3 for Unix clients
Openfiler Pros and Cons
- Ease of deployment and reliability
- Strong compatibility and support for protocols
- Commercial integration and SLA support are available
- Lacks consistent updates
- Slow to load at times and has an older interface
- No support for RAID-Z or ZFS
Read more: Top Server Backup Software & Solutions
OpenMediaVault is a leading choice for free NAS solutions based on the Debian Linux distro. The dedicated NAS software uses a modular application architecture, giving users the flexibility to add and provision plugins. For networking, OpenMediaVault offers link aggregation, wake on LAN, and support for the most recent internet protocol, IPv6.
OMV is ideal for small office and home office use cases and includes multi-language support and user management. Administrators can easily manage plugs from the web-based console and schedule jobs, users, and updates through Debian package management.
- Data management via access control list (ACL), quotas, RAID, and GPT partitions
- Options for monitoring include system state, SMART, SNMP, and email notifications
- Schedule jobs, manage users and update system through web GUI
- Plugins for UPS, SNMP, antivirus, USB backup, OneDrive, Amazon S3, and more
- Protocol support for SSH, FTP, NFS (v3/v4), SMB/CIFS, and RSync
OpenMediaVault Pros and Cons
- Easy to install and manage from GUI
- Access to plenty of plugins
- Support for hardware and RAID
- Steep learning curve for beginning users
- Limited file sharing options
- Interface is in need of an update and sometimes buggy
PetaSAN is scalable storage software incorporating cloud computing to offer users the same elasticity expected from SaaS applications. While not explicitly NAS software, PetaSAN still competes with the best on this list.
The free storage solution contains two core open source components, the Ceph storage engine, the Consul service mesh platform, and gateways for the gamut of industry protocols.
Users who need additional support have access to an active community forum, as well as commercial support from the dedicated PetaSAN business unit. Ideal for high concurrency I/O processes, PetaSAN can manage large capacity backups, big data analytics, and deployments for Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware vSphere.
- Ceph storage engine for reliable, scalable, and cloud storage capabilities
- Consul identity-based networking for secure management of cloud applications
- Add nodes without disruption to scale storage cluster capacity
- Self-healing, fault-tolerant, and self-adapting system
- Protocol support for native Ceph storage, CIFS/SMB, iSCSI, NFS, and S3
PetaSAN Pros and Cons
- Ceph is a solid object storage engine
- Very active forums and documentation for community
- Professional support available at cost
- Difficulty with initial installation
- Cluster deployment sometimes fails
- Not ideal for smaller use cases
Rockstor is one of the best open source NAS solution providers, offering users storage server appliances powered by Linux, Docker, and Btrfs. Designed for DIY personal storage — increasingly called a private cloud — Rockstor is available as a NAS server, cloud server for small to midsize businesses (SMB), or personal cloud server.
Administrators can build storage on existing hardware or hypervisor while using Btrfs to scale Linux storage systems. Though Rockstor doesn’t have commercial support, the community has an active GitHub and developer community.
- Secure web GUI with embedded documentation, like guided wizards and tool tips
- Nondisruptive scaling with pool redundancy profiles and share capacities
- Self-healing data, compression, and bit rot protection via Btrfs
- Take or schedule periodic snapshots for restoring or rolling back prior data instances
- Protocol support for SMB, NFS, and SFTP
Rockstor Pros and Cons
- Intuitive user interface
- Large capacity threshold
- Proactive community, regular updates, and substantial documentation
- Btrfs is not recommended for production use
- No commercial support is available
Also read: Best FTP Servers
TrueNAS — previously known as FreeNAS — is an open source leader in storage solution software. Actively developed and updated by iXsystems, the company offers free editions of its hyper-converged compute and storage platform, TrueNAS Scale, and its classic NAS operating system, TrueNAS Core.
The TrueNAS stack offers users single or multi-node options for scale-out NAS, SAN, or object storage software and appliances based on Linux and FreeBSD. TrueNAS provides a long list of features for data management, application services, security, and networking, even as a free NAS solution.
- Web GUI with REST API and alerting, reporting, and analytics for administrators
- Forums, documentation, release notes, and bug ticketing via community support
- Snapshots, clones, and local or remote replication to Linux ZFS
- Client support for Windows, macOS, Linux, Unix, iOS, and Android devices
- Protocol support for NFS, SMB, AFP, FTP, WebDAV, and rsync
TrueNAS Pros and Cons
- Fit for unified storage with NAS and SAN
- Robust data security and encrypted replication
- Configurable, flexible, and fast storage solution
- Training and documentation could use an update
- Reported difficulty with initial installation
- Deduplication can be RAM-intensive and cause slowness
TurnKey Linux is one of the most popular Linux distros and is a worthy consideration for the best free NAS solution. The TurnKey File Server offers a simple NAS software and web-based file manager for public or private storage management.
Users can deploy on bare metal, virtual machines, or cloud-based TurnKey File Server with out-of-the-box support for SSL encryption and protocols like WebDAV and Samba.
The base operating system for all TurnKey GNU/Linux solutions is TurnKey Core, offering backup and recovery, monitoring, and email alert capabilities. For interested users, TurnKey also provides free and commercial editions of its cloud servers, backups, and applications for web development, issue tracking, and the LAMP stack.
- Configuration management for network, system, tool, and hardware modules
- Supports popular compression types and conversion between Unix and DOS files
- Persistent environment variables and smart, programmable bash shell for efficiency
- Backup and data migration software for saving file changes and automatic restoration
- Protocol support for SMB, NFS, WebDAV, Rsync, and SFTP
TurnKey Pros and Cons
- Access to valuable applications and complete source code
- Daily updates with security patches
- Option to upgrade for commercial support and features
- Less advanced features relative to others
- Not fit for large workloads
- Lacks iSCSI target support
Formerly known as NAS4Free, XigmaNAS is a leading choice for open source NAS distributions. Based on FreeBSD, XigmaNAS supports Windows, macOS, and Unix-like clients and offers a host of disk drive management, networking, and disk monitoring features.
The open source NAS solution allows administrators to manage data across several protocols, including Samba, FTP, NFS, iSCSI targets, etc. Part of XigmaNAS’s popularity includes its extra services for media or web servers, system statistics, VirtualBox, and internal file management.
- Web GUI for configuration management and access control for a network
- Disk encryption and options for partitioning MBR, GPT, and ZFS
- iSCSI target and initiator for virtualized storage management
- Link aggregation, wake on LAN, and highly available storage (HAST) for networking
- Installable on SSD, USB, hard, or booted via LiveCD or LiveUSB
XigmaNAS Pros and Cons
- Easy to install and configure
- Extensive hardware compatibility
- Regular updates and releases
- The interface could be more intuitive
- High learning curve for new Linux users
- No commercial support
Free NAS Software Solutions: Honorable Mentions
What Is Network-Attached Storage?
Network-attached storage (NAS) is a physical or virtual machine designed to store local data for a home, business, or enterprise network.
As commercial IT environments increasingly adopted the client-server model in the 1980s, file servers and NAS devices emerged as a way for data administrators to centrally store and share access to a group of users across a local network.
Though NAS appliances and file servers remain similar, NAS solutions cost less and lack some of the advanced features offered by today’s modern rack servers.
Also read: Best Database Software Management Systems
NAS vs Storage Area Network (SAN)
As networks evolved and grew, storage-area network (SAN) solutions emerged to meet the data management needs of networks with a rising number of clients. NAS solutions are cost-effective for storing data on a local network, while SAN contains multiple devices for storing and sharing data across a network.
Though some NAS solutions work with or have SAN components, SAN orchestration is typically more involved and costly.
|Purpose||Home and Small Office||Enterprise|
|Protocol||NFS, SFTP, WebDav, SMB, CIFS||AoE, FCoE, iSCSi|
What Is NAS Software?
NAS software is an application or program developed to run network-attached storage appliances.
Enterprise NAS solutions typically embed a proprietary OS and NAS applications on physical devices, but licensing and support for these devices end over time. In these instances, users and administrators can prolong the usefulness of existing hardware by using open source NAS software.
NAS Software Features
- Backups: Regular synchronizations for recovering a complete copy of data
- Snapshots: Active digital pictures of data for point-in-time recovery
- Replication: Replicate and pull the most recent snapshots when offline
- Encryption: Full-disk encryption and self-encrypting drives for security
- Connectors and Controllers: Manage integrations and port connections
- Administrative Management: Central console and controller for NAS data
How to Choose a Free NAS Software Solution
This question largely depends on the intended use, but there’s no shortage of inexpensive or free Linux distros designed for niche and general storage needs.
While the below list is more applicable to enterprise-grade NAS solutions, these features remain essential parts of NAS workloads to consider when identifying appropriate open source software.
- Scalability of memory capacity and storage
- Speed, latency, and performance
- Security mechanisms like encryption, firewalls, and VPNs
- Flexibility to add and alter components
- Support for file protocols and integrations
- Cloud integrations and remote access
As with any open source solution, users can’t expect the world. The solutions listed above offer many of the same features across commercial NAS products, making their use a very cost-effective way to handle less critical data management.
Read more: Best Virtual Machine (VM) Backup Software