OpenFiler turns any server with attached storage into SAN or NAS appliance

An open-source storage management operating system called OpenFiler can turn any server with a disk array or other attached storage into a NAS or SAN appliance in minutes.

Many administrators who want to set up a NAS or SAN appliance opt to get the software from the same company that makes the SAN or NAS hardware. But the cost of this convenience (aside from the price tag) is being locked into using a particular vendor's management package.

If it's possible to build a network disk array using commodity components, why should the software be a hindrance?

Xinit Systems, a maker of network storage solutions, did something about this by creating OpenFiler 1.1, a storage management operating system based on the Linux 2.6 kernel. OpenFiler 1.1. uses commodity open-source components (Apache, Samba, Linux NFS and so on) to turn any server with a disk array (or any other attached storage that the server can see with OpenFiler installed) into a NAS or SAN appliance in minutes. It natively supports NFS, CIFS, HTTP/DAV, FTP and iSCSI, and you can mix and match between them.

Obviously, you'll be limited by what hardware you have. For instance, if the server only has one network interface card (NIC), then your total bandwidth to other hosts will be limited by that NIC. But if you have plenty of storage attached to a server and you're trying to use that space more flexibly, OpenFiler may be one way to do that.

OpenFiler is available in three basic formats:

  • a distribution ISO, which you can download and burn to disc or boot directly from a virtual machine;
  • a VMware appliance file; and
  • a Xen appliance file.

Distributions are available in 32- and 64-bit versions (x86 and x64). Boot the ISO and you'll be taken through a graphical install process which lets you configure a disc to hold the OpenFile distribution, set up the boot loader and the network card, and add any other packages you might need. A text-mode installer is also available in case the installer doesn't correctly detect your video hardware.

Once OpenFiler is running on the target hardware, you can open the management console by pointing a Web browser at the machine on port 446. From there, you can set up authentication modes (LDAP as well as Windows domains/Active Directory are supported), users and groups, and create and administer disk volumes and disk quotas.

A snapshot shares feature lets users see point-in-time copies of data that can be created automatically every so often or on demand.

Admins also have granular control over which network interfaces have access to data in what form. For instance, you could set one network interface to have read-only access to a given FTP share, while another could be read/write. A given share can also be shared out in multiple ways at once, i.e., via SMB, NFS and HTTP all at once.

Note: OpenFiler runs as a standalone appliance, so detailed knowledge of using Linux per se is not really required. But you do need to know about disk partitions and disk volumes.

Even though the project is currently free and open-source, professional commercial support is available from Xinit. Contact them at support@openfiler.com.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor ofWindows Insight (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of experience working with Windows, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and other TechTarget sites.

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This was first published in June 2007
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