Replaced Your Server? Don’t Bin It, Re-function it…

About 12 months ago we started playing around with a new product called FreeNAS. This is a piece of Open Source software. You will probably have heard us banging on about Open Source before, but for those of you who have missed it, Open Source is exactly that, anyone can download the code and play with it. Basically compiled by a bunch of volunteers and tossed into the world.

FreeNAS is an operating system that has very small overheads and turns pretty much any box into a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. However with a little bit of IP from us we have changed this into a system that can be reliably utilized as part of a disaster recovery strategy.

It works like this, once your new shiny server is in place and the final roles have been transferred we wait, normally 6 months, however in the case of our latest server installs which have been from bare metal to VMWare virtualized environments we have scaled this back to 1-2 weeks. As the VM Convert is essentially an image of the original taking with it everything and removing the human factor in copying data. So once the VM is up and running and your server image has been converted, you are left with an old fileserver, that normally is between 3-5 years old and quite capable of becoming a host.

We remove the old server software and install our copy of FreeNAS, setting up the system to present to your new fileserver as ISCSI (This is effectively allowing the server direct access to the disk drives in the FreeNAS), providing a significant overhead advantage to traditional CIFS (Windows Shares). So if your old server had for example 4 x 1Tb disk drives we can present this as either a single 4Tb Drive, or a redundant 2Tb drive to your new server. We can then use the inbuilt windows backup to roll a backup on to this box.

If your new server has two network cards then we can present the ISCSI effectively as a SAN Array, which means that there is no overhead from this clogging up the network fabric.

We then utilize your removable drives (external backup disks) to back up this FreeNAS volume.

Advantages:

  • FreeNAS cost £0 as it is Open Source
  • This gives us a massive library of quick backup recovery options for files, e-mails and indeed the whole server
  • The slow process of copying on to the external device is carried out by the FreeNAS box, and so network performance is not effected by the copy process.
  • Solid redundant disks provide reliable storage for backup history.
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