disk storage

Mac OS X Lion and iSCSI Using FreeNAS and globalSAN

Yikes, that title was a mouthful, but I wanted to make sure the search robots gobbled it up with their mouths so that people in my situation would find this article. Short attention span version: I can't seem to get Mac OS X Lion to connect to my FreeNAS iSCSI drives. Lemme essplain what I have and what I am trying to do. In a later update or another article, I will explain how I (hopefully) eventually got this working.

Medium attention span version: This whole exercise was due to my Promise Technologies NS4300N chassis failing to function with Lion. I first noticed it when, after I had upgraded to Lion, my iTunes was pitching a fit about not being able to connect to my music library. Meh. After some research, I found that 1) Promise end-of-lifed the NS4300N; 2) Lion broke the Apple File Sharing (AFS) feature of the device. I'd like to kick someone square in the _ _ _ _ _ for this, but I figgered there was a solution somewhere to solve my storage dilema.

UPDATE: (Slightly more than medium attention span): I used globalSAN from Studio Network Solutions to get Lion going as an initiator for iSCSI. I was able to get the globalSAN thingy to connect and seeminly stay connected to the FreeNAS drives, but once I tried to partition the disks, DiskUtility hung up solidly. I was never able to unmount or do anything to the drives at all. So, apparently, we're still waiting on an update to globalSAN. I have confirmed that nothing is available as of August 2 by reading the forums at SNS. They have acknowledged the issue, but hav not yet updated the product. It is FREE, so I'll be patient.

There's a simple and fully Open Source solution for network attached storage (NAS) that I was not aware of until our genius IT guy ("Drew") opened my eyes this week. You see, I used to be a network engineer and I've lost touch with the latest neatnessisms of the industry. Whether you're a Mac dweeb, Windows dork, or Linux chowderhead, you can build an inexpensive NAS box yourself for not much coin, especially if you have extry parts and computers lying around. Instead of going out and purchasing a $500 NAS chassis like I did a year or two ago, you can take that leftover 2.4 GHz Dell sitting under your desk and make it a useful device again. My Dell used to be a fairly cutting-edge video editing system, but as of late it has turned into an under-the-desk Dust Bunny Collection Unit (DBCU).

Dell 2400 Dust Bunny Collection Unit (DBCU)

Get yourself some cheap SATA drives. Pricewatch.com has 1 TB SATA drives listed as low as $49 now! Nutty, I tell you! I picked up a 4-port craptastic little Sabrent SATA RAID controller for $29 at Fry's Electronics (because I was to impatient to buy one on-line). Don't use the RAID capabilities on the card (in hardware), as FreeNAS will do all this for you and needs to be able to control error handling itself. If you let the hardware do it, FreeNAS won't ever see problems until it's too late. And, to be fair, the controller works perfectly well. I say, "craptastic," because it's a typical Chinese product: The quality isn't the greatest and the language in the help screens is hilarious. "Please wait for seconds for low-level format to be finish." I'm paraphrasing, of course.

I gutted my Dell Dimension 2400 (circa 2004 or 2005), threw the SATA controller and four spare SATA drives I had in a drawer (a 1 TB, a 750 GB, and two 500 GB drives). I also connected a spare EIDE drive and a CD-ROM to the primary connector on the motherboard for booting and to get the initial installation completed.

Four SATA drives on 4-Port SATA controller

Next step, after making sure the BIOS saw all the drives and that everything about the hardware was kosher, I downloaded FreeNAS from http://freenas.org and burned the ISO image to a CD. The first burn produced a non-bootable CD, just like the directions suggested a high-speed burn might, so I burned at only 8X (slowest I could) and that CD worked perfectly. Follow the installation and setup instructions on the FreeNAS website.

As I said above, it doesn't function in Lion. Yeah, thanks, Apple. On a positive note, the FreeNAS server is up and running and appears to be functioning completely normally. It was soooooo easy to install. Pop a CD in, a couple of keystrokes, and viola! Configuring it for iSCSI took a little bit longer, but wasn't difficult at all. I HIGHLY recommend you read up on the terms of iSCSI before configuring. It helps with understanding of the system and makes the configuration that much simpler.

I will report more as I get this functioning.

And here is another UPDATE: I found a link to instructions on how to get the AFP stuff back to a state like it was in Snow Leopard so that you can at least listen to your iTunes music that is stored on your external NAS. Directions are here and I was able to make it work.