Today, we are very proud to announce the BETA release of FreeNAS 9.3!

This FreeNAS update is a significant evolutionary step from previous FreeNAS releases.  It features a simplified and reorganized Web User Interface, support for Windows 2012 clustering, better integration with VMWare, a new and more secure update system with roll-back functionality, and hundreds of other technology enhancements. To encourage use of this BETA, we are also committed to making sure that every FreeNAS 9.3 BETA install will be able to upgrade to FreeNAS 9.3 RELEASE seamlessly!

A key feature of the FreeNAS 9.3 BETA release is its revamped user interface. It has been redesigned to place only the most common configuration options first in ‘Standard’ menus, moving the more esoteric options to ‘Advanced’ options, and this design pattern as has been used throughout the UI so everything is essentially more streamlined and less cluttered for novice users who essentially just want to use the defaults.

The interface tabs have also been completely removed, a number of features have been rearranged or combined for added fluidity and ease of use, and the whole UI is simply more self-consistent throughout.

Updating and applying patches (updates) to the system is now much simpler. A secure update server supplies a regular stream of package updates, which are available both as “deltas” from previous release versions and as full packages, rather than the “one large release” model in place for previous FreeNAS versions. The update server can be checked manually, or automatically at intervals, and any available updates downloaded in the background. The user will receive an alert when new updates are available and be given the opportunity to apply them whenever they wish. Users will also be able to choose what kinds of updates to receive, depending on whether they want to use the most recent versions, test future versions, or stay on a single stable branch.  For a demo of that in action, please see my FreeNAS state of the union video!

From the “long-requested feature list”, a configuration wizard has finally been added to FreeNAS. On a new install, this wizard will run at the first login, making it easy to quickly create a volume, its associated share(s), and set various options.  Users who still prefer to manually create their volumes and shares can exit the wizard and create these in the usual way, but the new set-up wizard can handle the most common types of configuration at installation time, or, as desired, later in the set-up process.  We also anticipate that the Wizard will continue to grow functionality as time progresses – this is simply the first version!

FreeNAS 9.3 now NFSv4 support, including Kerberos integration, and allows configuration of NFSv4 from the UI, another long-requested feature.

Perhaps the most significant feature of FreeNAS 9.3 is the fact that it now formats the boot device as a ZFS pool instead of the more limited UFS filesystem we used before, allowing a number of new features to be supported.  One such feature is that the boot process now uses the GRUB boot loader and provides support for multiple boot environments, allowing easy recovery from a failed upgrade or configuration change.  Being a ZFS pool, the boot device can also now be mirrored and scrubbed periodically to ensure that no impending hardware failures are present.

Finally, FreeNAS 9.3 also changes the default iSCSI target from the userland-based istgt to the in-kernel Cam Target Layer (CTL). This adds a number of features, including compatibility with Windows 2012 clustering, support for additional VAAI primitives, and increased performance in most use cases.  The snapshot UI has also been enhanced to coordinate snapshots with VMWare so that VMs using associated datastore(s) can be restored to a stable state if needed.

This is only a sampling of all the new features in 9.3, and since our last release, we have fixed over 725 tickets in the 9.3 branch and have even more enhancements in the pipeline.  This is a great FreeNAS release, and we look forward to being able to use the new update mechanism in delivering more timely and granular updates, the ZFS boot, clone and roll-back options giving users even greater confidence in applying them!

Again, please check out my state of the union video if you’d like a “live demo” and walkthrough of the new UI and features, and by all means please read the 9.3-BETA Release Notes for an even more exhaustive list of new features. Those who have been following the documentation will also be pleased to see an entirely revamped “live HTML” version of the FreeNAS 9.3 documentation which is being kept up-to-date using the same source code management tools that the source code for FreeNAS itself uses, allowing everything to be much better coordinated and in-synch.

Enjoy this release!

Jordan Hubbard
FreeNAS Project Manager and iXsystems CTO