freeNAS File Server for Student Data

FreeNAS is an open source file server program based on BSD Unix. It is available as an .ISO file for downloading and burning to a CD. It will work in 256Kb of memory. While freeNAS is ideal as a “home” server using an older PC, it scales to modern server hardware. Out of the box it provides software RAID (provision for redundant disks) and it can work as a server for Windows, Apple Macintoshes, or Linux workstations. There are several installation guides available, and you can have a basic Windows server up and running within thirty minutes. Here’s a look at the opening screen in the web management program. (Click the image to enlarge).

I’ve  installed it twice; once within a Parallels virtual machine on my MacBook Pro, and once on an older Dell Optiplex G270.

We are considering using freeNAS as a server for student work within one of our learning centers. Currently, students are save their files on USB thumb drives, but that seems to be a poor solution; the drives get lost, or infected with viruses. We don’t want the students on the “administration” network, so we are looking for alternatives. FreeNAS seems to be a good alternative to another Windows server. Our plan is to give students accounts on a FreeNAS server, which will give them a single folder that they can access from Windows XP and Windows 7 desktop machines, or Windows 7 laptops over a wireless network.

Most installation guides assume you are creating a home server for Windows workstations, and they bring you to the point to where any workstation can find the server, connect to it and store files. Our application requires that individual students have their own folder on the server, and that they cannot access anything else outside of that folder.  Further, we want the student to be able to log into the server independently of the local Windows workstation account. We don’t want to create separate profiles on each workstation for each student, because their is no guarantee that the student logs into the server from the same workstation each time.  The plan is to have the student map a drive letter to their freeNAS folder using a connection script that automates the NET USE command.

In addition to the link above, there is another more detailed installation guide at daily-cup-of-tech.

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