FreeNAS and TrueNAS are Unifying


March 5, 2020

FreeNAS and TrueNAS have been separate-but-related members of the #1 Open Source storage software family since 2012. FreeNAS is the free Open Source version with an expert community and has led the pursuit of innovations like Plugins and VMs. TrueNAS is the enterprise version for organizations of all sizes that need additional uptime and performance, as well as the enterprise-grade support necessary for critical data and applications. 
From the beginning at iXsystems, we’ve developed, tested, documented, and released both as separate products, even though the vast majority of code is shared. This was a deliberate technical decision in the beginning but over time became less of a necessity and more of “just how we’ve always done it”. Furthermore, to change it was going to require a serious overhaul to how we build and package both products, among other things, so we continued to kick the can down the road. As we made systematic improvements to development and QA efficiency over the past few years, the redundant release process became almost impossible to ignore as our next major efficiency roadblock to overcome. So, we’ve finally rolled up our sleeves.
With the recent 11.3 release, TrueNAS gained parity with FreeNAS on features like VMs and Plugins, further homogenizing the code. Today, we announce the next phase of evolution for FreeNAS and TrueNAS. 
With the 12.0 release coming in the latter half of the year, we will not only bring more features and improvements than any release that has come before it, we will also unify both products into a single software image and name! This shift will have a great many benefits for users, but before we go into further detail, we’d like to first reassure you that there are no plans to stop releasing a free version, close the source or limit features. Just want to make sure that’s out of the way before we go on! 🙂

The Benefits

This isn’t just a union of convenience, there are major technical benefits for all users and contributors:

  • Rapid Development: Unified images accelerate software development and releases (for example, 12.0 is a major release that would normally have taken 9-12 months to release, and with these new efficiencies, we are bringing that closer to six months)
  • Improved Quality: Reduced development redundancy and unified QA increases software quality and allows us to streamline testing
  • Earlier Hardware Enablement: Staying in-sync with upstream OS versions will be easier, allowing earlier access to newer hardware drivers.  For instance, 12.0 brings improved support for AMD EPYC / Ryzen platforms and enhanced NUMA support for more efficient CPU core handling.
  • Simplified Documentation: Unified documentation eliminates redundancy such as separate user guides
  • Deduplication of Effort: Unified web content and videos refer to one software family without the need for duplication
  • Flexibility: Unified images enable simpler transitions or upgrades between editions
  • Resource Efficiency: frees up developers to work on new features and related products
  • Open ZFS 2.0: The planning for the “unified” 12.0 release began over a year ago and included the major investment in the development and integration of what will soon be released as “OpenZFS 2.0”. This effort is fast-forwarding delivery of advances like dataset encryption, major performance improvements, and compatibility with Linux ZFS pools.

Overall, this union provides a solid foundation for a more feature-rich future.

What to Expect

In the 11.3 release, FreeNAS and TrueNAS share over 95% of the same source code but are built into separate images, each with their own name. The Version 12.0 release will change this process by moving to one unified image with two different editions: a free, Open Source edition (this will never change!) and an enterprise edition.  
Both editions will have common Open Source code, unified documentation, and a shared product name. The web interface and REST APIs will be relatively unchanged from version 11.3 with only additions for new features. Our VP Engineering, Kris Moore, describes the change in process in this video blog.

Two Names Become One

For years we’ve talked longingly about unifying the images, documentation, and web content due to all of the efficiency gains and benefits to be had. The one thing that always held us back was the question of what to do with the name: after all, unification of the software meant that two distinct product names were no longer workable, and we’ve grown as attached to both names as have our Community and customers (and perhaps even more!).
On the one hand, we have the FreeNAS brand that everyone has come to know and love; it lets users know immediately the product doesn’t cost anything to use and also hints at the fact that it’s Open Source. On the other hand, TrueNAS is a better name for an enterprise product. Some may remember that TrueNAS was originally released as “FreeNAS Pro”, but the feedback received was that many companies didn’t take it seriously. They felt a product with “Free” in the name didn’t inspire the necessary confidence for critical infrastructure and data. Hence, the name TrueNAS was born to overcome that stigma, and the enterprise side of our business has grown reliably since then.
So, after many months of analysis, weighing pros and cons, and spirited debate, we’ve decided that the technical benefits and efficiencies from unifying the products are too significant to ignore and now overwhelmingly outweigh our attachment to names. Therefore, we’ve decided to merge the names to share the stronger enterprise brand, TrueNAS. By doing so, we continue to give all users the confidence to use the product in important and mission-critical applications, while still paying homage to FreeNAS through the use of a shark-themed icon in the logo. We also continue to emphasize the benefits of Open Source through the sub-moniker “Open Storage”.
We now present to you:

There will be two different editions: TrueNAS CORE and TrueNAS Enterprise. Without any license keys, TrueNAS CORE provides all the same, unrestricted FreeNAS functionality you know and love, while the source code will still be Open Source and forever free to use. TrueNAS Enterprise will enable an extended feature set using a license key on supported platforms. This move elevates FreeNAS to the enterprise-grade quality levels of TrueNAS to further cement its position as the world’s #1 Open Storage OS.

TrueNAS CORE: always open, always Free NAS

The only thing changing is the name. FreeNAS will take on the name of “TrueNAS CORE”. More than just a “Free-NAS”, TrueNAS CORE is enterprise-quality software-defined storage that can be used without restrictions or cost. It is also the core of the full-fledged enterprise edition, TrueNAS Enterprise, which provides the additional fault-tolerance, performance, and support that businesses and critical applications require.
CORE is a commitment that all the core functionality that FreeNAS users love will be included in the best free NAS software. CORE also defines itself with the acronym:

We’re immensely proud of FreeNAS and its community. The change in name does not change the underlying FreeBSD OS, the FreeBSD-based license, or our commitment to free and Open Source software. Long-time FreeNAS diehards will have the option to use the existing FreeNAS name and logo in the banner of the web interface by simply selecting a FreeNAS theme from the dropdown in the upper right-hand action bar, if they so choose. 
Web visitors will eventually be forwarded to the new TrueNAS web pages, but that’s still a little while away. The domain will remain in place, but over time we will use a TrueNAS domain to provide a common source of information. There will be no changes to community logins or newsletters. 
TrueNAS CORE 12.0 will have some major advances over FreeNAS 11.3. These include support for Fusion Pools (mixing SSD and HDD vdevs) and encrypted datasets. A more complete list of the hundreds of improvements will be made with the 12.0 BETA release announcement.  

TrueNAS Enterprise: the best value in enterprise storage

TrueNAS customers will see a smaller name change with the move to version 12.0 but will see a change to the new shark fin icon. The FreeNAS shark icon is well known, but this modernized icon represents the stealthy but mighty storage competitor that TrueNAS has become.

The new name is “TrueNAS Enterprise” and it inherits all the same enclosure management, high availability, and support that TrueNAS 11.3 benefits from. TrueNAS Enterprise systems will automatically inherit the TrueNAS CORE features and a pre-installed key unlocks enterprise features.

The TrueNAS 12.0 Preview

Everyone is invited to experience an early preview of TrueNAS 12.0. Nightly images will be available March 11th for anyone that has a spare system to test and develop with, and we would love to hear your feedback. Be sure to check out Fusion Pools and dataset encryption and let us know what you think.

We’ve started a TrueNAS 12.0 sub-forum on the community forums for this blog and community feedback. In general, we’re always looking for opinions and ideas on how we can improve TrueNAS products.  

Next Steps

TrueNAS CORE 12.0 will go through the same ALPHA, BETA, RC1, RELEASE states that FreeNAS has gone through. There will be no changes to the software update process or the information available. The process will be more efficient within iXsystems, and we expect to deliver our users more with the same resources we have today. TrueNAS CORE 12.0 is planned for release in Q3 2020, which will be a much shorter development cycle for a release of this magnitude, thanks to this change.
Some users have asked us whether there will be a paid option to upgrade a system running TrueNAS CORE to Enterprise? The change in the release process makes that upgrade more possible, and we will be investigating options to enable this. There will also be opportunities to develop more radical improvements to TrueNAS functionality. Please contact us if your organization needs something that isn’t yet available.
As always, a huge thanks goes out to our community and customers for your continued support in helping us democratize enterprise storage. We are excited to work side by side with you on this next phase of the FreeNAS and TrueNAS journey. Many more great things to come!
For more information on TrueNAS 12.0, please check out our new blog about the features coming in TrueNAS CORE and TrueNAS Enterprise.

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