How To Connect And Mount iSCSI Onto Ubuntu And Linux Mint

In the video right after the break, I show you how to connect to iSCSI target and mount iSCSI LUN onto Ubuntu and Linux Mint.  Enjoy!!!

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How Much Are You Willing To Spend On Securing Your Data?

Network Attached Storage

Network Attached Storage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The actual cost of making sure your data is safe (i.e., redundancy) and secure can be quite ambiguous.  The ambiguousness is probably derived from the plethora of options that you can choose to go about making sure your data is safe and secure.  I guess it is all depending on how you want to go about making sure your data is safe and secure.  Nonetheless, if you insist on wanting to know an estimated price range for securing and backing up whatever data, I think you’re looking to spend around a little more than $1,000 or just about $0.  You see, the ambiguousness can already be found from just looking at the possible cost of implementing a solution for securing and backing up data.

Remember, we are speaking about implementing a solution in securing and backing up data for small business or home, therefore I think the cost of implementing this kind of data assurance solutions should not be too outrageous.  Let us just go over some possible data assurance solutions to see how much you might have to spend, OK?  Nonetheless, remember the cost will be ambiguous as each unique data assurance implementation might require unique data assurance solution.

Requisite elements for $0 spending in securing and backing up data:  Talking about spending $0 on securing and backing up data is totally possible.  This scenario requires you to have a spare computer which you will not have any other use for it besides of wanting to use it as a backup machine for this specific scenario.  You will definitely need to download an open source backup solution such as FreeNAS or a Linux distribution (an open source operating system which is similar to Unix type).  You also need to download TrueCrypt.  In the case if you want to protect database of passwords, you totally need an additional layer of protection such as password manager which is capable of encrypting its database (e.g., KeepassX, etc…).  A proper home or small business network needs to be setup correctly, therefore you need to have a working router.  Also, you need to know how to distribute a local, non-public, static IP address for your backup server.  In the case of backing up data from outside of the network, you definitely need to know how to open up ports on your backup server and forward ports on your router.

Piecing together the elements for $0 spending in securing and backing up data:  So basically, the spare computer can be setup with FreeNAS or Linux distribution as a backup server.  You will use TrueCrypt to encrypt data first before backing up the data onto FreeNAS or Linux server.  Linux server requires your knowhow of setting up a proper service which allows you to use proper protocol to backup the data.  One example of backing data to Linux would be using rsync.  FreeNAS is a lot easier to deal with as it’s designed to launch NAS (Network Attached Storage) services quick and fast.  In the case of digitizing saved passwords, you need a proper password manager which is capable in encrypting your passwords in an encrypted database, therefore I suggest you should try out KeepassX.  To make your digitizing saved passwords even more secure, you can totally use TrueCrypt to encrypt the KeepassX database.  On Linux server, you can totally download free firewall and free antivirus solution to protect your Linux server from hacks and viruses, consequently providing even more protection for your data.  In the case of a FreeNAS server, at the moment I don’t think you can install firewall and antivirus programs, therefore you should make sure the firewall of the router is properly configured (i.e., to protect the FreeNAS server from intrusions).  I think you might be able to use an antivirus solution on a PC to scan iSCSI drives of FreeNAS server, therefore I guess you can use an antivirus program with FreeNAS server if you have setup iSCSI drives on FreeNAS properly.  Nonetheless, you must know that this is a dirty fix antivirus solution for FreeNAS server as you can only initiate an antivirus program on a PC and not on the FreeNAS server itself, limiting you to scan FreeNAS iSCSI drives only and not the entire array of physical hard drives that reside within a FreeNAS server.  To backup data from abroad to your backup server at home or office, you need to rely on VPN (Virtual Private Network protocol).  VPN will safely encrypt and secure the data that is in transit (i.e., utilizing the Internet to transfer data from one network location to another network location).  I think you can set up VPN service on Linux server with some efforts, and this will not work if your ISP doesn’t allow VPN traffic.  I’m not sure if FreeNAS supports VPN or not, but if it’s you should use it to backup data from abroad.  Don’t forget to open up or port forward necessary ports for the router and the backup server to allow proper transfer of backup data, OK?

Requisite elements for $1,000 spending or more in securing and backing up data:  No specific recommendation on NAS (Network Attached Storage) hardware, but I have seen many NAS machine can be purchased as low as $100.  Nonetheless, I think you should choose a NAS machine that fits to your data assurance plan.  Firstly, you want to make sure the NAS machine you want to buy is regularly updating its firmware to combat vulnerabilities and software errors.  Usually, searching Google might reveal critical complaints on specific NAS machine that you are thinking of buying.  As long you don’t find any critical complaint about a NAS machine you want to buy, then go ahead and purchase the NAS machine if you think it’s the right solution for you.  Secondly, you want to know the NAS machine you are looking at is diskless or vice versa.  If it’s diskless, then you should know that you have to buy hard drives to install into the NAS machine.  If the NAS machine comes readily with hard drives, then you should not buy any additional hard drive.  Thirdly, you might want to check how many hard drive bays the NAS machine you’re looking at has.  The more hard drive bays a NAS machine has, the more RAID choices you can implement.  Nonetheless, the more hard drive bays a NAS machine has, the more money you might have to spend (e.g., the cost of more bays on a NAS, the cost of more hard drives to fill up the bays).  Fourthly, you want to check to see the NAS machine you’re looking at is capable of supporting all the software implementations that you have in mind (e.g., Time Machine, CIFS, VPN, NFS, FTP, rsync, etc…).  Fifthly, you want to make sure the NAS machine you’re looking at is capable of doing fast data transfer in terms of reading and writing speeds.  Obviously, this specification will not guarantee fast data transfer as other network and hardware bottlenecks must also be considered (e.g., slow hard drives, using slow RAID choices, slow local network, etc…).  Other things you also need to consider before purchasing a NAS hardware is a NAS temperature under heavy loads, the fan noise levels, the size factor, data encryption support, antivirus capability, security measures, and so on.

Piecing together the elements for $1,000 spending or more in securing and backing up data:  Putting a NAS machine to work is probably easier than having to configure a FreeNAS or Linux backup solution since many NAS machines are designed with NAS users in mind.  This means the NAS machine you have bought should be easily configurable, allowing you to setup proper NAS services with ease.  If your NAS machine is supporting Time Machine and you have a Mac, then you should setup Time Machine on the NAS machine to allow the Mac to backup to the NAS machine whenever.  If your NAS machine is supporting CIFS, NFS, rsync, FTP, iSCSI, and so on, then you can setup these protocols/services on the NAS machine to allow all major operating systems to backup the data to the NAS machine.  The major operating systems I’m referring to are Linux, Mac, and Windows.  Furthermore, if your NAS machine supports cloud type of service and mobile data, then you should setup these services to allow cloud type of usage and mobile data backup.  Nonetheless, you should only enable the services that you need on the NAS machine, because enable way too many unnecessary services might open up unwanted vulnerabilities (i.e., allowing hackers to exploit more than one vulnerable services in a machine).  Your NAS machine might be readily announced what ports you need to open on a router for network traffic to transfer data to the NAS machine correctly.  Also, your NAS machine might also allow you to change default port of a service easily.  To secure your data even more, you should consider the option of encrypt the NAS hard drives if the NAS machine supports encryption.  I think some NAS machines might have encryption programs installed by default.  If this is not possible for your NAS machine, you can use TrueCrypt to encrypt the data before such data get upload to the NAS machine.  To further enhance the security of digitizing saved passwords, you can totally use KeepassX as KeepassX automatically encrypts its password database.  Don’t forget to use TrueCrypt for the KeepassX database so digitizing saved passwords will be even more secure right after such passwords get backup to the NAS machine.  When backing up data from abroad, you need to setup VPN service on the NAS machine so the data can be securely transit from abroad to the NAS machine that resides in a home or an office network.

Some of you think backing up data to a third party backup service such as CrashPlan is a great idea, it might be so if you’re careful about encrypting the data.  Backing up to the cloud is definitely an additional layer for data redundancy, therefore it’s a plus for a complete data assurance scheme.  Nonetheless, when data leaves the local network and resides on someone’s else network (e.g., CrashPlan, Amazon Cloud Drive, etc…), the data is truly beyond your control.  This is why when encrypting the data before allowing such data to be uploaded to the cloud is a wise data security measure.  The cost of backing up data in the cloud can be varied as each cloud service will have different cloud plans.  Nowadays, I have found many cloud services are quite affordable, therefore it’s up to you to find out which cloud service is best for your data assurance plan.

First Time Experience With QNAP TS-419P II

QNAP TS-419P II Admin Console

QNAP TS-419P II Admin Console

A week ago, my FreeNAS box went crazy after a thunderstorm.  I knew there was a problem with my FreeNAS box’s motherboard from very early on, but I didn’t care until the thunderstorm somehow disabled not only two ethernet ports on my router but also two network interface cards (NIC) on my FreeNAS box also.  Without a working NIC card, I can’t really have a FreeNAS box going.  Of course, the easiest solution would go out and buy another NIC.  NIC is super cheap nowadays, and so this won’t be a problem obviously.  Nonetheless, I noticed my FreeNAS box wasn’t up to the task not for FreeNAS issues but for the hardware I had in the box all along.  Especially the motherboard was so uncooperative in a sense that sometimes it refused to probably start up the system, right after a reboot.  Yes, I had flashed the newest firmware for the motherboard too, but the motherboard issues weren’t going away.  I didn’t want to have to mess around with hardware problems much any longer, and I noticed the computer I ran FreeNAS on was not green (i.e., power hungry).  Obviously, I need a better home network attached storage solution than this.

I was thinking about building a new FreeNAS box, but building a computer wasn’t my specialty since my suspicion was that I might end up building just another power hungry NAS box (i.e., network attached storage).  Furthermore, building a brand new FreeNAS box (i.e., not using the old computer parts or spare computer machine) might cost as much as purchasing a brand new machine that designed to be a NAS box anyway, therefore it would be wise for me to just save some time and purchase a brand new NAS machine and reuse the hard drives from the old and now unusable FreeNAS box.  I started to look online for the right NAS hardware solution, and I found couple hardware NAS solutions.

It seemed that people’s reviews and recommendations on Amazon were varied depending on the luck they had with a specific NAS hardware (included custom NAS software) solution.  There were just as many good reviews and bad reviews elsewhere on these NAS hardware (included custom NAS software) solutions too.  Some people recommended specific Synology hardware; others recommended specific Drobo hardware; I went for QNAP TS-419P II (diskless — you have to provide your own hard drives as the bays do not come with hard drives).  The reasons I went for QNAP TS-419P II were,

  • the price wasn’t too outrageous (I bought at $499.99 with free shipping on Amazon),
  • it got 4 bays for hot-swappable drives,
  • it supported 3TB drives that I already had,
  • nowadays it shipped this specific model with USB 3.0 ports (but it also got USB 2.0 and eSATA ports),
  • it got dual NICs for better network performance when using with switch or not
  • it got Marvell 2.0 GHz processor (enough power to do more than just NAS such as streaming media)
  • relatively low power consumption — sleep mode consumes 13W and in operation mode consumes 26 W under the assumption of having 4 hard drive bays fully occupied,
  • people said this one got great data transfer performance (and I confirmed this too when using it)  — I used CrashPlan to backup to QNAP TS-419P II iSCSI LUN and saw data transfer traversed somewhere between the range of 121 Mbps to 700 Mbps.

I wasn’t going for Synology since I had not find the right combination of features and price for their various hardware NAS models.  For Drobo, I had read so many comments elsewhere online and few ones on Amazon that had complained about slow data transfer performance.  Drobo got advantages such as combining and expanding any size drives into a RAID, but these weren’t enough to win me over.  Plus, when I was looking at Drobo prices, those were more expensive than QNAP NAS models.

After Amazon delivered QNAP TS-419P II to me, I got it up and running with ease.  The initial process was not too long, but it wasn’t like an immediate gratification either.  I don’t think there is any NAS setup (i.e., hardware and software installations) that can be said having an immediate gratification experience.

Anyhow, the hardware setup part for QNAP TS-419P II was super easy.  I installed three 3TB hard drives into 3 bays of the QNAP TS-419P II box by pulling each bay out, matched the hard drive screw holes to the ones on each drive holder, tighten the screws not too tight (screws came with the purchased of the QNAP TS-419P II box), pushed the drives all the way in and snapped the drive locks down appropriately.  I connected the external power adapter 96W to the box on one end and the other end to the electrical outlet of a UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply).  Finally, I pressed the power button on the QNAP TS-419P II box to hear the first beep which it made to alert you that it got powered on.  The manual instructed that I should wait for at least two to three minutes to hear the second beep before I could assume that the box was started successfully.  The second beep was beeped.

The software part was somewhat confusing to get started.  The CD which came with QNAP TS-419P II supported Mac and Windows.  I inserted the CD into Mac and installed QFinder.  QFinder failed to find the QNAP TS-419P II on my network.  Go figured!  I connected directly to the QNAP TS-419P II through a browser by typing in the local IP address which the box itself had leased with the router’s DHCP server.  Immediately, the browser found the box, and the software worked with the browser to allow me to initialize the hard drives.  It was confusing, because I remembered it asked me to initialize the hard drives but now I also remembered it also allowed me to upgrade the firmware.  I did upgrade the firmware to the latest firmware I found on QNAP official website, because the one on the CD was outdated.  I remembered it asked me to initialize the drives again after the firmware upgrade, but I’m not sure now.  Anyhow, I was able to log into the administration console of QNAP TS-419P II through a browser after the firmware upgrade and drive initialization.

It was a straightforward matter for me to configure QNAP TS-419P II up for TimeMachine, NFS, iSCSI, and Windows Share (QNAP labels this as Microsoft Networking) services.  It did took me some time to get familiar with QNAP administration console, but it didn’t take long.  QNAP administration console got question mark icon which linked to helpful explanation scattered throughout.  If you had experienced with FreeNAS or any NAS before, QNAP software might not be a problem for you at all!!!

QNAP software got so many features!  To name the few things I could do with it and the box itself.

  • Allowing the creation of  RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10
  • Allowing monitoring of disk health and temperature of each hard drive
  • Allowing admin to do SMART Test rapid test or complete test on each hard drive to confirm the health of each hard drive
  • Allowing the creation of iSCSI targets and LUNs in a very simple manner
  • Allowing admin to add virtual disks elsewhere (i.e., from another NAS box) to expand the size of QNAP TS-419P II box itself (up to 8 virtual disks I think)
  • Easy to add and manage users and groups
  • Allowing admin to set quota storage size for users
  • Allowing the creation of TimeMachine service to backup Mac OS X Lion (or other Mac OS X iterations)
  • Allowing admin to set up Microsoft Networking so Windows machines can communicate with QNAP TS-419P II’s various NFS share folders
  • Allowing admin to configure and add NFS share folders so Linux machines can communicate and share with
  • Allowing admin to set up FTP service
  • Allowing only administrator to SSH into the box if SSH was set up correctly (Telnet too, but who would use Telnet eh?)
  • Allowing admin to configure SNMP
  • Allowing admin to set up web server for simple web hosting or virtual hosting from QNAP TS-419P II box
  • Allowing admin to enable UPnP service and configure BONJOUR
  • Users can enable Web File Manager to manage files and data through a web browser
  • Users can enable Multimedia Station to stream media
  • Admin can enable Photo Station to share photos which displays in photo blog like manner (got to upload photos to Multimedia folder and the scanning process will eventually figure out what photos are present — allowing the organization of photos in Photo Station later)
  • Admin can enable Music Station and users can create playlists of available songs
  • Admin can enable Download Station so users can use Bittorrent, FTP, and Rapid Share in download manner
  • Enabling Surveillance Station to allow admin monitors and records live video of 2-4 IP cameras (but I had not used this so I don’t know how well will this work out)
  • Allowing admin to enable iTunes Server so playlists and songs on QNAP TS-419P II can be shared with iTunes accounts on local network and vice versa
  • Allowing the enabling of UPnP Media Server (but I have no idea how to use this one yet)
  • Allowing the enabling of MySQL server
  • Admin can use QPKG Center to install popular software scripts such as WordPress
  • Admin can enable Syslog Server
  • Admin can enable RADIUS Server (I don’t know much about RADIUS yet so I haven’t used this feature)
  • Admin can enable and configure Backup Server to backup data on QNAP TS-419P II to another NAS machine
  • Admin can enable Antivirus solution so he or she can scan QNAP TS-419P II for viruses (it seems to be that it’s using ClamAV)
  • Admin can enable TFTP Server
  • Admin can enable VPN Service
  • Admin can enable LDAP Service
  • Admin can attach external storage devices and configure it within the software
  • Admin can work with USB printer
  • Admin can attach UPS and configure UPS settings
  • Admin can enable MyCloudNAS Service to allow mobile devices to share data (I don’t know about this one yet but it seems you might have to download QNAP mobile app — not sure though)
  • Admin can use System Status to monitor System Information, System Service, and Resource Monitor
  • Admin can address network features from configuring NICs to blacklist or whitelist IP addresses (wildcard uses available)
  • Firmware update is simple and easy
  • Admin can always reset everything back to factory default settings

Obviously, I might have not mentioned some of the features that QNAP TS-419P II got, but I had mentioned quite a fews.  In practice, I just configure the QNAP TS-419P II once and two days later everything is still working like a well-oiled machine.  I can’t attest to long term performance and durability of QNAP TS-419P II yet since I haven’t used it long enough.  Nonetheless, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that everything will run smoothly for a long time to come, because QNAP TS-419P II has all the NAS features and more that I’ve ever wanted to work and play with in a NAS box.  Do you have any good or bad experience with QNAP TS-419P II and like to share with everyone?  If you do, please write a comment or two below this blog post.

Setting Up iSCSI With FreeNAS So Any Computer Can Have Additional Virtual Internal Hard Drives

Six hard disk drives with cases opened showing...

Six hard disk drives with cases opened showing platters and heads; 8, 5.25, 3.5, 2.5, 1.8 and 1 inch disk diameters are represented. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you know you can use FreeNAS to host iSCSI service?  OK, what is this service anyway?  To tell the truth, I’m so new to this that I’m scared to talk of it, because I don’t want to have this wrong and steer you wrong.  Anyhow, I think I know how this service works inside FreeNAS.  Let me sum this up, it’s like using FreeNAS’s storage volumes to act as hard drives on different computers.  So, to make this clearer, let say you have a FreeNAS server with plenty of ZFS disk space and you had already created the necessary ZFS Datasets to act as if these ZFS Datasets are different partitions (i.e., ZFS volumes or hard disks); you can basically set up iSCSI service through FreeNAS to make these ZFS Datasets to act as if they are internal hard drives of any other computer you have access.  Once you set a computer to connect to iSCSI service’s volumes (i.e., extents) and with appropriate permissions, the users who log onto this specific computer will be able to use FreeNAS’s ZFS Datasets (i.e., ZFS volumes) as if there are additional internal hard drives on the computer.  How neat, right?  Unfortunately, I think the setup for iSCSI is rather confusing, and you have to really understand iSCSI to not make mistakes when setting up iSCSI service in FreeNAS.  I’m myself not exactly sure of how setting up iSCSI, therefore I can’t really make a video about iSCSI.  Luckily, I’ve found an instructive video of teaching you how to setup iSCSI in FreeNAS.  Please enjoy the video out right after the break!