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File Server

I am was running out of disk space (160 episodes of New Yankee Workshop at 1GB each and counting...) so my next step was to build a dedicated file server on the network.  This machine has gone through two phases; Phase 1 was built with 4 regular 120GB ATA drives and a HighPoint RocketRAID 404 card running RAID 5.  RAID 5 gives the best compromise between reading speed, writing speed and usable capacity. In my configuration of 4 drives, I get 3 drives worth of usable storage, with parity distributed across all drives.  Phase 2 was brought on by filling up all space from Phase 1, so I went with a new 8-port SATA RAID controller and 4 250GB SATA drives. This gives a total of (480GB + 1000GB) 1.5 Terabytes of raw disk space, and (360GB + 750GB) 1.11 Terabytes of usable RAID 5 protected disk space.

I researched rack-mounted cases extensively for a 3U unit with slide-in drive carriers, but the prices were astronmoical, so I bought a conventional 4U server case and did a Monster Garage job on it.  This is how it started out:

I then had to rip out most of the guts as it was going to end up being only a motherboard and a bunch of drives in a custom holder.

I knew hot-swap drives would be prohibitively expensive, and even drives sliding in and out on rails while powered down was too much, so I built a fixed-mounting system out of Home Depot sheet steel.  It has room for 12 drives but I only have the boot drive and four RAID drives installed in Phase 1.  I spread them out for better airflow. I put the mount into the rack unit, cushioning it with door insulating strips from Home Depot... To get better airflow and avoid the hassle of flat drive cables, I went with the rounded style.  Better but still very crowded inside. The picture on the right shows what it looks like with the 4 new drives from Phase 2.

This is what the cabling situation looks like at Phase 2 - pretty ugly.  Even using round ATA cables, you can see the striking difference from the blue SATA cables. Since I have four spare SATA channels on the new controller, I may put small ATA-to-SATA adapters on each drive - this allows me to run SATA cables to all drives, running two 4-drive RAID groups from a single controller.  On the right is an out-of-focus shot of the SATA controller.  It's a quite small PCI-X card with 8 channels - each black block has 2 SATA plugs.

This is what the file server looks like, installed in the rack.  The RAID controllers have connectors for drive activity LEDs, but strangely they don't include cables, so I made two with only 1 LED each - in a RAID 5 system, it's (mostly) all or nothing for drive activity.