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two terabyte file server, $3100

This document describes my file server. It is a home-built PC which maximizes fault tolerant storage while minimizing cost. This has nothing to do with xav.com (unless you wonder where your shareware fees go). This article is hosted on xav.com because that is my only site on which to host stuff like this...

While researching how to build my file server, I referenced the following guides:

Since those other online guides helped me, I figured I would describe my own experiences in this online guide.

[ Stats | Cost | Lessons | Pictures | Alternatives ]


Stats

Cost $3100
Storage: 2000 GB in RAID5 array + 279 GB stand-alone drive
Drives: 9 x 300GB Maxtor
Fans: 8


Components and Costs

Costs are listed as of November 2004, when the system was purchased.

Antec tower case $66.50
500W power supply $44.50
two extra cooling fans $9.10
Fan-cooled mount for 3 HD, fits in 2 CD bay $29.50
Motherboard $104.00
Processor, P4 3.2e GHz / 800MHz bus $219.00
1gb RAM $130.54
Hardware RAID controller, 3ware Escalade 8506-8 $494.99
Nine (9) Maxtor 300gb SATA drives $1836.00

I had to buy about $20 worth of additional SATA power cables at Fry's. The system also needed speakers, floppy drive, DVD drive, mouse, keyboard, and monitor, but I already had those on hand.

I was building a storage-only system, so I opted for a motherboard with onboard sound, video, and gigabit Ethernet. If a man were making a gaming system or something, he would probably want a dedicated video card.


Lessons learned:

If I had to do it over again, I would:

2005-05-23 I have had the server for about six months now. No drives have failed and everything is running great. I bought a tenth 300GB drive for use as a future replacement; that drive is just sitting to the side for now.

I moved into a house in January. The house is about 20-30 years old, and I decided to set up shop in the basement. The electric power here is erratic -- at first I had several situations where the circuit breaker would blow when I was running the laundry, my space heater, and my three downstairs computers. In two situations where there was a sudden loss of power, my terabyte server got very bitchy and claimed that all data was lost. I had to repeatedly rebuild the array which took hours. Part of the problem was that once the controller thought that a drive had physically died, even when it had not, the controller did not want to accept that drive as a replacement. Eventually I forced the array to be rebuilt, and I was pleasantly surprised to see all my data intact.

Since then I have purchased an APC Back-UPS XS800. It provides surge protection to three outlets, and backup battery plus surge protection for four outlets. It was a bit spendy, like $200, because I bought the model that supported a lot of wattage. It has been a good investment. Since January I have had fewer power outages, since I&039;ve learned what my office-room can handle, but there have been two or three outages, and the UPS has kicked in nicely. I guess the lesson is that you should surge-protect and power-protect these types of machines.

I am still running Windows 2000, but am considering an upgrade to Windows 2003. I'm storing 137 DVDs on the server (using 927 GB). The house has 100MB wired Ethernet. From any computer in the house I can watch the DVDs over the network and the quality is great.


Pictures - Screenshots

The Windows explorer view:

Windows explorer view

Main drive properties:

main drive properties

Computer management => Disk management view:

Computer management => Disk management view

3ware RAID controller software view:

3ware RAID controller software view

Pictures - Hardware

Side view:

3ware RAID controller software view

Front. Of the four CD bays, the top holds a DVD reader, followed by the 2-for-3 CD bay to HD bay converter. The bottom CD bay is empty. I am thinking of converting it into another HD bay:

front CD bays

Side view through the clear side. Supposedly these cases can be made to light up, but mine doesn't. Probably I need specialized components:

side view

Case open. From the top: DVD drive; group of 3 hard drives (cooled); group of 3 drives (not cooled); final group of 3 drives (cooled):

interior view

Close-up of the drives. Each SATA cable has masking tape with its index number, to make it easier to locate and swap out drives later:

close-up of the drives

Motherboard and processor:

motherboard and processor

Backend; I have it running headless. It is managed with Windows 2000 Terminal Services:

backend


Alternatives

I considered getting a rack-mount case, since those are designed to hold a large number of drives. Ultimately I decided against it because some of those cases alone cost about $1500. One of the main benefits of those cases was the ability to hot-swap the drives. That is cool but I am okay with shutting down my system when I need to swap drives.

I looked at Dell's network storage appliances. As expected, they were incredibly expensive. The way they sell them makes it hard to price out a comparable 2-TB solution, but I'm sure it would be more than $3000 as of 2004-12-30.

I chose Windows 2000 because I am most experienced with that OS. For Windows 2003 Server they have a special "storage server" edition. I am not sure what extra goodies are available there. Maybe at some point I will try that OS out. For now, the file server is living on my private network (behind a software NAT router) and nobody is logging in to the system or running apps there, so security was not a major concern. If it were, I probably would have chosen a Windows 2003 OS.

I wanted RAID of some type. RAID5 has the lowest cost in terms of wasted disk space, so that won out. I am just storing backup media files, so if all my data is lost, it won't be an actual loss of unique data. I wanted to go with hardware RAID for the performance benefits, and also because it was an easy way to get an expansion card with eight SATA connectors.


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