DIY Drobo alternative

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by pastrychef, Jan 1, 2010.

  1. pastrychef macrumors 601

    pastrychef

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2006
    Location:
    New York City, NY
    #1
    I have been running two Drobo v2s (4 bay w/FW800) for storage and have, generally, been extremely happy with them. The only complaints I have are, (1) they are relatively expensive and (2) they are kind of slow, especially when upgrading drives and they have to rebuild. I found myself wanting another Drobo and lusted after the new Drobo Ses, Drobo Pros, and Drobo Elites, but, alas, I was too poor to afford any of them. I also know that Netgear's ReadyNAS devices with X-RAID2 provided the same ability to upgrade drives dynamically without data loss but they are just as or even more expensive than the Drobos. Another Drobo v2 was within my budget, but I began searching for even less expensive alternatives. I saw the Intel SS4200-E on sale for $135 and couldn't resist and bought myself a Christmas gift.

    After placing the order, I did more reading about it and found that many owners had been installing Window Home Server on it and that under the hood was, essentially, a computer without a video card. This intrigued me. If it's essentially a computer, theres a good possibility that I could run unRAID on it! unRaid is shareware. It is a Linux (Slackware) based software RAID-like (more akin to JBOD with parity) server. The thing that makes unRAID special is its ability to allow users to upgrade and/or add drives to an existing array without fear of data loss and it provides parity in the event a hard drive fails, they have parity to allow for data recovery (Drobo like features). I read a bit about FreeNAS with ZFS, but read that mixing different hard drives didn't work well.

    When it arrived, I immediately tried booting in to unRAID. I connected a video card to the PCI-e 1x port on the SS4200-e's motherboard using a PCI-e 1x riser that I picked up from Ebay and USB keyboard. It booted from the USB flash drive where the unRAID software resided without any problems once the necessary settings were made to the BIOS. The free version of unRAID allows up to 3 hard drives to be used and that's what I did. It was straight forward and quite easy.

    Once the drives for properly formatted and the parity drive set, I began using it. Of course, since I had to connect to the SS4200-e via SMB, I encountered some filename issues from my Mac. I searched for and found that some users had managed to install Netatalk, an open source implementation of AFP. I attempted to do the same, but wasn't able to get it to work. As a workaround, I used Disk Utility to set up disk images with read and write enabled and write to those. I will attempt to get Netatalk working again when I have more time.

    Once I was satisfied that unRAID works as advertised, I purchased a Plus key for $70 which allows usage of up to 6 hard drives. I also tested the parity by replacing one of the original three drives to see if it would rebuild itself. It all worked as advertised. Overall, I'm very pleased with the SS4200-e/unRAID solution. If/when I get Netatalk working properly, its value with increase further. But even without, it offers me an array to store my video library without any problems. The best thing is that it's noticeably faster than the Drobos which helped with stuttering when FF/REW HD content from my Asus O!Play (another very nice little device). I will post again if/when I manage to get Netatalk working properly.

    Drobo advantages:
    1. Smaller, prettier enclosure.
    2. Easier to install/remove hard drives.
    3. Built-in support for HFS+.
    4. Easier setup.

    SS4200-e/unRAID advantages:
    1. Gigabit NAS (accessible by multiple computers).
    2. Noticeably faster than the Drobos.
    3. Failure of more than one drive does not mean total data loss.
    4. Ability to use up to 6 hard drives (the SS4200-e only has 4 internal bays, but also has two eSATA ports in the back).
    5. Potential to run other services (i.e. Bit Torrent).
    6. Cheaper.
     
  2. astrorider macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2008
    #3
    So if you want to use more than 4 drives, does Unraid automatically see drives attached to the 2 eSATA ports? So a 12TB RAID could be created with 2TB drives?
     
  3. prostuff1 macrumors 65816

    prostuff1

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2005
    Location:
    Don't step into the kawoosh...
    #4
    It should see them, but you will have to "add" them to the array. Usually it is a pretty simple step.

    1. Shut down the server
    2. connect the eSATA device/drive/enclosure
    3. Start the unRAID server back up and make sure the eSATA device is on
    4. Browse to the unRAID webGUI and stop the array
    5. Go to the devices page in the webGUI and select the new drives that you want to be part of the array.
    6. You will probably need to format the drive but you will be able to start the array and go about your business.
     
  4. pastrychef thread starter macrumors 601

    pastrychef

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2006
    Location:
    New York City, NY
    #5
    I have been a bit busy and have not had time to try out the eSATA ports yet or had time to give Netatalk another attempt. Hopefully, I will have more free time next week to experiment a little.

    I did come a cross one of the limitations of unRAID this week, though... Hypothetically, if an unRAID setup consists of four 500GB hard drives, if I wanted to write a 600GB file to the array, it isn't possible.
     
  5. prostuff1 macrumors 65816

    prostuff1

    Joined:
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    Don't step into the kawoosh...
    #6
    This is correct, because of the way unRAID works (each disk is its own file system) you cannot write a file that is larger then your largest disk in the array.
     
  6. CylonGlitch macrumors 68030

    CylonGlitch

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2009
    Location:
    SoCal
    #7
    unRAID was my second choice for my home server. I chose to go with freenas from freenas.org instead. Two reasons. 1) Well, it's free. 2) ZFS support, this allows me to keep adding drives and they look like one large drive. Right now I have 3 1TB drives in the system, one dedicated to parity.

    It was simple to setup, took no time at all, and chocked full of features. :D If you're looking to try things out, it's well worth it to look at. BUT be sure that the drives have nothing you want to save because it will wipe out the drive without really warning you.
     
  7. pastrychef thread starter macrumors 601

    pastrychef

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2006
    Location:
    New York City, NY
    #8
    I considered FreeNAS, but decided against it because the drives I am using with this setup are all different sizes. This box inherits drives orphaned due to upgrades on other systems.
     
  8. CylonGlitch macrumors 68030

    CylonGlitch

    Joined:
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    Location:
    SoCal
    #9
    With FreeNAS and ZFS the drives can be any size; just the parity drive has to be the largest in the system. So yes, you can keep adding any size you want.
     
  9. Transporteur macrumors 68030

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2008
    Location:
    UK
    #10
    And adding capacity works on the fly, just like with a Drobo?

    I shut down the server, add a new drive, reboot and I'm good to go?
    What about rebuilding in case of a drive failure?
     
  10. CylonGlitch macrumors 68030

    CylonGlitch

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2009
    Location:
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    #11
    Basically. Right now I don't have any hotswap drive bays installed so I would need to shut down and restart. But even then I would need to go in an add the drive via the web interface, format it and then add it to the pool. But that is only a few minutes worth of work. If the downtime of taking down the server to install the drive is too much, just buy the hotswap bays (there are a ton of them out there) and then you can install drives as you need them in real time. Just go in and add the drive and it will automatically added to the pool.

    As for rebuilding is done basically in the same way, install the new drive, remove the old one, go into the web interface and rebuild it. Done. During the rebuild, the pool is still available.
     
  11. Transporteur macrumors 68030

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2008
    Location:
    UK
    #12
    Thank you very much CylonGlitch!
    I think I will definitely try FreeNas (again) in the next couple of weeks.
    Had it installed once on my Server (about 3 years ago or so) and the network performance was lousy, hence I went back to Server2003.
     
  12. pastrychef thread starter macrumors 601

    pastrychef

    Joined:
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    Location:
    New York City, NY
    #13
    How difficult was the setup? I may give it a shot if it's not too difficult. Thanks.
     
  13. pastrychef thread starter macrumors 601

    pastrychef

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    #14
  14. prostuff1 macrumors 65816

    prostuff1

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    #15
    Glad you finally got it working. There are a lot of those guides on the unRAID forum and they are all pretty easy to follow, plus the community is very helpful!
     
  15. pastrychef thread starter macrumors 601

    pastrychef

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2006
    Location:
    New York City, NY
    #16
    Yes, some of the people there have managed to do some really amazing things with their unRAID setups.

    I did a bit of searching to explore the possibilities of using ZFS in FreeNAS to achieve the same level of upgradability for the array and found this:

    http://wiki.mattrude.com/index.php?title=Freenas/ZFS_and_FreeNAS_expansion

    I applaud CylonGlitch's abilities. Everything on that page was Greek to me!
     
  16. Transporteur macrumors 68030

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2008
    Location:
    UK
    #17
    Good lecture for tonight. :D
    I recently tried to set up a ZFS pool using FreeNas as a VM plus additional drives, but I could not manage to run it. It's not as easy as I thought.
     
  17. gibsonjv macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2009
    Location:
    Ohio
    #18
    USB or DOM for unRAID boot on SS4200

    @pastrychef:

    Do you run unRAID from a USB stick on the SS4200 or did you replace the DOM and install unRAID there?

    Curious since I have an SS4200 and am considering an unRAID install.

    Thanks
     
  18. pastrychef thread starter macrumors 601

    pastrychef

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2006
    Location:
    New York City, NY
    #19
    I use a USB stick because, in the beginning, I was only experimenting with it and just stuck with the USB stick. But it would probably be best to run it off of the DOM. The reason for this is that when one changes drives, the BIOS seems to reset itself to default settings. So, if you would have to set the BIOS to boot from the USB stick each time you upgrade drives or force it to boot off the USB stick by holding the reset button while powering up. Not a major problem, but certainly a minor nuisance. The stock DOM has more than enough room for use with unRAID.
     
  19. fineaddme macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2010
    #20
    hi all

    ok i have a few questions i am new to this so please bare with me

    ok what i am trying to basically do is setup a series of ext. hdds that can be accessed by any computer (mac or windows) in my network and by my wdtv live for movies and music

    this is where i am a bit confused if i buy a Intel Entry Storage System SS4200-E
    will i be able to set it up so that i can use that as almost my media storage center (with other files on the hdds as well) and also to keep them safe? i dont want to loose all of the music and movies i have on them)

    i have 3 1tb hdds
    my router is right next to 2 of my computers (an imac and dell)
    and next to my hdtv as well
    so no need for a long ethernet cable

    i dont have too much money to invest in many componenets but i have enough for the Intel Entry Storage System SS4200-E and i already have 3 1tb hdds (wd caviar black)

    i am new to this sort of mass hdd devices so i dont mind the criticism on anything on my post the more the better so i can better understand
     
  20. pastrychef thread starter macrumors 601

    pastrychef

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2006
    Location:
    New York City, NY
    #21
    A NAS will allow all of the computers on your network to access the files on it.

    A four drive RAID 5 setup will protect you from the failure of any one of the four drives. Replace the failed drive and you are once again protected from a single drive failure. If more than one drive fails in a four drive RAID 5 setup, you are out of luck and all your data will be lost.

    A four drive unRAID setup will protect you against a single drive failure just like RAID 5. However, if more than one drive fails, it does not result in total data loss. It is probably better explained here:

    http://lime-technology.com/wiki/ind...advantages_of_unRAID_over_similar_products.3F

    How long of an ethernet cable you use is up to you. I believe maximum recommended cable length for CAT5, CAT5e, and CAT6 are 100 meters.
     
  21. MacModMachine macrumors 68020

    MacModMachine

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  22. fineaddme macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2010
    #23
    I will use a cat5e 15ft cable

    one more question if i try to stream 1080p mkv over the intel would that work fine without stutter?

    i am using a 5port 10/100 switch to connect my imac and dell and my 360 and wdtv live
    so if i rather connect the intel to the switch would streaming be fine or would a 10/100/1000 switch be better?

    i got a wrt54gl linksys router btw

    i also found this and wanted to know you opinions on this and if it would be better or same as the intel here it is
    its a qnap nas

    http://www.qnap.com/pro_detail_feature.asp?p_id=135
     
  23. fineaddme macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2010
    #24
    Would a intel SS4200 with 3 wd caviar black 1tb hdds and freenas work fine with the componenets it comes with?
     
  24. pastrychef thread starter macrumors 601

    pastrychef

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2006
    Location:
    New York City, NY
    #25
    For streaming videos, 10/100 is enough. I have an Asus O!Play that only has 10/100 ethernet port and streaming works fine. I never get stutters.

    However, you would probably want to get a gigabit switch so that reads and writes to the NAS are faster. 10/100 can be painfully slow for large transfers.

    Sorry, I don't know enough about the qnap to comment.
     

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