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Suggestions for fast reliable External HD for Photographer

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July 18, 2007 6:09:47 AM

I have an Apple Xserve Raid (14 x250GB drives - configured as two Raid 5 + hotspare volumes) that has served as my primary storage device for years, and on which I have stored all of my professional digital photography work from the past several years (I am currently working on a MacPro with 2 X 3GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon Processors and 8GB of DDR2 RAM)...My Xserve RAID is getting pretty old at this point, and I have repeatedly faced failed drives over the past several months, and I think its on the 'outs' to be honest...I was hoping that people would offer some suggestions for a replacement external storage device that I should consider...

A couple of things I really loved about the Xserve:

The fact that if a drive failed, it would simply resort to using a hot-spare and would rebuild the data onto that drive without skipping a beat...this kind of fail safe mechanism has proven itself to be essential time and time again (too many times really, which is why I am seeking a replacement HD)...

I also really liked how fast this drive was...at the time I purchase it about 5 years ago, it was pretty much at the top of the list in terms of speed, with a fiber cable connection that would read/write data at speeds that nearly match copying from one internal HD to another...

These are the primary things I am looking for in a replacement system...data transfer speeds, as well as stability.

Not having had the need to search for external HDs in a while, I am more or less out of the loop in terms of what's the best out there...I checked out the charts for external HD's on tomshardware, and also read the article, RAID Boxes Run Riot - http://www.tomshardware.com/2007/03/23/raid_boxes_run_riot/, but to be perfectly honest with you, I am no where near technically knowledgeable enough to make any sense out of either of these sources of information...I also read up a bit on The Drobo 'Data Saving Robot', which seems like it would be the ideal solution, if it were slowed down by the fact that it uses USB instead of SATA...

Basically, I was hoping that someone could please recommend for me an ultra fast, ultra reliable external hard drive that I could use to store my work from previous years, as well as the years to come...Speed is key! Stability is key! - if this means recommending two different options for me, one in regards to an ultra fast HD, and another in terms of an ultra reliable HD, that's fine to...

Any suggestions would be sincerely appreciated! Thanks so much...
July 18, 2007 8:57:22 AM

m021478 said:
I have an Apple Xserve Raid (14 x250GB drives - configured as two Raid 5 + hotspare volumes) that has served as my primary storage device for years, and on which I have stored all of my professional digital photography work from the past several years (I am currently working on a MacPro with 2 X 3GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon Processors and 8GB of DDR2 RAM)...My Xserve RAID is getting pretty old at this point, and I have repeatedly faced failed drives over the past several months, and I think its on the 'outs' to be honest...I was hoping that people would offer some suggestions for a replacement external storage device that I should consider...

A couple of things I really loved about the Xserve:

The fact that if a drive failed, it would simply resort to using a hot-spare and would rebuild the data onto that drive without skipping a beat...this kind of fail safe mechanism has proven itself to be essential time and time again (too many times really, which is why I am seeking a replacement HD)...

I also really liked how fast this drive was...at the time I purchase it about 5 years ago, it was pretty much at the top of the list in terms of speed, with a fiber cable connection that would read/write data at speeds that nearly match copying from one internal HD to another...

These are the primary things I am looking for in a replacement system...data transfer speeds, as well as stability.

Not having had the need to search for external HDs in a while, I am more or less out of the loop in terms of what's the best out there...I checked out the charts for external HD's on tomshardware, and also read the article, RAID Boxes Run Riot - http://www.tomshardware.com/2007/03/23/raid_boxes_run_riot/, but to be perfectly honest with you, I am no where near technically knowledgeable enough to make any sense out of either of these sources of information...I also read up a bit on The Drobo 'Data Saving Robot', which seems like it would be the ideal solution, if it were slowed down by the fact that it uses USB instead of SATA...

Basically, I was hoping that someone could please recommend for me an ultra fast, ultra reliable external hard drive that I could use to store my work from previous years, as well as the years to come...Speed is key! Stability is key! - if this means recommending two different options for me, one in regards to an ultra fast HD, and another in terms of an ultra reliable HD, that's fine to...

Any suggestions would be sincerely appreciated! Thanks so much...


I'm not quite sure here how you have your raid configured, but I'll guess that you had two raid 5's mirrored with a hotspare for each.

I'd look at the HP MSA 1000 or 1500 chassis, they offer the flexibility and throughput that you are looking for, at a price!

I'd also wait for somejoe7777 to weigh in here, or possibly pm him. I don't know a more knowledgable resource than him.
July 19, 2007 4:21:47 AM

For low-cost arrays, look for arrays of the direct attached type (DAS), using either U320 SCSI, SAS, or Fibre Channel host connections, and SATA drives. SAN units using iSCSI or Fibre Channel are nice, but have more features than you need and cost more. Units using SCSI or SAS drives will cost a lot more per GB of storage.

You've already invested a lot of money in the XServe RAID. If at all possible, don't replace it. If you suspect the drives are what's going bad, replace all the drives with something like Seagate Barracuda ES drives or Western Digital RE2 drives (both high reliability). Only replace the array unit as a last resort.

Don't bother with anything reviewed in the Tom's Hardware article. Those are consumer-class devices, you won't be happy with any of them - they will perform poorly and probably have issues when drives actually go bad.

If you must replace the XServe, look at the following entry-level RAID units:

HP StorageWorks 20 Modular Storage Array - Doesn't specifically say that it's Mac OS compatible, but the interface is U320 SCSI. I would suspect it would work if you got an U320 SCSI card for your Mac.

Dell PowerVault MD1000 - Uses SAS interface, and is expandable by daisy-chaining additional SAS arrays. You would need a SAS card for your Mac (could be difficult to find).

Promise VTrak M300f - Fibre Channel host interface, SATA drives. You could keep your existing Fibre Channel card. M500f model has 3 additional drive bays. M300p/M500p uses U320 SCSI interface vice Fibre Channel. New model M610p has 16 drive bays, U320 SCSI interface, and RAID 6 for ultra reliability.

I would question each manufacturer thoroughly about Mac compatibility before buying any of these. I'd also buy only 2 or 3 drives, set up a minimalist configuration and test it out the wazoo on your Mac before purchasing large numbers of drives.

Most likely, any or all of these entry-level solutions is not going to be any faster than your XServe RAID (although just having a new unit with new drives may make them more reliable). If at all possible, I'd see if you can get your XServe working properly rather than replacing it.
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July 26, 2007 2:24:36 AM

Thanks so much for your reply SomeJoe7777...Lots of great tips...

Regarding replacing the drives in my Xserve with either Seagate Barracuda ES drives or Western Digital RE2...Is that something that is safe to do - that is, can I simply remove the drives that come in the Xserve trays and replace them with new drives, even though those aren't the ones that are provided by Apple? If so that opens up a world of possibilities! Any idea if there are any limits on the size of each drives that I can add to each slot? In other words, when I purchased the Xserve several years back, the largest available drives at the time were 250GB, and even though I have 14 of them, my system is configured just like croc mentions above and I only get two 1.1TB partitions that mount...theoretically, could I rig up the Xserve with 14 1TB drives and then simply recreate the arrays within the RAID Admin Tools provided by Apple (I probably wouldn't as this would certainly break the bank, but out of curiosity, is it possible)?

Please let me know if you get a chance...and thanks again to both of you for your take on my situation!
July 26, 2007 3:23:38 PM

I would think that 3rd-party drives would work in the XServe, but no one except Apple could tell you for sure.

There are some enclosures that won't work with 3rd-party drives because the enclosure manufacturer has contracted with a drive manufacturer and they decided to use special firmware on the drives. (EMC/Clarion is an example).

Another way to do it would be to remove all of your 250GB drives, purchase 3 Seagate or WD 500GB, 750GB, or 1TB drives, put them in the XServe and see if you can create a new array. If so, then they work. If not, return them under the return policy of the store you bought them from.
July 27, 2007 6:18:22 AM

Just a thought...
Have you tried contacting Apple?
You have invested a lot of cash in Apple kit; if I worked for Apple I'd want to keep you as a (happy) customer.
July 31, 2007 8:04:49 AM

I have not yet contacted Apple about whether or not its possible to use third party hard drives in the Xserve RAID...judging from past experience, no manufacturer is ever please to get a call from a customer asking if they can modify/tweak the manufacturer's hardware to suit their flavor...they usually take this as an excuse to say that they can no longer offer support and that they are not permitted to chime in with their input because its against policy...I'll post the question as to whether or not this is technically possible on the Apple forums and hopefully someone who has done it before will respond...Thanks again for your input!
August 13, 2007 6:00:53 PM

SomeJoe7777,

I went out and purchased a batch of Seagate Barracuda ES SATA drives (because you had mentioned that those were renowned as being reliable) only to realize that my Xserve actually uses IDE Drives...So, I am in the process of returning the SATA drives and wanted to know if you could recommend a certain model/brand of IDE 3.5" drive that was also renowned for their reliability? If so, please let me know when you have a chance...Thanks!
August 15, 2007 1:06:33 AM

m021478 said:
SomeJoe7777,

I went out and purchased a batch of Seagate Barracuda ES SATA drives (because you had mentioned that those were renowned as being reliable) only to realize that my Xserve actually uses IDE Drives...So, I am in the process of returning the SATA drives and wanted to know if you could recommend a certain model/brand of IDE 3.5" drive that was also renowned for their reliability? If so, please let me know when you have a chance...Thanks!


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