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Server Upgrade, New Server or NAS?

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March 25, 2009 10:31:47 AM

I'm looking to upgrade my current server machine and as in the title am considering all possible options. My Server is used simply to host masses of media and distribute it all over the household. Currently it has no other purpose than that, although I do need use of web/browser facilities now and then on it. I'd also like to have backup facilities readily available should they be needed.

Anyway my current server specs
DELL Poweredge SC440
- Intel Pentium(R) Dual Core CPU E2180 (2GHz)
- 2GB ECC DIMM DD2 Ram
- ATI Radeon X300SE PCIe (this is a modded card to fit the slot)

Hard Disks
- WD 80GB SATA300 8mb Cache (3 Partitions: OS Tools/Win2k3 Server Edition/WinXP)
- WD 80GB SATA300 8mn Cache (Single Partiton: VMWare Installation for testing new OS builds)
- SAMSUNG HD753LJ SATA300 32mb Cache 750GB (Media Host)
- SAMSUNG HD753LJ SATA300 32mb Cache 750GB (Media Host)
- BUFFALO External 1TB HDD (Media Host)
- IOMEGA External 1TB HDD (Media Host)
- TOSHIBA External 1TB HDD (Backup)

4 Internal and 3 External Drives in total.

- Internal DVD-ROM Drive
- External DVDR/RW/RAM Drive with HDD Bay (empty) and Media Card Reader

The Server has 4 interal SATA which are all used. Ideally I wanted to remove all 3 1TB HDD's and place them interally which I could do by removing the DVD-ROM and racking them in the 5.25" bays problem is, no SATA ports left.

I've been considering buying a PCI SATA Controller but I'm unsure on how the HDD's would be powered? None of the 1TB External Casings have esata, they're all USB 2.0). The PSU in the server is 300w I think although people generally say that DELL understate their PSU's. I ran a power supply calculater facotring in all hardware and it said with the 3 1TB drives running internally I'd require 370W.

So this is my dillemma, I want to upgrade the storage but I don't have the internal capacity to realyl do it, atleast, I'm unsure on how I could power the drives if they were attached to a SATa controller. I just don't want multiple external drives each with separate PSU's (too many wires). Plus USB 2.0 is too slow for transfer and read speeds so SATA or eSATA would be ideal.

The Server has 4 firewire ports also but the enclosures don't have firewire support. So unless I replaced the enclosures with ones that supported firewire I couldn't make use of that. I can't wait for USB 3.0...

It took me about 8 months to decide on this server unit which was in the end ideal at the time, I'd compared it to so many other alternatives everything from Servers to NAS. Now I'm not quite sure where to go.

I'm considering obtaining a separate NAS which I could then place the 3 1TB drives in and hook directly to the router via ethernet but I'm not sure how much of an improvement, speed wise that would be over USB2.0. My network doesn't ( my router doesn't) currently have gigabit support so I don't know whether this wiould be the best option, although, I also want to upgrade my entire network and incorporate gigabit throughout it.

The other option would be to either, buy a new server unit to run alongside my current one OR build a new server unit. In either case, again, unsure on what my best options are. I've been looking at HP's server options and had my eye on a couple for a while but the thoguht of having another PC isn't all that appealing, ideally, I'd like to minmize space, which I suppose would make NAS a slightly better option but the prices put me off when I researched them a year ago, I suppose there are alot more options now.

Another option would be to remove the 80GB HDD's and replace them with 1TB drives. Again, I'm not sure how ideal it would be mixing my OS partitons with Media partitons which is what I'd have to do to make full use of the 1TB drives as it'd be far too much space for both the OS's and the VMWare.

In summary, what are my best options for upgrading my servers storage capacity?

Any thoughts, suggestions greatly appreciated. I'm fairly tech-headed so if you need any other info that would help, just ask. Cheers.
a b G Storage
March 25, 2009 11:28:29 AM

You list many options, but I'm still trying to understand what the problem is. If I had to guess, the problem is you've filled (or are about to fill) all the drives in your computer, and you want to know what to do now. The other possible problem I think you mentioned is you want to get rid of the external drives, and only use internal ones. The last possible problem I think you mentioned is the external drives are to slow for what you want. If you can clearly list what is wrong, perhaps I/we can better state what to do next.
March 25, 2009 1:29:36 PM

Apologies, should have clarified.

You're pretty much spot-on. My problem is, I want to get rid of the external drives, in that I want to make them internal. I don't want them to be connected via USB2.0 I'd ideally like them to be hooked up via SATA. I've run out of SATA ports unless I swap some disks over. My initial reaction was to throw in a SATA controller PCI card but I'm unsure on how the disks would be powered?

Obviously as they are (the 3 1TB external USB drives) each have their own PSU's if I remove them I'd have to find an alternativep ower source, as they're all SATA that would require another SATA power cable for each and I don't have that option as all my SATA options inside my case are used up. UNLESS, a SATA controller card can power them, I'm not sure how exactly they work when it comes to powering the disks?

Therefore I was looking at alternatives such as a separate NAS or even buying/building another server. Hope that clarifies. I'm just looking for my best options based on that.
Related resources
a b G Storage
March 25, 2009 3:44:54 PM

The PCI SATA card does not provide power. You'll have to come up with a seperate SATA power plug for each drive. If your PSU doesn't have enough of them, you can buy some Molex to SATA power adapters. The only question then becomes is your PSU up to the task. 3 drives isn't likely to send your PSU over the limit, and if it does your to close to the limit anyways. Do some digging and see what you can find on the PSU. You should be fine, a spinning drive only wants around 5W. (startup is a b!7ch, then tend to want more, around 25W last I heard.)
March 25, 2009 7:57:20 PM

Thanks, I hadn't considered the adapters. I'm assuming these can be obtained fairly cheap. Like you said, I'm not sure myself. I'll have to do some calculations but I think I may be slightly over, in which case I suppose a new PSU could be in order.
a b G Storage
March 25, 2009 9:10:19 PM

If you've ever bought a retail motherboard, you probably got some. Like most other adapters, they seem to breed on their own. If you do need some, put a post on CL, or hit your local computer shop for some. I wouldn't be surprised if you can get some for just a couple of $$$.
March 28, 2009 3:39:43 PM

Having asked this question elsewhere I feel my PSU will be sufficient for the job. I've also purchased the molex to 4x sata adapter.

Any recommendations on a SATA controller. Would like one for sata ii 300 and not fussy about the extent of the raid suport. Been watching over the Promise PCI SATA300 TX4 Sata II 4 port controller which I could probably pick up for about £50. I'm thinking this might be over board. Ebay has alot of 3 x sata 1 x ide controllers for much less but I don't know what I should be looking at really, brand ,speeds, ports (well atleast 3 sata) etc..
March 28, 2009 5:21:39 PM

The cost of such a controller is about the cost of a modern motherboard with 6 SATA ports available at maximum speed (thus not limited to PCI bus). I would recommend building a modern (though cheap) system for this. PCI hurts performance pretty badly, not just sequential performance.
March 29, 2009 3:52:05 PM

What sort of speed loss would I be looking at (write/read) by using a SATA controller versus onbaord SATA, assuming equivalent specs? You're saying it's significant to consider a new server?
a b G Storage
March 29, 2009 11:59:16 PM

I hope I don't humiliate myself...

The PCI is a shared bus, so if you don't have anything else on the PCI bus, all of the available bandwidth will go to the SATA card. The problem is PCI doesn't have a lot of bandwidth. I believe it tops out at 133MBps. This is why PCIx and then PCIe came out. How much of an issue this is depends on your disk usage. If you will be hammering all drives at the same time, PCI won't cut it. 133MBps / 3 ~ 44MB per drive if you want to hit all three at the same time. Note that this is also slower then the speeds you could get with USB2. (480Mbps = 60MBps.) If however you will be hitting only one drive at a time, the full 133MBps will be available, and two at a time will be more or less equal to the speed you have now with externals.

So basically if you only hit two at a time (read/write), you'll be no worse off then where you are now. Also, you gain the lack of crap outside the case like you were looking for. If however you'll be doing things to all the drives attached to the card at the same time, you'll want to look elsewhere.
April 7, 2009 7:15:07 AM

I'm leaning more towards switching 2 of the HDD's and then preparing myself for a new bare bones server in the future. Case and motherboard with larger support basically.
May 4, 2009 1:39:10 PM

Resolved. I did as above. Switched both the 80GB drives for 1TB drives. I cloned my primary boot drive and resized the partitons using Acronis Migrate. So I have a 1TB media drive and my Primary boot drive which has win2k3 and I wiped my WinXP dual boot and enlarged that partition to 700GB as a new media drive.
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