Hi-Rely RAIDFrame: External Disk-To-Disk Backup Via eSATA

RAIDFrame Chassis

The core component of the RAIDFrame backup system is the RAIDFrame chassis. Designed to be rack mountable, the chassis is 3U in height and 17.5” inches deep. Fully configured, the all-metal frame provides the nice, sturdy shell that houses five RAID-enabled disk drive cartridges called RAIDPacs. The barebone-like design of the RAIDFrame doesn’t provide much by way of alarms or lights on the chassis itself. Instead, all the alerting lights and sounds are built into the individual RAIDPacs.

Across the front of the RAIDFrame chassis are five 3-3/8 inch-wide bays used to mount the inserted RAIDPacs. The remaining real estate around the front bezel is sparse. There isn’t even enough space to add built-in handles into the front of the body for pulling the chassis in and out of a rack cabinet.

The empty RAIDFrame chassis without the RAIDPacs. The railings in the interior top and bottom provide that extra guidance and support for insertion.The empty RAIDFrame chassis without the RAIDPacs. The railings in the interior top and bottom provide that extra guidance and support for insertion.

The interface board inside the RAIDFrame provides power and a data interface to the RAIDPacs.The interface board inside the RAIDFrame provides power and a data interface to the RAIDPacs.

On the back panel, you have two partially-exposed ATX power supplies; each with its own power plug receptacle and rocker switch, a grill for the centrally-placed 4-3/4 inch exhaust fan, and a single eSATA port. There’s also a master switch for both power supplies that will keep the chassis powered on as long as both power supply rockers are left in the "on" position.

The rear panel of the RAIDFrame. Two power supplies with their own independent power switches, the main power switch in the upper right hand side, main fan, and eSATA port.The rear panel of the RAIDFrame. Two power supplies with their own independent power switches, the main power switch in the upper right hand side, main fan, and eSATA port.

Internally, the RAIDFrame can be split into two zones. Fully or partially populated, the front half of the chassis is the heavier end of the device.  Each RAIDPac slides into a bay, connected through a small circuit board that provides power and I/O to the disks inside the RAIDPac modules. 

The back half of the RAIDFrame chassis holds the two power supplies, SATA and power cables, and the port multiplier board that splits the single eSATA input into separate five channels; each going to a different RAIDPac.

The exposed top interior of the RAIDFrame chassis. The RAIDPacs would be inserted into the section at the top of the picture.The exposed top interior of the RAIDFrame chassis. The RAIDPacs would be inserted into the section at the top of the picture.

The great thing about the components used in the RAIDFrame is that a lot of the parts are non-proprietary and easily maintained. Highly-Reliable’s goal is to provide its customers with a product that uses components that are easily replaced. For example, powering the RAIDFrame and the RAIDPacs are two SPI ATX12V 2.2 power supplies running at 450W each. Per Highly Reliable, you can swap out these power modules with compatible power supplies as long as the minimum wattage is 350W. 

Having two power supplies, you may think that the RAIDFrame is redundant, but it’s not. Since the RAIDPacs run independently from each other, there is no actual requirement to keep them all running at the same time. As configured, the power supply on the left provides power to the three RAIDPacs on the left side of the RAIDFrame (and also the exhaust fan). The power supply on the right side powers the remaining two RAIDPacs on the right. Despite its twin PSUs and cooling fan, the unit is not that noisy.

Interior close-up shot of the rear compartment. From left to right: power supply, cooling fan, power supply, and eSATA port multiplier.Interior close-up shot of the rear compartment. From left to right: power supply, cooling fan, power supply, and eSATA port multiplier.

Overall, the design of the chassis is pretty straightforward. The one RAIDFrame part that may be hardest to replace is the port multiplier. I was told by representatives at Highly Reliable that getting an additional port multiplier installed into a custom configuration requires shipping the RAIDFrame to the vendor’s office in Reno, Nevada. Though, its easily mountable via two pre-allocated spots inside the case, Highly Reliable would rather make the change itself. That being the case, you’re better off ordering the configuration you want from the get-got. The demo configuration we were shipped is not a required setup, and can be easily changed around to suit different purposes. The decision to use non-proprietary power supplies and connections gives the technician the added flexibility of configuring which power supply powers a given RAIDPac or set of RAIDPacs. You just need to compensate for the length of the power leads coming out of the supply and get them to reach the RAIDPac interfaces located across the chassis’ center divider.

A close up of the port multiplier. Optional designs can include more than one of these cards in order to accommodate more than one host.A close up of the port multiplier. Optional designs can include more than one of these cards in order to accommodate more than one host.

As mentioned above, the single eSATA connection going into the RAIDFrame is split into five different channels at the port multiplier board.  From the board, five eSATA channels plug into each of five midplane boards used to provide power and I/O to the RAIDPac cartridges. 

Close up of the eSATA port connecting the external computer to the RAIDFrame.  The connection goes to the port multiplier sitting behind the port.Close up of the eSATA port connecting the external computer to the RAIDFrame. The connection goes to the port multiplier sitting behind the port.

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23 comments
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  • A good solid well written article. Keep up the good work.
    3
  • Perhaps I missed something, But I am curious as to how they got 3 drives per port on the port multiplier. I am familiar with port multipliers, but not the technology they use here apparently.

    Also, on a side note, I think this device would be more useful if it allowed you to run RAID 10, but with two out ports. Perhaps even multilane would be in order in this case ?
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  • Let me clarify what I said above. I feel the device would be "better" if they allowed it to be configured to run RAID 10 using two RAIDPacks.
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  • Nice hardware, but a bit spendy. My software based raid 5 array has higher performance over gigabit ethernet, uses commodity parts, and is much cheaper. I am sure my array costs well under $1000 with 8 750gb drives. Since I am using supermicro hot swap sata drive cages, all I have to do is press a button and the drive comes out. 4 screws, and the drive is removed. Takes well under 5 minutes to remove a drive and put in a new one, and it just takes a philips screwdriver.

    And why are there two 450w power supplies? Even if the box is full, that is 30 watts per drive, which is a crazy amount of power. If they stagger the drive spin up, they would never need more than 225w tops.
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  • This should be a 6Gb/s SATA 3.0 design with port multipliers. If you wanted to back up serious amounts of data to this thing you'd never finish, it would always be in backup mode.
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  • wow...this is really cheap stuff
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  • Highly Reliable Systems? The company name is Highly Reliable Systems???
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  • so if one of the three drives should fail inside a RAIDpac, you have to eject the whole RAIDpac to replace that drive?
    That sets the RAID offline ... a RAID 5 should be allow hotswapping a failed disk.

    And two PSU but not redundant ? ... doens't seem very HIGH RELIABLE
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  • Although some of these points were mentioned in the article, not being on the front page, these important features may have been missed by a few readers and may answer some of your questions.

    1. Each RAID pack has an integrated RAID 5 / RAID 0 controller. This means the RAIDPACs can operate completely standalone without the addition of any special controllers or driver software. Thus, left with nothing but a RAIDPac, you could connect it via eSATA to your motherboard and restore the data.

    2. The RAIDpacs use standard SATA hard drives. At present, 2.0TB drives are available making the available capacities 4TB in RAID 5 and 6TB in RAID 0 per RAID pack.

    3. There is also a 1 bay RAIDFrame available which can use RAIDPacs interchangeably with the 5 Bay if necessary. The one bay has both ESATA and USB connections for portability and ease of connection. The one bay is substantially cheaper than the 5 bay.

    4. The dual ATX power supplies were chosen over specialty redundant power supplies because they are the most widely available power supply in the world making field service for this unit in the dead of the night, practical. The 1 bay has this same feature. By using two instead of one, if a power supply dies, you're not dead, the unit is still usable although some bays may not function.
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  • yyrkoonPerhaps I missed something, But I am curious as to how they got 3 drives per port on the port multiplier.
    The RAIDFrame is not a single RAID system. The RAIDFrame 5 bay is 5 RAID systems. Each hot swappable RAIDPac is a volume. Port multipliers allow up to 5 volumes (drives) to one SATA channel. Hence one SATA channel, 5 RAIDPacs.
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  • jeffunitNice hardware, but a bit spendy. My software based raid 5 array has higher performance over gigabit ethernet, uses commodity parts, and is much cheaper. I am sure my array costs well under $1000 with 8 750gb drives. Since I am using supermicro hot swap sata drive cages, all I have to do is press a button and the drive comes out. 4 screws, and the drive is removed.


    The RAIDFrame 5 Bay is not a single RAID system. It is 5 RAID systems. Each RAIDPac is self contained and needs no hardware or software to connect to another computer system's SATA port in emergency situations. Stand alone drive's from a RAID system like yours are not this way. They still require your RAID's system hardware and software in order to be accepted by a host.
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  • thehighrelyguyStand alone drive's from a RAID system like yours are not this way. They still require your RAID's system hardware and software in order to be accepted by a host.


    Perhaps you misunderstand.
    I was referring to my published article on tomshardware http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/build-file-server,2358.html
    In it, I build a *software* raid system.
    If the computer takes a dive, you can put the drives in another box,
    install linux & raid software, and you have all of your data.
    Takes about an hour.

    And my software solution, does 204 mbytes/sec write and 320 mbytes/second read, on the local disks, which is roughly 3 times faster than this $4000+ system. Also, I can saturate gigabit ethernet with reads or writes on remote systems, which is faster than the RAIDFrame, and can be hooked up to many computers, vs one with the RAIDFrame esata port. All for well under $1000.

    Doing raid-5 on 3 disks is really silly, as your overhead is 1/3. Also my system can serve files to linux, windows, or mac, all at the same time, unlike this system.
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  • jeffunitI build a *software* raid system.If the computer takes a dive, you can put the drives in another box,install linux & raid software, and you have all of your data.Takes about an hour.


    Jeff, I do understand. However, I'm not sure you understand what I'm saying. As you point out, you put your drives in another box, that box I would assume is a computer, and you install LINUX on it, consuming that machine. This takes over a whole computer in order to read your disks. Our RAIDPacs simply plug into any computer motherboard with SATA ports like any other SATA hard drive. There is no software to install whatsoever nor any other hardware required. In other words, a RAIDPac is... just another physical a hard drive as far as a computer is concerned. Our system is DAS (Direct Attached Storage). Your solution is a NAS (Network Attached Storage). You're comparing apples (not the computers) and oranges. BTW, I do believe your solution is fine if someone requires a NAS. I've been a big LINUX fan since 1992, see my early LINUX promo products (http://linux.techass.com/products/).
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  • thehighrelyguy I've been a big LINUX fan since 1992, see my early LINUX promo products ().

    http://linux.techass.com/products/
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  • thehighrelyguyhttp://linux.techass.com/products/

    Revive phoenix! Now is a really good time for it :) You've got a lot more to work with these days.
    0
  • thehighrelyguyJeff, I do understand. However, I'm not sure you understand what I'm saying.


    I understand just fine.I know you have a DAS system. However, when my NAS system is faster, cheaper, and more versatile, the DAS system isn't so desirable. You can get a motherboard, cpu, memory, case, and power supply for $200-$300. Just add the hard drives or cages, and you are good to go.

    I can use raid-5 or raid-6. I can use raid-10. I can support multiple operating systems. I can add as many drives as I want. I can build multiple arrays. If I wanted to I could team my gigabit network or I could use a 10gb/sec card. I can hot swap my drives.

    If your system were faster or cheaper then it would offer something significant. Why is your DAS so slow? It should be able to saturate a SATA connector. For so much money you should have sata-III and be able to saturate that too. Can you hot swap? For $4k for a starter configuration, I expect hot swap power supplies and a whole lot more flexibility and performance.
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  • jeffunitI understand just fine.I know you have a DAS system. However, when my NAS system is faster, cheaper, and more versatile, the DAS system isn't so desirable....


    Jeff,

    Highly Reliable Systems (http://www.high-rely.com) makes a NAS also (http://www.high-rely.com/HR3/includes/BNAS/BNAS-HRS201.php). I'm quite aware of the benefits and drawbacks of NAS's. In fact, here is our own whitepaper explaining some of the benefits and drawbacks. (6th article down, http://www.high-rely.com/HR3/includes/whitepapers.php) And yes, each RAIDPac is hot pluggable. I guess your NAS is also. Although I wouldn't consider plugging and unplugging the AC cord and network connector in the same thing league.

    And that's my point. Yes, your NAS is faster and so is our NAS but, again, you're trying to compare two totally different things. Comparing your NAS to the RAIDFrame is like comparing a sports car to a truck.

    Also, our system is FIVE independent RAID 5 systems. Yours is one. You would have to build four more then add up the costs. Yes, still less expensive but again, not the same thing.

    Our RAIDPacs are designed to be swapped by office workers, not IT people. Thus a lot of design effort went into making RAIDPacs simple to change. RAIDpacs have a special water resistant transport case that has been certified by Iron Mountain. RAIDPacs are used by film crews to move films from field to studio.

    Does your NAS attach directly to someone's $12,000 Windows 2008 server and fall under the security provisions of that server's operating system and configuration without any administration changes or added security risks? Not likely, it has to have a network connection and be configured as a SAMBA network share or maybe iSCSI if possible. Does your NAS store 6TB of DATA complete with access hardware and no software drivers required in a rugged, portable, hot pluggable, interchangeable package slightly larger than the size of three 3.5" drives? Not likely. If it does, I can almost guarantee you the performance will not be what you're experiencing currently and the cost will definitely be more.

    I do believe you understand the difference between DAS and NAS. But I don't believe you understand who our customers are. They are the US Military, Medical Centers, Universities, City Governments, large companies with large data centers, small companies with large backup requirements and heavy security needs.

    They also want a company that will warranty their system for up to 5 years. They want a technical support department that is responsive and available.

    The RAIDFrame has been shipping for almost two years. And, the hardware platform has remained stable. Try buying the exact same consumer grade motherboard just 6 months after you bought the last one. Good luck finding it. When companies invest heavily in their IT infrastructure they don't want their replacement parts to be unavailable in 6 months and have to upgrade or migrate.

    All of these things whether they be part of the hardware or not are costs and benefits that our customers need and buy with our systems. I'm sorry if the RAIDFrame doesn't meet your expectations but I think your priorities are different.
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  • “If it’s not off-site it’s not a backup”. I assume you don’t tuck your full blown linux box with RAID arrays under your arm and head out the door every night? Your NAS is a great storage system and provides a great local copy of your data, which protects against lots of types of failures. But it isn’t a backup unless the data is offsited regularly. RAIDPacs are intended for daily plug/unplug and transportable backup scenarios. They aren’t intended for general purpose storage (although they can be used for that). Hope this Helps visualize what we’re doing.
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  • Is the price for reals??? Its so expensive. Like he stated this is for people who have no clue what they are doing (office people) and not for IT people. Its sad to see that our tax money goes and buys these for our universities and military when there are cheaper alternatives that have more features and more space for the price.
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