Long-time readers may recall that I bought at least one of these:
It’s a Drobo and it’s been a disaster. First, because it’s temperamental: move it, or power it off then on, or basically breathe anywhere in its general direction, and it will dramatically start flashing red lights, indicating total failure (and lost data). When you have suppressed the sick feeling in your stomach at that thought, you can power it off and on a few more times and, probably, it will decide to reboot in ‘green light’ mode. At which point your data is safe for as long as you don’t breathe again.
Secondly, it’s incredibly slow to re-protect your data. One of the advertised joys of the Drobo was that you could eject one of the four existing hard disks, pop in a new one of greater size and then just sit back and wait for the thing to re-distribute your data over the whole array so that it was all protected once more. Which is, indeed, what happens… except that you wait a long, long, very long time. And throughout the duration of that wait, your data isn’t protected against another hardware failure at all. When I last tried to do this with 4 2TB drives, the box spent 6.5 days thinking about it.You run with unprotected data for a week and see how you get on sleeping!
And third: the Drobo was and remains relatively noisy. Easily audible above the noise of a loud action movie it’s providing the data for, that’s for sure.
We had a council clean-up this week, so my Drobos finally met their destiny as land-fill, as should have been the case many years ago. I hated them, and I’d never buy another. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say!
Let me instead introduce you to this beauty:
It’s an HP Proliant N40L Micro Tower Server. It shipped with a single 250GB hard disk, but with space for three others of any capacity. It also shipped with 2GB of ECC RAM and an AMD Turion II running at 1.5GHz.
For that lot, I paid the princely sum of AU$264, from these guys, who were the cheapest I could find. I notice that today, they’re quoting an extra $25 for the same config, so obviously I got lucky!
I added 8GB of ECC RAM -and fitting it was not fun. It requires pulling the entire motherboard out, and that can only be done by unplugging all power, SATA and other cables. Those cables fit tightly in the confined space available -and the SATA connector, in particular, seems to have been welded into place by cruel people with exceptionally fine welding skills. My previous experience of detaching soldered SATA connectors from motherboards came back to haunt me… but we got there in the end. I’ve also added a USB-3.0 expansion card to fill the available PCIx slot, but I didn’t bother adding a graphics card, so it’s strictly on-board graphics for me.
All up, including postage, I think one of these things cost me AU$370. So naturally, I got two. And that still means I’ve bought two brand new, quality servers for hardly much more than I paid for one of my original Drobos!
Of course, you only get 250GB of storage for that price: you have to fill the other three slots (non-hot-swappable) yourself. Fortunately, I had quite a few 2TB drives knocking about the place, thanks in part to me having recently destroyed Drobos en masse. So, pop those in (very easily!), and I now have 6.2TB in each server.
Time then to install a server OS… and it could have been Scientific Linux, of course. But since I have my Technet subscription, and I wouldn’t mind learning more about Windows 2008 R2 administration, on that goes instead. Turn the three 2TB drives into a single 4TB, RAID-5 array… and I now have 8TB of protected storage, humming very quietly in the background. I think each server consumes about 50W, which seems economical enough. Plus, the big bonus: I can barely hear them, even though they sit just behind my triple-monitor setup, precisely at ear-height.
A 1.5GHz CPU doesn’t sound like much: I’ve seen people slagging the Turion IIs off as though they were barely in the Intel Atom class. But Windows 2008 is certainly responsive when I remote desktop to it, and both boxes are running virtual machines (one each) without seeming to struggle. I’ve no complaints about them, anyway: fast enough for this old-timer.
Essentially, all I’ve ever wanted is for near-silent, RAID-protected storage for my music and other multimedia collections. The Drobos failed to provide that on so many levels, it wasn’t funny. These new HP boxes, in contrast, do the job just fine… and give me a capable, stable platform to run permanently two large-ish (6GB RAM and 200GB HDD) virtual machines at the same time, which is a nice bonus. At AU$264, I’d recommend them to anyone, though at AU$289, I find even my enthusiasm waning a bit.
But I still like them a lot, and they have cheered me up no end, allowing me to dump the damn Drobos. That’s worth almost any price, come to think of it.