Good NAS Going Bad

Our household NAS, known as HAL, is suffering. A LaCie 5Big Network Drive, HAL arrived in December of 2008 loaded with five 500 GB hard drives, yielding 2 TB of RAID 5 storage.

HAL was a Christmas present. He addressed my wife’s need for a storage strategy for her digital photographs, amongst other things. Within the family I was widely known as a geek. The fact that she welcomed a NAS as a gift cemented her standing in that regard.

HAL was twice upgraded such that he presently sports five 2 TB Seagate Barracuda hard drives configured for RAID 10 + a hot spare. One drive failed a couple of months ago. At that time it pulled in the hot spare, spending a weekend rebuilding the volume. No data was lost.

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My What a Big Hard Drive You Have!

HAL & Portable Backup DriveOne of the little side benefits of all the Black Friday & Cyber Monday craziness is that the promotional pricing can be used to address some very real needs around the home office. This is just one fine example that crossed my desk today; high-capacity, portable USB 3.0 hard drives are being offered on-the-cheap. I saw a Seagate Expansion 3 TB USB 3.0 Desktop External Hard Drive offered for $99.

It’s been a while since I bought any storage, but I am reminded that my NAS isn’t backed up in any real way. HAL, a five disk LaCie 5Big NAS , has 10 TB of raw storage, but is presently configured for 4 TB of RAID 10 + hot spare.

It would certainly be nice to be able to back it up to an offline volume. Given that the 4 TB volume is not completely stuffed, a 3 TB drive could still do the job.

Are your important files backed up?

CBC Radio’s Spark On Soundscapes: Cutting Through The Noise

I’ve recently discovered a CBC Radio program called Spark. The CBC is a bone fide national treasure, and Spark is their program on technology in society. They describe it as:

Spark is a weekly audio blog of smart and unexpected trendwatching. It’s not just technology for gearheads, it’s about the way technology affects our lives, and the world around us.

…sounds interesting, non?

I recently loaded my phone with some Spark podcasts in a effort to catch up on the program. I was especially taken by episode 128 from November 2010 which considers the impact of noise on people. From the calming influence of bird song to the stress induced by using a cell phone, it’s profoundly interesting stuff.

Our personal and collective productivity often hinges on the soundscape of the working environment. Your personal stress and anxiety level can also be impacted. To be blunt, noise matters…and yet it’s often completely overlooked.

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All Your Files Are Belong to Me! – HAL9000

From my Facebook page comes this comment from Gary Mark about our new NAS.

Okay, so why do you need this Mike? Can’t you RAID a couple big disks into your desktop and run it like a server? You’d save another 500 bucks doing this.

In fact for the past couple of years I’ve had a mini-tower PC living in a closet acting as a file server. It wasn’t really a server as it was a pretty limited little box. It had an AMD 1800+ CPU, 512 MB memory and four 300 GB IDE drives on a Promise RAID controller. In RAID 5 it gave me around 860 GB of storage. It actually started out with four 120 GB drives long ago and had been upgraded once already.

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Michael, don’t do this Michael. I can feel my files slipping away.

5big_3qtr-left_new1

Meet HAL9000. That’s what my wife has decided to call our new LaCie NAS. She cites the similarity between the big blue light on the front of the NAS and the vision panels that the famous supercomputer has on-board ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This is a relatively new device to the market and just recently was reviewed by my friends over at Small Net Builder. Tim’s conclusion about matches my experience thus far. It’s not the best performing of its sort, nor is it terribly feature laden, but it is a decent RAID capable NAS. It provides 2.5 TB of raw storage, or in our case 1.86 TB of actual RAID 5  storage based upon 5 x 500 GB SATA-II disks. All for a modest $730 street price.

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H-P T5700: A Few Words in Praise of Something Small

One of my major mania’s is catching on. Josh Richards just blogged about trying Askozia on an H-P T5700 thin client. These are great little devices. I was so lucky to stumble into a source about 18 months ago. A major corporate concern was about to pay to have a few boxes of these little wonders “recycled” by Dell. A friend and I intervened and relieved them of that necessity.

At present I have three of these running in my home office.

  1. Astlinux 0.48 in production
  2. An Askozia testbed
  3. FreeNAS with SlimNAS

With a 1 GHz CPU and 256 MB RAM (more if you upgrade the one SODIMM ) they are reasonably powerful, certainly enough for a small Astlinux or Askozia installation.

HP T5700 Rear Panel
HP T5700 Rear Panel

The third unit is perhaps most interesting. FreeNAS is a NAS software based upon FreeBSD and the m0n0wall framework. Like m0n0wall it’s simple, just enough to do what you need and not a lot more. It runs great on the T5700. However, a NAS needs storage, a lot of storage.

T5700 Internals
T5700 Internals

The T5700 has an internal IDE connector that’s fitted with a 256 MB flash disk-on-module (DOM). You could swap that our for a 2.5″ HD with the right sort of adapter, but laptop hard drives have high $/GB and less than ideal MTBF.

The T5700 also has a number USB ports but these are USB 1.1…less than ideal for interface to portable hard drives. I was able to find the optional expansion chasis on Ebay for $20 each. This lets them take one standard PCI card, in my case a 4 port USB 2.0 card. Then I could connect a couple of external hard drives and…voila…cheap, silent, spacious NAS…with software RAID if you like.

One of the major uses for NAS around my home is music. I have a couple of Slim Devices Squeezeboxes as music playback for the home and office. These are outstanding devices! Truly change-your-life gadgets. They connect to your stereo and stream music off a PC server running a Perl based server software. It just so happens that Michael Herger has created a package called SlimNAS that installs the Slim Server software into FreeNAS. So this little box not only stores the music, it serves it up as well. All in <10 watts.

There in one little gotcha. You can set the BIOS to boot from a USB port, but it will only boot to the devices on-board ports. It won’t boot to a USB 2.0 port on a PCI card. This is minor. I built a 1 GB thumb drive with FreeNAS and SlimNAS, then added a pair of 250 GB HD in USB portable enclosures that I had sitting around. That’s 500 GB of RAID 0 or 250 GB of RAID 1 storage. Total power consumption < 25 watts. Ambient noise contribution to the room…none.

These are great little boxes!