Frankenbuilders(home build or self build) have a lot of choices when it comes to Windows Home Server hardware. From tiny ITX cases with an octopus of USB/eSata drives hanging off of the back all the way up to a massive rackmount case holding a ton of drives, the flexibility of WHS can really be shown off. Most of us love WHS so much because it can scale to the needs of the user. Only need to back up a few small PCs? No problem, build something with a 1TB hard drive inside and you’re all set. Want to stream blu-ray movies to multiple locations around your house and store hundreds more as well? As a certain company has (sort of) said, “there’s a case for that”.
For me, I was getting to the point where my case was getting incredibly crowded and I needed to expand my storage. I had an Antec 300 tower case with 5 hard drives installed. While the Antec is an EXCELLENT case for many uses, it started to get cramped, especially with wiring. My long term goal is to archive a huge amount of 8mm/Hi8/Digital8 videotapes on my WHS. That is going to require a lot of storage.
Researching large scale data storage solutions that are not bank busters can drive you nuts. For those who are inclined, two great forums helped in the research for this project. AVS forums is always a great place to go for any type of home theater information. There is a fantastic thread over there about Media Storage Servers (careful though, it’s over 180 pages long. Prepare to get sucked in). The other destination on the web is [H]ardforums. They have a whole section devoted to Data Storage Solutions that is a treasure trove of builds and ideas.
After a lot of research, I settled on a very popular 4U rackmount case, the Norco 4220. It holds ATX boards with a 20 drive hotswappable front bay. Fill this thing up with 2TB hard drives and you’re talking 40TB of storage. While my immediate needs don’t come near 40TB, I’m still going to make sure that I can use all of the hard drives I have and have plenty of space for future expansion. So, to make sure people don’t start screaming TINWOP, (or I guess, PINWOP), here are a few pics.
The front of the case. You can see the slimline optical drive bay on the top left and the 20 hard drive bays below it.
Immediately above the drive bays, there are two mounting trays for 2.5” drives. I chose a pair of 160 gig WD Scorpio Black drives and configured them in a RAID 1 array.
An overhead shot of the whole case. Immediately behind the drive bays is the fan bracket. It holds 4 80mm fans that draw air from the front of the case, through the drive bays and over the motherboard to be exhausted to the rear of the case by two more 80mm fans that sit over the I/O panel.
Here is the backside view of the fan bracket. The stock fans are incredibly loud. I replaced them with a much quieter fan. As you can see, the motherboard tray can hold a full server sized motherboard. I’m using an ATX board.
A slightly closer view of the motherboard. I’m using a Gigabyte board running an AMD Athlon II X2 Regor 250 chip with 4 gigs of G-Skill DDR3 RAM. Also, I’m powering it all with a Corsair 750HX modular power supply. Not pictured is the Supermicro SAS expander card. The SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) connection allows for four drives to be connected to one cable. You can use a reverse breakout cable to connect the four SATA ports on your motherboard to one SAS connection (you can see the SATA end of that cable on the lower left side of the above pic).
The back of each row of hard drives has a backplane that allows the row of hard drives to connect via a SAS port. The Supermicro card allows for two SAS connections, so with the four ports on the motherboard and two of the SAS expanders, you get 20 connections on 5 cables. On the other end of the backplane, you have the power connection.
I forgot to snap a pic while the fans were off, but you can sort of make out the path of the cabling on the SAS side. The power connections are conveniently on the side with the PSU.
Installing WHS with the system drive in RAID 1 was a snap. I’m not sure if this type of redundancy is the perfect solution to backing up your system drive, but it can’t hurt. My system runs rock solid and has had no hiccups so far. I don’t have an optical drive hooked up yet, but when slim Blu-ray drives get cheap, I’ll throw one of those in.
Adding hard drives is extremely easy and with the Disk Management Add-In, I’m able to keep track of which drives are where. So far, I’ve installed 6 drives with two more to go. You pull out a drive bay, screw in the drive, push the bay back in and lock it shut. After restarting WHS, it shows up automatically. Putting new drives in without opening the case and trying to work the drive around existing cabling is such a nice way to go.
While not for everyone, the 4220 is without a doubt a great way to get a ton of hard drives hooked up to WHS without breaking the bank. The case is running at $350 shipped and the two SAS expander cards you would need will set you back another $200. With all of that room though, you’re able to scale up to a significantly large storage pool fairly easily.