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New Server Hardware Build Question


xtitan1
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Question:

I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction for my home server solution.

 

Background:

I have received a free copy of WSE2012R2 from my school (I'm a grad student studying Information Systems). That's perfect because I currently have a WHSv1 computer with 9TB that, believe it or not, is at full capacity and I need to upgrade, especially since I am noticing some SMART errors.

 

I was thinking I would just start from scratch and build a new server—this time in rackmount so that I could more easily expand storage in the future—and then transfer the files via my network from the WHSv1 to the new WSE2012R2 server. I could then retire the WHSv1 to be a test computer or make it into a router or something for fun.

 

However, I'm not experienced with how server hardware and RAID or controller cards work exactly, and I'm worried I'm making some really dumb choices before I even start.

 

Any and all input is welcome, including shooting down this idea. I'm not even 100% sure WSE2012R2 as my OS is the way to go over something like Ubuntu w/ Samba, or NAS OSes like UnRAID or FreeNAS.

 

Uses:

  • streaming Blu-ray movies to my HTPCs
  • daily backups for my client PCs
  • file sharing w/ redundancy
  • backup to CrashPlan's cloud for additional data security
  • encryption of certain storage locations (if not all, but that probably would hinder video streaming performance)
  • I work with large video files for editing

 

Build:

The SSD would be the system drive, and the WD Reds would be 12GB to start with and I could expand there. I guess I would need some sort of PCIE SAS or SATA controller card to go beyond 8 drives? I also have read that StableBit DrivePool is recommended and am wondering if that's the case and if there are any special considerations regarding this and RAID cards and retaining SMART functionality.

 

I'm assuming I'm making some dumb choices here. What do you guys think?

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Hi I was in a similar situation a couple months ago building a server so maybe some of my experience can help I don't know-

 

For the case I see you went with Norco 4020. I have been very happy with the Norco for price and simplicity. I would, however, be a little bit cautious about the 4020 because it has 20 drive bays. Generally, I like to have everything in the front run off of one card. However, when you go to purchasing a RAID card or HBA, you'll see that they really only come in 16 and 24 disk configurations (and less, of course, like 8 and 4). Also, the slim optical drive is better than nothing, but if you are doing anything more serious with the optical drive than just loading driver CDs, like writing backup data to DVDs or reading a lot of discs or something, you'll really want the speed of a full-size drive. On the other hand, many on this forum would argue that you don't need an optical drive at all in a server, at least a permanent one. For that reason, I would go with the 4216 or 4224, and for your purpose, probably 4216 (SAS version) since it has two 5.25" drive bays which you can put tons of things in (optical drive, tons of converter things available for hard drives like OS drives, other accessories). The 4216 is a little older than the others (still pretty much the same though) so it is not quite as easy to find but almost always is on amazon and sometimes is on newegg.

 

My recommendation for a setup based on the 4216 would be to then get a 16-port HBA or RAID card, and only use the motherboard attachments for OS drive and other specialty drives. Although a few people here would probably recommend against it, I would seriously recommend considering Storage Spaces plus an HBA versus a RAID card. It's not just cheaper, I've found that it's easier to set up and manage. If you go that route, I have really like the Adaptec 71605H HBA card. It's simple and, at least for my server, it just works plug and play. I don't have experience with StableBit DrivePool so I can't speak to that.

 

One other neat trick I'd suggest for an OS SSD would be a little metal bracket so you can mount it in an expansion slot. Not the best for accessibility, but much better in my opinion than putting a backplane between the OS drive and the motherboard. Only need one if you get a case that doesn't have an SSD mount (I think 4020 does and 4224 and 4216 don't, but again I'd recommend against 4020). They can be tricky to find but on amazon you can look up "expansion slot hard drive mount" or something like that and an Aleratec 1 and 2- bay versions should come up. Orico makes an identical one too.

 

Motherboard and processor I don't have much to say. They sound fine but keep in mind for another 100-150 dollars you have the option of going for a 4th gen build with Xeon E3 and an lga 1150 server motherboard from supermicro or something. For a home server, probably not too strong of a reason to do that though, plus you might need different RAM if you did that too; just keep it in mind.

 

Also realize that with essentials, you're going to be required to set up a domain. If you're confident in your patience and information systems background, that's fine, but if you want something simpler, and if it's all the same to your school, consider going with the standard version as it has the option to either run like essentials (essentials experience role) or to avoid it and run in workgroup mode.

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I guess I am in the camp that dandys said about Raid vs storage spaces.  Thought I would agree that storage spaces is pretty easy to setup, disaster recovery can be painful and in my numerous attempts with it found it slow and unreliable in the parity configuration.  It did pretty well in a mirror however a mirror will waste to much space for the amount of storage you are talking about. On the upside, SS does scale very well so adding a wide variety of drives is pretty easy.  Having a raid controller would allow to easily swap motherboards, or in an emergency, install your storage in almost any system with almost any OS supported, and be able to retrieve your data.  That said based on the drives you are buying, I would go with a RAID 5 configuration which would provide redundancy and make the best use of your storage.  Since you are buying 4T drives, I would go with a cost effective 8-12 drive controller that would give your growth.  The downside, is you will have to stick with at least the same size drives within an array so you could create a raid 5 volume with 4 4T drives and later add 4 6T drives and create a different volume.  Any method you choose will have some pros and cons but in my opinion, the main consideration needs to be that it is redundant, portable (can be read in another system), make the maximum use of space, and of course, have decent performance.  Many on this forum have tested StabilBit and found it to be a great solution but because it uses a form of duplication, you storage use will vary based on how many folders you are protecting.  With the kind of data and storage you are talking about, a raid 5 would provide you with the best "compromise".  Just my two cents...

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Hi I was in a similar situation a couple months ago building a server so maybe some of my experience can help I don't know-

 

For the case I see you went with Norco 4020. I have been very happy with the Norco for price and simplicity. I would, however, be a little bit cautious about the 4020 because it has 20 drive bays. Generally, I like to have everything in the front run off of one card. However, when you go to purchasing a RAID card or HBA, you'll see that they really only come in 16 and 24 disk configurations (and less, of course, like 8 and 4). Also, the slim optical drive is better than nothing, but if you are doing anything more serious with the optical drive than just loading driver CDs, like writing backup data to DVDs or reading a lot of discs or something, you'll really want the speed of a full-size drive. On the other hand, many on this forum would argue that you don't need an optical drive at all in a server, at least a permanent one. For that reason, I would go with the 4216 or 4224, and for your purpose, probably 4216 (SAS version) since it has two 5.25" drive bays which you can put tons of things in (optical drive, tons of converter things available for hard drives like OS drives, other accessories). The 4216 is a little older than the others (still pretty much the same though) so it is not quite as easy to find but almost always is on amazon and sometimes is on newegg.

 

My recommendation for a setup based on the 4216 would be to then get a 16-port HBA or RAID card, and only use the motherboard attachments for OS drive and other specialty drives. Although a few people here would probably recommend against it, I would seriously recommend considering Storage Spaces plus an HBA versus a RAID card. It's not just cheaper, I've found that it's easier to set up and manage. If you go that route, I have really like the Adaptec 71605H HBA card. It's simple and, at least for my server, it just works plug and play. I don't have experience with StableBit DrivePool so I can't speak to that.

 

One other neat trick I'd suggest for an OS SSD would be a little metal bracket so you can mount it in an expansion slot. Not the best for accessibility, but much better in my opinion than putting a backplane between the OS drive and the motherboard. Only need one if you get a case that doesn't have an SSD mount (I think 4020 does and 4224 and 4216 don't, but again I'd recommend against 4020). They can be tricky to find but on amazon you can look up "expansion slot hard drive mount" or something like that and an Aleratec 1 and 2- bay versions should come up. Orico makes an identical one too.

 

Motherboard and processor I don't have much to say. They sound fine but keep in mind for another 100-150 dollars you have the option of going for a 4th gen build with Xeon E3 and an lga 1150 server motherboard from supermicro or something. For a home server, probably not too strong of a reason to do that though, plus you might need different RAM if you did that too; just keep it in mind.

 

Also realize that with essentials, you're going to be required to set up a domain. If you're confident in your patience and information systems background, that's fine, but if you want something simpler, and if it's all the same to your school, consider going with the standard version as it has the option to either run like essentials (essentials experience role) or to avoid it and run in workgroup mode.

 

I was definitely thinking that I wouldn't even need to really use the optical drive, except in some sort of strange situation where I couldn't load drivers or an OS off of a USB thumb drive. So going with a chassis that doesn't waste it's space with one is a good suggestion—I had only heard of the 4020. I like your suggestion. If I were to go with a 4216, I could use one of the 5.5" slots with a converter as suggested, or use a PCI slot mount. You said they are pretty hard to find, but I went looking (I didn't even realize they made these until you told me about it) and found this model on Newegg and wondered if you were aware of it.

 

Does an HBA card still allow the OS to read SMART data from the attached drives?

 

As far as components, that's true about moving to a Xeon. It does require one to use ECC unbuffered RAM, which is somewhat more expensive. I've been doing research about a lot of different systems, and those who are into FreeNAS with ZFS2 file systems are huge on ECC. I'm wondering if that's something I should consider myself. They are arguing that if you're using this machine to store very important data, such as personal keepsakes, that not detecting corruption is unacceptable.

 

I was under the impression there was some sort of way to usurp setting up a domain? But yes, having to use a domain is a negative in my opinion, for my specific situation that is just because I don't have many computers or users. And, unfortunately, I only have access to the Essentials R2 license (this is through something called Dreamspark, a Microsoft program).

 

I guess I am in the camp that dandys said about Raid vs storage spaces.  Thought I would agree that storage spaces is pretty easy to setup, disaster recovery can be painful and in my numerous attempts with it found it slow and unreliable in the parity configuration.  It did pretty well in a mirror however a mirror will waste to much space for the amount of storage you are talking about. On the upside, SS does scale very well so adding a wide variety of drives is pretty easy.  Having a raid controller would allow to easily swap motherboards, or in an emergency, install your storage in almost any system with almost any OS supported, and be able to retrieve your data.  That said based on the drives you are buying, I would go with a RAID 5 configuration which would provide redundancy and make the best use of your storage.  Since you are buying 4T drives, I would go with a cost effective 8-12 drive controller that would give your growth.  The downside, is you will have to stick with at least the same size drives within an array so you could create a raid 5 volume with 4 4T drives and later add 4 6T drives and create a different volume.  Any method you choose will have some pros and cons but in my opinion, the main consideration needs to be that it is redundant, portable (can be read in another system), make the maximum use of space, and of course, have decent performance.  Many on this forum have tested StabilBit and found it to be a great solution but because it uses a form of duplication, you storage use will vary based on how many folders you are protecting.  With the kind of data and storage you are talking about, a raid 5 would provide you with the best "compromise".  Just my two cents...

 

Hmm, I wonder what sort of difference using Stablebit's DrivePool would make. It would allow adding and removing devices of different sizes as well as redundancy with its duplication feature, and hopefully with better performance than what one gets with storage spaces. And yes, a straight RAID 1 or similar mirror would just be too wasteful for the size of data I have unfortunately.

 

Now, as far as portability, doesn't using a RAID card also have its own limitations, since if that RAID card dies, you lose the ability to read the data on every single drive attached to that card? If I used DrivePool, I could plug the drives back into any WSE2012R2 system with DrivePool and plug them back in, right?

 

 

Of course, I could go a completely different direction and use FreeNAS with ZFS2 like I mentioned above, but like I said that requires ECC processor, motherboard, RAM (and a lot of it).

Edited by xtitan1
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They are virtually identical, the only difference is cost, and licencing rights.

Standard allows you to run two copies of Server 2012 in a virtualized environment whereas Datacenter has unlimited virtualization rights.

 

John

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Hey again,

 

I would actually recommend against that hard drive adapter you found. The two times I've tried those hot-swap types I've had bad experiences with the drives going offline or appearing to have SMART errors when they really do not. That's particularly bad for an OS drive so I would definitely recommend keeping to ones that don't have anything between the drive and the motherboard besides a sata cable, such as the ORICO PCI25-2S 2 on Newegg or the Aleratec 1-Bay 2.5 Inch SATA HDD Hard Drive Mounting Frame Bracket on Amazon. My page freezes when I try to put in links so you'd have to look those up specifically.

 

For what it's worth, the program should allow you typically one key per version of essentials r2, standard r2, or datacenter r2. Since standard r2 can do everything datacenter can, my thought would be to go with standard and save the (arguably equal) datacenter for a future project or refresh, if there's a need before the next server OS comes out, but that's just me.

 

Also, along those lines, think first whether you're going to want to use the Essentials Experience. That, I think, requires a domain setup (but following the instructions carefully you can skip the domain joining on client computers). It also affects DNS if you're not careful so make sure to follow the DNS skip and the domain skip instructions.

 

The things unique to Essentials Experience are an easy client backup and some of the other domain things. Some things, like "Media streaming" and "anytime access" are also included. You can stream media just fine to other computers without the Essentials Experience, by just sharing the files, which is something I didn't quite realize at first. That should also be the case for some other devices, but some might need the media streaming from essentials, not sure. Anytime access, if that's important to you, might be exclusive to essentials, I'm not sure.

 

The things that Standard has that Essentials does not are 1) virtualization and 2) the option to not use the Essentials features and not have a domain. In this way, the server can be a sort of "modular" system (not the right term I'm sure) where if it's off, it doesn't matter, like a simple NAS, whereas in the Essentials setup you pretty much had better have the thing on 24/7 like a real server. I personally don't bother with virtualization since I've been burned in the past playing around with it (easily throw away keys by setting up virtual test environments) but a lot of people here love it, and it's probably cool if you're curious.

 

You should think of whether you want to take advantage of either of those two aspects of Standard, and if not, I would actually recommend you go with Essentials from the viewpoint of saving the standard and datacenter licenses for a future project that actually requires them. You can, however, do everything you would in Essentials, and more, in Standard and Datacenter.

 

In terms of the physical build thing - what I ended up going with was the popular Norco 4224 24-bay unit and an external optical drive. I'd probably recommend something like that over the 4020 if you're not so into the two bays on the 4216, but any one of the three really is fine. One really cool option if you don't already have one is the Vantec USA Nextar DX External 5.25 Inch Optical Drive Enclosure (Amazon) which turns any internal 5.25 inch SATA optical drive into a portable external one with USB 3.0 or 2.0. It's bulky and a pain in the neck but it's a neat way to not compromise speed or price.

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Thanks again for more excellent advice. That's a good heads up on that 2.5 inch mount!

 

I've been reading up on Essentials (or Essentials Experience on standard and datacenter) vs. just using workgroups on standard or datacenter, and I'm still not really sure which way I want to go. I do plan on having the thing on 24/7.

  • One thing I read that was concerning was that if you plan to use a domain, you ought to have a backup server also running that domain.
  • The other thing I'd be concerned about is whether or not having to go through a domain inhibits PC performance or not, or would cause issues with program compatibility. 
  • When you say virtualization, do you mean virtualized client Windows machines running off of the server, or putting a virtualization layer between the server hardware and the server OS, and then having multiple server OSes on different machines to share loads?
  • I'm curious what you mean by future projects. I'm new to the server world, so I'm not really sure what it is you mean there.

Easy client backup is a huge and very important feature to me. So maybe just installing Essentials is the way to go, as you say.

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On some of your points-

 

1. The backup sever thing is technically a good practice for something serious (like a business network) but very few people would do that for a home server. It's not really worth it. There's a chance, yes, if you have a domain and the server goes down, you would might lose internet access until it's back on again because the server is handling DNS? Not 100% sure if that's true but yeah having a domain does make the server more vital to your network regardless, as in the logins are stored on the client computers, but if the server is gone for long enough I think they expire or something and that's a problem.

 

2. I don't think a domain really inhibits PC performance or program compatibility. If you're setting it up so all user storage is on the server rather than local storage, maybe you'll see a little less performance since everything is going at Ethernet speed rather than SATA speed. If you reinstall the server OS or get rid of the server every one of the clients has to uninstall the connector software using add/remove windows features or something and then reinstall it for the new server, if I'm not mistaken, so that's one thing to consider.

 

3. The virtualization I'm talking about is running multiple Server OSs on one physical server, putting a virtualization layer between the server hardware and the Server OS. Having virtualized clients is something that is really not very useful for home use. I run a physical home server (no virtualization) and I am glad that I do because it's much simpler to set up, simpler to manage keys, and generally has much better performance. Fans of virtualization are happy because they can easily move server OS's between machines, easily restore backups of the Server OS, and run multiple instances of the Server OS at a time to separate process such as one "domain controller OS" and one "storage OS" that are separate. Virtualization requires a lot of RAM and CPU power, too.

 

4. Future projects I just mean say you start out not wanting Virtualization so you go with a single-cpu system with desktop-grade parts. If a year or two from now you decide you want to use virtualization because you came up with some good reason, you might want to build a new system with dual-cpus and server grade parts or something. It might be arguably better to have used the Essentials key on the lower grade machine and have saved the two 'better' keys for a future, better machine, than the other way around, since we enthusiasts generally move up over time.

 

About essentials-

 

If you skip the domain join and DNS setup on the client computers, they still automatically backup, but won't join the domain. This means you use local accounts and not domain accounts. Essentials is the only way to do automatic client backups, plus you get some interesting 'pc health' things about each client pc. Otherwise all you can do is initiate backups manually to network storage on the server.

 

Joining a domain does have some requirements that might not fit every home. Essentials requires that domain accounts have pretty secure passwords (numbers, capital letters, 8 characters I think). If some users (read: family members) aren't up for that every time they want to use the computer, it can cause some stress. Particularly, for example, for users that run HTPCs, which might be setup to auto-login like a 'kiosk' computer or 4-digit pin that can be entered with a remote, joining them to the domain can be frustrating. Domain accounts also don't go well with Microsoft Account linking in Windows 8; there's a way to do it, but it's not as seamless.

 

It sounds like from what you've said so far Essentials with domain and DNS skip workaround (at least to begin with) on all of the clients might be best, because backups are so important in your setup. Whatever you choose though.

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