TeraServer Project – Part 1

I need a server. It’s been on my mind for a while that I want a low-power, low-noise, compact server for storing all my work and personal files. I also wanted it to act as an always-on media server for playback of music and old digitized VHS tapes. That all needs quite a bit of storage capacity. Disk storage costs have come down now to a point where I can consider a home TeraServer. Home NAS devices are available but they are still pretty expensive (that’s before you even price in the hard disks.)

Whenever possible, I try to build my own home computers (I do draw the line at building custom laptops however), so building a server would be a fun new challenge. I would install Linux and use that to provide the file serving capabilities. Most NAS devices use Linux anyway, but a Linux install that I could customize would allow complete flexiblility in what the server could be used for later on.

On the hardware side, the TERA-ITX project inspired me. I could use a mini-itx motherboard and a small form-factor case. The storage could be done with four 250GB disks, configured in a RAID array. I decided early on not to consider using software RAID because it would just be another drain on the limited mini-itx processor. So I would need a hardware RAID card and a caddy for the disks. When pricing all that in, I worked out I could build it for a least $1000 less than buying a NAS and filling it with the same disks. A no-brainer!

And so to begin..

First, the motherboard. There were a lots of different specification mini-itx boards out there. The priority for me was to keep power consumption low – the case PSU would need to drive four SCSI disks, so I didn’t want an added drain from a powerful processor. A lower power processor would also mean less cooling, reducing power and noise further. The processor didn’t need to powerful just to server up files via the network anyway. Network speed was important, so a GigaBit on-board LAN was vital. In the end, I went for the EPIA-CN 1000

Next: the case. The case would need to support four disk RAID slots. There aren’t any such mini-itx cases like that at the time of writing, so I would just get a suitable cube form-factor case from mini-itx.com.

TerraServer_1_StartCase

The front plate configuration didn’t matter because I would be cutting it out to install a front-loading RAID caddy.

Therein lay the first rub.

I thought it would relatively easy to get a RAID caddy that would fit the case. In fact, I found out it was very difficult to find a bare-bones SCSI RAID caddy. Most of them come embedded as part of a case.

With a lot of internet searching I found that some IBM servers have a removable RAID caddy that fits a four 3.5″ drive bay slot. Perhaps I could find one of those IBM RAID caddy spare parts. The server line was discontinued though so finding the part proved difficult, but serendipity had a part to play.

TerraServer_3_RaidCage

With a lot more internet searching I eventually found just one available – from a small, independent computer part supplier just twenty minutes drive away from me! I had never known about the company until now and when I went to collect the caddy found out it’s owned by an old childhood neighbour from down the road. Dublin can be a small place!

Goto Part 2 ->

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