Thursday, July 4, 2013

Warning: Geeky Post Ahead

Soon after Deb and I got married, I found out about a real cool product by Microsoft called Windows Home Server. This was a servery operating system (based on Server 2003) that was targeted towards home users. It came with preset shared folders (Music, Pictures, Software, etc) as well as "personal" folders for each user that you set up on the server. Plus (and this was the two big selling points to me) it had an application you could "push" to Windows machines in your home environment that would "back up" those machines daily as well had a feature called "drive extender" that took all of the hard drives you installed on the server and "pooled" them together to make one "big" drive (it copied data among all the drives and if you lost one drive, your data was still protected).

You could purchase the software for $99 and I set it up on an old Dell desktop I had. We then began a process of going "all digital", ie any paper we had we scanned it to files. Time consuming, but it saved a lot of space.

Well, in typical Microsoft fashion they released a new version of Home Server and then decided to cancel the program all together. Our old server was still churning along so I kept well enough alone. That is until I got offered my position in the State Department. Our server was pushing 10 years old, and while it was working fine there was always some concern in the back of my mind on what happens if a piece of hardware dies on the server. Since it was a Dell workstation, and it had some proprietary parts, would I be able to replace them? I started searching for a new solution.

My first thought was just to buy the biggest portable USB drive I could get and dump all of our data to it. It would be small (small enough to fit in a backpack if we had to get out of town quick), and fairly inexpensive. The downside was speed (USB, even at 3.0 isn't that fast), sharing between multiple computers and what happens if the drive dies. Most of those portable drives you cannot service yourself, and if it dies you could loose all of your data.

Option 2 was build another server. I was thinking about purchasing an HP Proliant and running something like FreeNAS on it. I had used FreeNAS on a previous project as a proof of concept to set up clustering/shared storage in the lab. This would give me the opportunity to have some redundancy (multiple discs in the server) and the ability to upgrade. The downside is I would have to devote time to setting it up and configuring it. With our upcoming move, time was something I really didn't' have. Plus, it was getting on the big side, and it wouldn't be something we could quickly take with us.

A few weeks ago, I got a daily alert from every computer geeks favorite store, NewEgg. They had as a daily deal a Drobo 5N on sale for $150 off of retail price. I had been looking at Drobos for a while. It had everything I wanted (multiple drive bays, easy to set up, small/portable and had a network interface). Usually the price was out of my ballpark. However this was too good of a price to pass up. I placed the order along with an order for a Western Digital Red 2TB hard drive which was also on sale. The WD Red series are designed for NAS (Network Attached Storage), ie they are designed to be "on" 24x7x365 and have a high MTBF. In our old server I had 2 x 1TB Western Digital Green drives. the WD Green series are designed for low power consumption. I had read some reviews where people who used them in NAS devices had issues with them Green drives dropping out of the drive pool when they go in to their power save mode. I never had any problems. I decided to recycle those drives in the Drobo, so I would have a total of 3 drives (with two spare drive bays for expansion).

I got the Drobo as well as the drive in. Hooked it up and within 20 minutes it was up and running. I did the initial configurations and created shares just like we had on the Windows server. I made a copy of all our data to a USB drive we purchased, just in case something bad happened. Then I xcopied all of the files from the Windows server to the new Drobo. Within a few hours, all of our data was copied over and everything was working perfectly. All of our computers could see the Drobo and shares (we have Windows and Mac). I decommissioned the old server, re-installed XP and donated the computer to Goodwill.

So far everything is working fine with the Drobo. We have it set up in our temporary housing (ie my parents house). We will take it to DC with us for training and then it will travel with us overseas. I just ordered another 2TB WD Red drive (got in onsale from Newegg) so we will increase our storage capacity.

My next task is to try and see if a cloud storage provider will allow backups "from" the Drobo. That way we will have an offsite copy of all our data.

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