Today I’m going to dive into the hardware I selected for FreeNAS, starting with the motherboard, CPU, and memory. FreeNAS runs on any PC hardware, but building a reliable and scalable storage solution means picking higher-end components. I selected a Supermicro X10SL7 server-class motherboard with 14 (!) SAS/SATA ports paired with an Intel Xeon E3-1231v3 (Haswell) CPU and ECC memory from Crucial.
The Seagate Free Agent GoFlex Docks were an excellent product, allowing interchange of hard disk drives and connectivity protocols. They made USB 3, FireWire, and even NAS docks for these hard disk drives. But the connector is standard SATA and could be used with any drive. So I created a 3D printable adapter and released it on Thingiverse!
Apple’s brand-new MacBook Air might not look much from the outside, but a revolution lurks under the hood: This is the first mainstream computer to eschew SATA in favor of PCIe SSD! Long heralded in workstations and servers, PCIe SSD brings massive potential for storage performance.
The world of storage can be confusing, with obscure terms hiding massive differences in technology and performance. Such is the case for the latest PCI express SSDs: They are much faster than traditional SAS or SATA SSDs, but many aren’t sure exactly why. In this article, I will try to explain the real difference.
The Four Horsemen of storage system performance cannot be denied, but they do offer a clear path forward. Storage systems must improve in many different areas, from spindles and drives to caching and I/O bottlenecks. But above all else, storage systems must become smarter in order to become faster, and this requires greater insight into the true nature of the data stream being stored. All storage performance developments, from the laptop to the enterprise, boiled down to adaptations to the demands of the Four Horsemen.
The other day, I bought 6 TB of storage for under $300. This statement alone is startling to folks like me who have been following the storage and hard disk drive industry. Searching for a faster alternative led me to crack open the case and experiment with the drive inside.
As techies moan about the lack of upgrade options presented by a soldered in SSD, they miss the bigger industry picture. For too long, computers have been held back by traditional SCSI and ATA controllers. These are both a performance bottleneck and an impediment to innovation. A shift to an integrated PCI storage model makes much sense tactically and strategically for Apple, and I expect that these rumors are true. Furthermore, this move will put even more stress on Windows PC makers. Once again, Apple is outmaneuvering the competition.
The VMware ESX hardware compatibility list is awesome but it’s kind of hard to wade through. It’s super-detailed, but difficult to navigate if one is browsing for compatible hardware. Although SATA and especially PATA aren’t exactly mainstream in enterprise datacenters, they’re the most-likely storage attachment for labs and tinkerers like me.
As I considered the possibilities of the new Apple/Intel interconnect technology known as Light Peak, an odd parallel with 10 Gb Ethernet popped into my head. Much of the confusion around Light Peak revolves around connectors, power conduction, and backward-compatibility. Then, like the Grinch, I thought of something I hadn’t before: Why use optical at all? 10 GBASE-T does just fine over twisted pair, and short interconnect distances would reduce power draw to reasonable levels. What if Light Peak was electrical rather than optical?
It’s hard to stand out in the world of external storage devices, and doubly-hard to compete with the hard disk drive makers themselves. This hasn’t stopped folks like Iomega, Verbatim, and LaCie from trying to impress customers with flashy cases, software bundles, and clever functionality. But clever new twist on the external hard drive concept just rolled into the Pack Rat lair: The ioSafe SoloPRO is fireproof and waterproof. Cool!