Musings on Photography


Posted in equipment, file storage, hardware, software by Paul Butzi on January 4, 2008


I’ve mentioned my mass storage solution previously, in this post. In that post, I indicated that the Freebsd fileserver was aging, and that I’d bought an Infrant Readynas NV+, and filled it with 320GB disks in a RAID configuration, and it was providing a redundant file server.

Well, it turned out that that plan didn’t go quite as smoothly as I hoped. Infrant, the company that was selling the Readynas line, was bought up by Netgear. There have been a few reliability issues with the Readynas NV+, but the big problem hasn’t been reliability, it’s been performance. Performance from a machine using the ReadyNAS as a file server was slower than the Freebsd server. The difference in performance was enough that instead of doing what I’d planned, and making the Readynas the main fileserver, and having the Freebsd machine serve as a backup/hot spare to the Readynas, I ended up keeping the Freebsd machine as the frontline server, and the Readynas was kept in sync with the Freebsd machine to provide EXTRA redundancy and to serve as a hot spare should the Freebsd machine lose its cookies.

This was all fine, but the Freebsd machine has really gotten old. It’s built from commodity parts, assembled by me (and my friend Rob), and during 2007 I was becoming increasingly nervous about it. Performance was good – not good enough that I didn’t keep things on local disks on the various computers around the house, but good enough that it didn’t bother me too much. The big problem, really, was that keeping the ReadyNAS in sync with the Freebsd server was a pain, mostly because the ReadyNAS just doesn’t have enough cpu horsepower to make the synchronization tool I wanted to use (rsync) work well. Add to that the disturbing fact that it’s come to light that the Readynas is somewhat prone to power supply failures, and it was becoming increasingly clear that I needed some way out.

In essence, what I needed was:

  • a solution with filesharing performance (using either the Windows CIFS protocol, or the Apple AFS protocol) as good as or better than the Freebsd server.
  • Something quieter than both the Freebsd server (which sounds like a jet taking off) and the Readynas (which has developed an annoying buzz).
  • Something that minimized the amount of software I had to stay current with
  • Preferably something physically small
  • Something that doesn’t consume much power, particularly when idle (which is most of the time)
  • Something where, if something happens to it, I can pretty much go out, buy the hardware off the shelf, bring it home, plug it all together, and having it running quickly

Around the middle of 2007 when I switched to Macs, I was already leaning toward putting together something based on a Mac Mini and one of the Western Digital MyBook dual external disks in mirror mode. That setup provides networked redundant disk storage, just like the firebreathing Freebsd server, and the Readynas.

Not long ago, I reported that I’d bought the external disk. I played around with it some, found it satisfactory, and planned on buying the Mac Mini soon. Well, just after Christmas, I did just that. It took surprisingly little time to set it all up, and in less than an hour I had it running as a file server, with one big filesystem on the Western Digital external disk.

Performance wise, this setup beats the (constructed specifically as a high performance file server) Freebsd machine handily by a pretty significant margin – initial benchmarks have it between 1.25x and 8x as fast as the Freebsd machine depending on task. It’s so much faster than the Readynas that I haven’t even bothered to actually measure the difference. And rsyncing to the Freebsd server it’s very fast.

So my assessment now is that the Mac Mini setup hits every single one of my requirements: fast, quiet (nearly silent, in fact, except when the MyBook Pro fan runs), it runs Mac OS X just like all the other Macs in the house, it’s tiny, consumes little power, and I can drive to the Apple store and actually buy the Mac Mini and the external disk right off their shelf.

I’m just so impressed by the Mac Mini – such a great performer in such a small package at such a competitive price, and it seems very nicely made. (I bought the 1.83Ghz version with the 80GB disk drive and 1GB of memory, $600 plus tax) The whole thing is just so simple – no muss, no fuss.

So now, I’ll retire that old FreeBSD server. The Readynas will continue in it’s duty of being a backup to the Mac Mini fileserver and being a hot spare. If the Readynas fails, it will get replaced with another Mac Mini.

8 Responses

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  1. Ed Richards said, on January 5, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Do you run it with a remote access program so you do not have to hassle with a monitor for setup?

  2. Paul Butzi said, on January 5, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    I could, as you point out, run the Mac Mini headless and with no keyboard or mouse. As it turns out, I have monitors, keyboards, mice all laying around unused so the Mini actually has all three. They’re there, I might as well use them, and it all greatly simplifies getting the machine set up to start.

  3. Mark said, on January 5, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    You didn’ t mention how you have your ReadyNAS connected – but with a gigabit switch setup, you should be able to obtain near USB2 read/write performance.

  4. EddieZ said, on January 8, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    What is your performance like with the MyBook? I have a mini hooked up with a Drobo – and while I LOVE the ease and expandability of the Drobo (and the knowledge it’s keeping my data protected), I am finding it to be more than adequate for performance, but I don’t have anything to bench that against. I stream music, photos and some video and have done so without a hitch.

    Let me know!

  5. Kjell Harald said, on January 10, 2008 at 7:38 am

    Hi, I have read a few user reviews about the Mybook Pro II drives, and some of them complains about noise. Now that you have owned the disk for a while, do you have any comments on that?

    As I understand there is some sort of convection cooling system that is backed up by a fan when the load is high. How often does the fan kick in, and how noisy is it?

  6. Paul Butzi said, on January 10, 2008 at 9:07 am

    The MyBook Pro II is not silent. Well, let me qualify that. Most of the time it’s silent, and then some of the time the fan runs.

    The fan is noisy. I think the reviews that are claiming that it’s on a par with a hair dryer are vastly overstating the case; I think its on a par with the ReadyNas NV+, which is fairly noisy ALL THE TIME. I haven’t tried to track the duty cycle of the fan, so I can’t comment on that.

    A quieter solution would be to buy two single 1TB external disks and run software raid; a friend of mine has done exactly that and seems pretty happy.

  7. Offsite Backups « Musings on Photography said, on January 10, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    […] 10, 2008 The photo above is the Mac Mini based fileserver described in this post. The square white thing under the disk drive to the right is a bit of styrofoam packing material I […]

  8. […] for redundancy. So I’m really thinking of getting the Western Digital My Book Pro II that Paul at Photo Musing  set me on to. Right now I do one on site backup and one off site backup (bringing the data to my […]

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