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.