I finally got a bit annoyed at the noise that my farm of drives is making behind my computer. The computer in question in this case is a 27″ iMac. This machine is dead quiet at all but the highest loads when the fans kick in a bit more than normal.

At this point I came up with two high-level set of options:

  • Move the drives to the closet in the office
  • Move the drives to the basement

These then get broken up in a couple of different ways too.

In the closet I can put the drives attached to the iMac with a long firewire cable (with an extender) or attached to something like a TimeCapsule or something.

In the basement another option can open up: attached to a spare machine running something like FreeNAS.

I did a quick test by attaching one my external drives to the AirPort via USB and did a quick test of the performance. I was able to read at around 20MB/s which is disappointing considering that I am getting 80MB/s attached with firewire. I should point out that the network is gigabit Ethernet the whole way so that wouldn’t be the limiting factor. It seems that this would be a disappointing solution all things considered.

The other network-based option is something like a FreeNAS in the basement. I couldn’t (well, don’t want to) put that in my closet because a normal machine seems a bit loud for office for my taste. I have a spare machine in the basement that I could use for it. The problem I have is that this isn’t a server-grade device. If I have all the storage in FreeNAS then I have a single point of failure for everything. I’m also worry about the upgrade process. When it comes time to upgrade the machine for any reason I’d be building a new machine and moving all the drives over; that introduces a potential failure point if something fails to get reccognized and I’m back to looking at my backups. Another potential issue is ZFS lock-in; if things die I don’t have anything that can read a ZFS-formatted drive, or worse yet a RAID-Z1, so again I’d be back at backups. In fairness I might be able to get better performance from this solution since I could make a RAID set of drives and get a big read-speed boost.

In the end I decided to keep with my current course and just move the external enclosures to the closet. The advantage in my mind is the utter simplicity of the setup. If my iMac fails I can swap in another machine to read the drives (like a MacBook Pro with FW-800 as well). If a drive fails I swap it out for an identical backup. If an enclosure fails I can mount the drive with a USB-dock. Just about anything can fail and I’m still golden. All I need is a couple long cables and a firewire repeater and I think I’m good to go!

I don’t think it’s an elegant solution, but it certainly is a working solution.

BTW: I can get something like a Drobo or something, but ever since the epic failure I had with that I don’t think I’m ever going to trust that company again.