A new ZFS box brings family harmony

When we last left our hero, he was putting a new SSD into his box to make iSCSI work better when backing up Macs on the network.

The good news is that it worked terrifically well: the backups from the wife’s Mac to the iSCSI volume work very quickly now. You never even really notice that it’s happening, for the most part. The bad news is that it worked so well that she has now come to expect that backups will occur painlessly whenever she opens the lid on her laptop (i.e., no messing around with external USB drives), and so that volume needs to be there all the time.

This is a problem for me, as I often have very serious work to take care of on the machine that’s hosting those file systems. Somehow, I managed to convince her that it would be a good idea to let me buy even more hardware to put in the office so that we could have a dedicated file serving machine. The aim was to get something that would be relatively cheap, but still be able to handle duties as a file, print, and Web server for the family. I started out with the following components:

A dual core CPU seemed like plenty for what this box needs to run, and the new 45nm AMD CPUs run pretty cool, which means I can get away with a 400W power supply. The 160GB drive is for the root filesystem. It’s totally overkill for that, but the price differential between an 80GB drive and a 160GB drive was so small that it didn’t make any real difference, and I can keep a ton of boot environments around. I got 4GB of memory, but in the end I put 4GB from the other machine into this one, so that they both have 8GB. Caching is good. The motherboard that I selected didn’t have enough SATA ports for my taste, so I got the PCI card to add a few more. It’s a Silicon Image 3124, which is well supported by OpenSolaris.

I’ve been having good luck with Antec cases, although every now and then I think about switching this one and the Antec 900 that’s currently surrounding the other machine, just to get more slots for the disks.

I’ve not been having good luck with motherboards. The ASRock board was DOA from newegg. The definition of buzz kill: getting your new computer put together and when you push the switch nothing happens. I have friends who’ve had good experiences with ASRock, so this is probably just a fluke. Frankly, there’s so much junk on motherboards these days, I’m surprised they’re ever not DOA (that’s “AOA”, I guess.)

One quick RMA (this is why you use Newegg) and a purchase later, I got an ASUS M4A785TD-V, which worked right out of the box. Installed build 129 of OpenSolaris in no time flat (from a USB thumb drive — note that the system has no optical drive) and I was good to go. I moved the drives in my big pool over to the new machine, spent an hour messing with the cables to make them “neat” and I was done with the hardware.

Of course, the ZFS stuff was easy as pie: power up the machine, let it boot, do zfs import tank and the pool was there. I took the time to switch from iscsitgtd to the new COMSTAR code, but that was easy. Frankly, getting the printer to work (and sharing it with the other computers in the house) has been way harder than dealing with the 4TB storage pool.

The total cost ended up being less than $500 (and some components look like they’re even cheaper now!) The box has been sitting in the corner, quietly serving stuff for about a month now. The only down time was during Christmas day when I sshed in to do a pkg image-update because build 130 was out. If you don’t think that’s nerdy enough, I was typing on at least two other computers, setting them up for family members at the same time.

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5 Responses to “A new ZFS box brings family harmony”

  1. dean Says:

    gotta say, I’ve done a similar thing for my house (b129 and zfs mirrored drives for server storage) and that even after all these years I still hate, hate hate printer setup under solaris.
    Best of luck in your new position.

    • Stephen Green Says:

      The printer setup is a bear: the HP LaserJet 1020 is some kind of weird unsupported thing in Mac OS and Solaris, so you end up building the foo2zjs library. This works for Solaris, but not so far for Mac OS (I’m facing some kind of weird name resolution problem on the Solaris side). Windows 7 seems happy to be told that it’s a LaserJet 1020 and prints to the network printer with no problems. Sigh.

      Thanks for the good wishes!

  2. Christoph Jahn Says:

    Anything you can say about the SYBA controller? I am looking for additional SATA ports for my Nexenta NAS (based on OpenSolaris) and this one was mentioned to be supported. However, many people also report issues (mostly lock-up during boot). So I would interested in your experience.


    • Stephen Green Says:

      The SYBA controller’s been working fine. I’ve been updating the box as updates come for OpenSolaris, and I’ve never had a problem at boot. If I hadn’t been rebooting it for updates, the uptime would probably be in the months by now.

  3. How (not?) to create a large, expandable storage/backup server « itIsIn Says:

    […] very flattering, and it has RAID capability, but it was only $50 and I was desperate. I also found this page, on which a Mr. Stephen Green described having pretty good luck with it as a non-RAID card. Under […]

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