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You are here: MacNN Forums > Hardware - Troubleshooting and Discussion > Consumer Hardware & Components > experiences with deciding on, choosing & setting up a 5-bay SATA enclosure

experiences with deciding on, choosing & setting up a 5-bay SATA enclosure
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Nov 29, 2006, 10:20 AM
 
Hi All,

Over the past couple of months (and a bit more) I've been in here doing research on external storage solutions. OreoCookie asked me to write up my experiences, hopefully this (long) will answer some questions people may have, and help them to avoid some of the snags I encountered.

Background: I'm a professional photographer (among other things) whose data storage situation was becoming desperate. Prior to getting my eSATA enclosure, I had about 2TB of drives full of projects and I was running out of room (a typical project for me takes up about 50GB these days, and it's only going to get worse as I move up the megapixel upgrade path).

At the time, I had two drives in my G5 desktop machine, and already three external (two 500GB LaCie FW800 enclosures and one 500GB LaCie NAS). I have a colleague with 9 external enclosures, and the cable snarl is legendary (and he's going to need more). I didn't want to go down that path, so I started looking for alternate solutions (btw: my archival strategy involved burning to DVD, which is no longer practical due to the amount of time it'd take to burn all the data waiting for archiving!).

I started this thread to see what my options were. I got some great advice (thanks everyone), and it was my introduction to eSATA. Alternative suggestions were: archive to Tape (entry too expensive for me), xserve (waay too expensive ;-), a NAS (I've not been impressed with the throughput of NAS devices), and hardware SATA RAIDs (would've been nice, but relatively expensive and hardware RAID was not necessary for my needs, I learned subsequently that a software RAID would do me just fine).

After some more discussions, thought and research, I determined that a 5-bay eSATA enclosure with a port-multiplier was the way to go. 5-bays to give me expandability, and a port-multiplier version to reduce cable clutter. fyi: there are a few port-multiplier enclosures on the market that I found (I'm sure that there are more): Sonnet Fusion 500P, Weibetech SilverSATA V & RT5 and MacGurus Burly. btw: I found some great, comprehensive, reviews of several enclosures at the AMUG site.

More research, more questions, so I started this thread to learn more. OreoCookie and Mark Duell were again very informative and helpful (good links in this thread for those who want to learn more about RAID).

Why a 5-bay SATA solution? Well, I wasn't going for a full striped RAID as a video guy might (the 300GB throughput of eSATA sounds mighty impressive, but certainly not necessary for me as I don't do much video work any more). I planned to use a mix of JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) and RAID 0 (where two or more drives are striped together to vastly increase throughput over just one drive). This is how I was going to set it up: one very large drive to mount on the Desktop for in-progress work, two relatively small drives striped together in a RAID 0 configuration as a scratch disk (I use several programs that write to scratch extensively), the third bay for another JBOD for nightly backups and the 5th bay for an archival disk (as I finish projects, I'd move them off the working drive to the archive drive. When the archive drive was full, I'd pull it out of the enclosure, shelve it and put in a new empty one. This would replace my archaic and time-consuming method of archiving to DVD-R. Heck, dual-layer, even blu-ray, would not be as efficient).

By the way, I originally thought of having a second drive as a mirror of my working drive (another aspect of the RAID spec). I figured it'd be instant backup, but it was made pretty clear to me by OreoCookie that mirroring was definitely not the same as a backup: if two drives are mirrored, then if I make some sort of error on the working drive (erase a file, or rename hundreds of files), then that change would instantly be duplicated on the mirrored drive. Not a practical backup solution.

My original choice for a 5-bay port-multiplier enclosure was for the MacGurus Burly product (it'd require a software RAID, but that was ok for my uses). I got excellent advice and info directly from them, and I value that sort of customer service (I'm an expat Canadian living in the UK, and I miss the good customer service ethic of North America!). Unfortunately, they don't have a European distributor, and shipping such a device from the US was prohibitively expensive (even though their products are excellent, it wasn't worth it). Second choice (I _hate_ settling for second choice, but it turned out ok) was the Sonnet Fusion 500P, which _is_ available in Europe (again, it wasn't a hardware RAID). It was necessary for me to purchase a PCI-X port-multiplier SATA card (this has been the only snag: I can see myself moving to a Mac Pro in the middle-future, and I'll have to replace this card with a PCI-E version, unless future Macs have eSATA built in...c'mon Apple, it's only one small step from internal SATA to port-multiplier eSATA!)

My next step was to find drives with which to populate my enclosure (again, I needed a European source), so I asked in this thread. Because of a mix of price and availability, I eventually purchased from Microdirect, I quickly found a Seagate 750GB drive to use as my working drive and went looking for two smaller drives to use as a striped RAID 0 scratch disk. Much to my surprise, I found Western Digital Raptor drives in the list, at a very reasonable price. I have fond memories of Raptors from back in my video days (never failed, screaming fast), and so I wondered if striping two would make for a screaming scratch disk. I started this thread to find out, and had a very informative conversation with art_director (who has a Weibetech RT5 hardware RAID enclosure, by the way).

I ended up buying my drives from Microdirect before getting the enclosure (how frustrating is that: my drives were sitting in a box and I couldn't use them!). I ordered the Fusion 500P and Sonnet PCI-X port-multiplier card (a Tempo X4P) from Sonnet distributor Cancom (local to me, I much prefer to deal with humans when I can, rather than with a <form> tag at an online store). I got unusually good customer service from them (for the UK) and a price comparable to what I'd found online, so I can recommend a visit.

Well, when I was ready to make all of my purchases, it just happened to be around the time that a convenient Mac show was going to take place at a conference centre near by (MacExpo at Olympia, end of October '06). Great opportunity to talk to a Sonnet rep, if I could find one (and hopefully get a show special discount). Well, I did find a rep (took a while!), and she told me that, yes, the products were discounted for the show at Sonnet's various resellers. Score! Well, I subsequently found out that, no, prices weren't reduced for the show (bummer, and I hate it when reps will tell you whatever they think you want to hear). I also got a look at some of the Weibetech enclosures, very nice :-)

It took a while for my ordered PCI card to arrive, but once it came in, I had all of the necessary pieces. To summarise, I'd acquired:

1) Sonnet Fusion 500P 5-bay port-multiplier eSATA enclosure
2) Sonnet Tempo X4P
3) Seagate 750GB drive (as my "working drive")
4) 2 x 74GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Raptor drives (to be striped as scratch)

Christmas came early!

It was very easy to populate the enclosure with drives (pull out the tray, use the provided screws to attach the drive, slide it back into the enclosure). The AMUG reviewer stated that there could be problems getting the drives back into the enclosure if the screws weren't flush, and the advice was appreciated. It was all very simple (well, the hardest bit was getting the PCI card in, but that has more to do with where my G5 sits than anything else: under my desk with a zillion cables attached which I didn't want to disconnect and so I banged my head a couple of times <sigh>).

I do wish that Sonnet had provided a 2 metre eSATA cable with the enclosure rather than a 1m cable. I couldn't find a 2m cable for sale from a European distributor, so I had to move various bit of equipment around in order to have the enclosure sit on top of my G5 (one minor inconvenience: as the AMUG reviewer stated, you can't open the 500P's door to hot-swap drives if it's sitting on top of a G5/Mac Pro because the computer's handles are in the way).

I plugged the populated enclosure into the single (yay!) eSATA cable and started my Mac. OSX got a little upset at these unformatted drives, but a quick visit to Disk Utility solved that problem. This enclosure may require OSX to control the RAID (or SoftRAID, I understand), but it was very simple to RAID 0 the two Raptor drives, and the Seagate 750GB drive merely needed to be formatted to be used (JBOD mode).

I certainly don't regret getting the two 10,000 Raptors to stripe together for scratch, the data really flies (as a test, I opened forty 30MB multi-layer TIFFs and worked on them. I could see the LEDs of the scratch disks blinking away, but I experienced little if no delay while working, fantastic!).

Well, long post, but pretty comprehensive. I plan to populate the remaining 3 bays as necessary (fyi: backup at present is going to one of my external 500GB FW800 LaCie drives, which I labouriously emptied to DVD-R one weekend, thank you Toast disc-spanning feature! <phew>). I'm more than happy with the solution I have: tons of space, future-proof, seamless functionality (for my needs).

I highly recommend the experience ;-)

Chas
     
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Nov 29, 2006, 11:21 AM
 
Thanks for all your compliments :blush:

I'm glad your solution works as well as you have imagined it would and I am sure other posters will appreciate this thread. Perhaps others with similar external storage solutions could contribute something as well?

In any case, I'm sure I'll use this thread in the future as a reference for others
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Nov 30, 2006, 02:54 AM
 
Hey, thanks for the thorough report, Chas. I'm glad to hear the Sonnet 500 is working well for you--I'm considering it (due to good reviews at AMUG and Barefeats), as well as the Burly 5 drive set.

But I have a Mac Pro, and I'm taking my time to find the right port multiplying, PCIe card that's Mac Pro compatible. Many card makers claim that their drivers work with the Mac Pro now, but I'm waiting for a thorough test from AMUG or some other reputable source before taking the plunge...

I'll post any experiences I have, once I've had them!
     
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Nov 30, 2006, 06:54 AM
 
Cheers for the post! an interesting read. Thank you
     
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Nov 30, 2006, 07:59 AM
 
I have also asked another member to contribute to this thread here. He owns a Wiebetech RT5 hardware RAID tower …
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Nov 30, 2006, 03:37 PM
 
I've got a RT5 to setup myself next week, I'll add what I can, so far it's been configured with 5 x 500GB drives as Raid 5 with a hot spare. So it's 2TB of unformatted storage.
Really easy to setup with the instructions included, though the trays are a tad clunky when inserting them. but the actual config is good. not sure how long to format this as Raid 5 as the instructions said it would take a while and I left it over night to run.

I tested the hot swap and rebuild on some smaller drivers and it work flawlessly when I removed one of the drives and it auto rebuilt the Raid.

As for speed, I can’t comment it's not been used in anger yet, it felt good when using FW800, I’ll try update more later.

The unit is well made, bar the clunky trays, it all fits well and sturdy.
One thing I will say is the fans are loud, not something you'd want sitting on the desktop or even under desk if you were looking for something quiet.

I hope that helps.
     
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Dec 15, 2006, 04:15 PM
 
First, thanks for pointing me to this thread, OreoCookie.

A while back I was in the market for a storage system tthat went beyond my G-RAID external drives. Being a freelance art director I find myself taking on big chunks of data – on the order of 20GB / month on average. I also have clients who expect that I keep their files as an external backup resource.

For years external drives and DVDs / CDs were my tools of choice. But, as time has passed, those means have outlived their usefulness. Managing and cataloging the CDs / DVDs is time consuing and they take up a lot of space. The drives, while nice, were filling up and management was becoming an issue. Then there's the obvious risk of having a drive / CD / DVD go bad -- that was beginning to happen fairly regularly with really old (and cheap) CDs.

I knew I needed a change. That's when I started a thread here on MacNN. Our very own OreoCookie pointed me to a number of solutions, among them the Wiebe Tech RT5. He also gave me tons of great advice, some fabulous links and a kick in the rear.

In the end I determined the WiebeTech RT5 was the solution that best fit my needs. If, as OC suggested, I were to set it up as a RAID 5 I'd have insurance against the inevitable drive failure, it would give me lots of storage space and it would be a fast, compact solution. Mind you, it's darn expensive, especially to throw in the 500GB drives I bought, but it's cheaper than losing my data. It also allows me to use my external drives for off-site storage for extra protection against theft, fire, or the occasional raid by the FBI (that was a joke, BTW).

When the RT5 arrived I drooled all over myself. It's absolutely beautiful. The design is sleek and the interface, while simple, is elegant. Installing the drives took about fifteen minutes. Configuring the RAID took the unit about twelve hours. After that it was all smooth sailing.

Sorry if this post sounds rushed. Unfortunately I don't have much free time at the moment and it took me a while to get around to writing it. If anyone has questions about the RT5 I'd be happy to answer them. I'll try to get back to this thread from time to time but don't hesitate to PM me.

Again, in case I haven't said it enough, hats off to OreoCookie for all the advice and help he gave me.
     
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Dec 15, 2006, 04:44 PM
 
Originally Posted by Nivag View Post
I've got a RT5 to setup myself next week, I'll add what I can, so far it's been configured with 5 x 500GB drives as Raid 5 with a hot spare. So it's 2TB of unformatted storage.
5 drives in RAID5 with a hot spare would give you the capacity of 3 drives (1.5TB) not 4 drives (2TB). If you have 2TB, you either have RAID0 with a (useless) hot spare or RAID5 and no hot spare.
     
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Dec 15, 2006, 04:51 PM
 
Originally Posted by mduell View Post
5 drives in RAID5 with a hot spare would give you the capacity of 3 drives (1.5TB) not 4 drives (2TB). If you have 2TB, you either have RAID0 with a (useless) hot spare or RAID5 and no hot spare.
FWIW, my RT5 is setup as a RAID5. There are five 500GB drives of love in her for a total capacity of 1.86TB. (The RAID configuration reduces the capacity slightly.)
     
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Dec 15, 2006, 05:27 PM
 
Originally Posted by art_director View Post
FWIW, my RT5 is setup as a RAID5. There are five 500GB drives of love in her for a total capacity of 1.86TB. (The RAID configuration reduces the capacity slightly.)
RAID doesn't reduce capacity; the 2.0->1.86 disparity is due to the definition of a gigabyte (10^9 vs 2^30).
     
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Dec 15, 2006, 05:35 PM
 
Originally Posted by mduell View Post
RAID doesn't reduce capacity; the 2.0->1.86 disparity is due to the definition of a gigabyte (10^9 vs 2^30).
I may have it wrong but, as I recall, a tech rep @ Wiebe told me there's something about the way in which this unit creates the RAID set that reduces capacity in addition to the definition of GB.

All this said you would know better than I.
     
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Dec 18, 2006, 06:41 AM
 
What about the speed of the RAID, has anyone done benchmarks?
Or is it simply `fast enough'?
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Dec 18, 2006, 11:03 AM
 
I haven't yet had the opportunity to do any benchmarks but can confirm it's damn fast.

One questions for you, OreoCookie: What role does the SATA / eSATA card play in all this? I bought a low end card from Wiebe for my machine and it's the dope. Would a lesser card have the potential for speed / performance implications?

One note for prospective RT5 buyers: The RT5 comes with all the cables you need, don't bother with buying SATA cables.
     
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Dec 18, 2006, 11:28 AM
 
No, as long as it works, any SATA card with extern would have done the trick. Unlike `dumb' enclosures (e. g. WiebeTech's SilverSATA), you don't need to buy a card that is able to route 5 SATA connections through 1 cable.
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Dec 18, 2006, 11:52 AM
 
Are you able to book off the eSATA setup? I went to dual eSATA drives last year and my biggest gripe is the model I use is not a bootable drive. So I boot to my internal drives (pair of 400GB Hitachis striped) and use my eSATA (dual 500GBs) as a scratch drive.

The details of the setup eludes me right now but I may have to go your route (5-bay RAID) this year.
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Dec 18, 2006, 01:08 PM
 
Originally Posted by NewOldbie View Post
Are you able to book off the eSATA setup? I went to dual eSATA drives last year and my biggest gripe is the model I use is not a bootable drive.
You cannot boot of software RAIDs. The WiebeTech tower also has other ports (FireWire and USB), so you can (with degraded performance) use it as an `external' harddrive. In the original post, art_director mentioned that he also owns a portable mac. Now he can (in theory) connect it to his PowerBook and write to the RAID as if it were a regular harddrive.
Originally Posted by NewOldbie View Post
So I boot to my internal drives (pair of 400GB Hitachis striped) and use my eSATA (dual 500GBs) as a scratch drive.
Also, I hope you have a backup of sorts, because RAID0 (Striping) significantly increases probability to lose data due to hardware failure.
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