As of April 2004, we have begun the process of purchasing additional space for user projects. The following explains what we were looking for and how we made the decisions that were required. (Note that the final decisions have not yet been made.)


For optimal performance and reliability, we use U160 10k rpm (or better) SCSI disks for all of our shared drives. We also go for the largest available drives at the rack-mount density, which is at this time 146GB per drive. Seagate drives are preferred, based on our past experience with their reliability and performance.

Refurbished drives were considered and rejected for reliability reasons.

The disks are connected to the file server with a SCSI JBOD device. We have historically used the Adaptec DuraStor 412R, but these are no longer sold by Adaptec; they now use the Adaptec SC4100 instead. These units use proprietary drive rails which are sold only with the disks themselves; this was worrisome, but the prices available on the drives was low enough to give us the willingness to purchase them anyway. Each of these units requires two SCSI channels for best performance.


Backing up the data to ensure data reliability from both disk failure and human error is the most expensive part of running a disk system, both in initial investment and in ongoing maintenance. We have strived to minimize both.

1/3 of all disk space goes to backing up the other 2/3rds; this allows us to run daily incremental backups to disks, allowing for extremely fast and convenient data restores 90+% of the time. These backups should be spread across multiple systems, so that both disks and backups are less likely to fail simultaneously.

SDLT tapes are used for both monthly full backups and twice-annual archivals. Each SDLT320 tape can hold 160GB of uncompressed data (most of our data does not compress well); that translates to roughly one tape per backed-up disk. To do this efficiently requires an SDLT changer with at least one slot per backed up drive; the Sun StorEdge L8 matches this well. This unit requires a single SCSI channel.

We store the last six months worth of monthly backups, and the last two years worth of archival backups. This requires 10 tapes per backed up drive.

File Servers

We use Sun NFS servers to share the disks to our local network; they offer superb reliability and maintainability at a reasonable cost. The SunFire V210 server, currently available at a 50% discount from Sun due to their Matching Grant program, is a good server at an excellent price; it offers dual processors, gigabit networking, 2 gigabytes of RAM, a PCI slot to connect a dual-channel SCSI card for the JBOD, and an additional SCSI slot to connect the tape changer.

(We actually plan to use these servers to replace our existing mail and web server, which are currently running on SunFire 280Rs. These servers are better suited for file service, primarily due to the ability to add significantly more SCSI cards, but are also much more expensive.)


In order to ensure that we can continue running our network even as hardware fails, there needs to be sufficient capacity remaining in the system to take over the components of a failed system if one should die. We normally achieve this through redundancy - we always purchase at least two identical servers at a time, with enough extra SCSI ports to temporarily take over another server's disks if the server fails. We also have extra single-drive SDLT drives in case one of the changers fails.

The SCSI JBODs are a special case. We keep the equivalent of one JBOD of each model empty, to ensure that if one fails we can transfer the drives to the other JBODs. This greatly encourages the use of a single model of JBOD.

In the case of disk failure, the data can be restored to our existing scratch space.

Cost Rundown

Item Count Estimated Actual Description Vendor
Unit Cost Total Unit Cost Total
146GB Disks 12 $600.00 $7,200.00 $490.55 $5,886.60 146GB Seagate Disk MNJ Technologies
SCSI JBOD 1 $3,000.00 $3,000.00 $2,218.56 $2,218.56 Adaptec SC4100 JBOD MNJ Technologies
SDLT Tapes 80 $60.00 $4,800.00 $51.95 $4,156.00 Quantum Super DLTtape1 Cartridge CDW Government
SDLT Changer 1 $7,040.00 $7,040.00 $7,040.00 $7,040.00 Sun StorEdge L8 AutoLoader (SDLT) Sun Microsystems
File Server 1 $2,372.50 $2,372.50 $2,372.50 $2,372.50 SunFire V210 Sun Microsystems
SCSI Card 1 $640.00 $640.00 $640.00 $640.00 Sun Dual-Channel Ultra 3 SCSI Adapter Sun Microsystems
Total   $25,052.50 $22,313.66 1168 GB (raw) of backed up space
Total (no backups)   $13,212,50 $11,117.66 1,752 GB (raw) of un-backed up space

No software prices are included, because we use an in-house backup system. This also did not include the price of cleaning tapes; we currently have sufficient quantities.

All of the above assumes the availability of proper power, cooling, and rack storage space.


Tim Skirvin