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What are people replacing the Mac XServe RAID with? Best alternative?

4172 Views 6 Replies Latest reply: Jul 19, 2012 6:13 AM by bgarlock RSS
Sarge_ Calculating status...
Currently Being Moderated
Jan 23, 2011 9:06 AM
I'm contemplating replacing my XServe RAID with a new setup, but it seems for every option there is a negative review about how terrible XYZ System is.

So far, it seems iSCSI is not reliable, and Firewire 800 is.

I use one half of my XServe RAID with Aperture (and plan to start using Final Cut) via fibre channel on one of my Mac Pros.

I have another Mac Pro that acts as a media server connected to the other side of the XServe RAID, also via fibre channel.

I'm running into capacity limits with the XServe RAID (14x750GB) and there seems to be no way to go beyond 750GB discs - If I could simply upgrade the drives to reliable 2TB units I'd be thrilled, but it seems Apple has completely screwed all of us who dropped $15k on what is now a four year old boat anchor (my boat anchor actually weighs less than this thing!).

So I'm wondering what others are doing, and/or what you might recommend for my use (home media/pro photo/video editing).

I'm contemplating installing an internal RAID in my Mac Pro and using a drobo via FW800 for backup on my photo/video editing machine, and connecting a second Drobo via FW800 for media server use on the other mac pro.

Are there better alternatives for relatively similar money? Does no one use fibre channel anymore?

If there's any way to upgrade my existing XServe RAID drives to 2TB units... that would be IDEAL.

Thanks in advance for any insight or 'alternative' recommendations.
Mac Pro Octo Core w/ Quadra FX 4500, 8GB RAM, quad fibre, 150GB WD10k, 3x 750GB, Mac OS X (10.6.6), MacProOcto-MacProC2D–MBpro15-MB13-3 C2D MacMinis–10TBxRAID-iPhone-4 iPods
  • MrHoffman Level 6 Level 6 (11,745 points)
    "It depends."

    For anything less than about twenty terabytes and where high-bandwidgh file sharing isn't an issue, then DAS via SAS or SATA, or DAS via FW800 at the low-end, is probably the most economical.

    For lower-bandwidth sharing, NAS via CIFS and AFP via GbE or via 10 GbE.

    If you need to share storage with decent bandwidth, then you're officially limited to the Promise SAN gear via FC SAN HBAs, if you want Apple support. There are some third-party folks that have their own SAN qualifications with third-party gear for Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server, with ATTO Technology being one or various examples.

    And FWIW, with bigger disks, stay far away from RAID-5. Provision some extra storage, and go for RAID-10 or maybe for RAID-6. But not RAID-5. As the disk capacities get larger, the chances of secondary failures increases during the RAID-5 recovery (over)load, and that would be bad for your data.

    As for prices? High-end stuff becomes low-end stuff pretty quickly in this business, and prices can and do and will drop. This from those of us who remember having spent US$10K on an upgrade to eight megabytes of system memory, after having received a vendor quote for the system memory upgrade from 4 MB to 8 MB at US$36K. Or having spent around US$12K for one 456 MB disk, and it took two of us to lift that disk for mounting.
  • MrHoffman Level 6 Level 6 (11,745 points)
    Thanks for the detailed response. Clearly you're quite knowledgable on the subject; What would you recommend, considering I have two Mac Pros, one a 'media server', the other mainly running Aperture/photoshop, some video editing (video use will be more intensive in the future). Both have fibre channel cards.

    What's your budget, what are your capacity requirements, time-frame, plans for scaling and upgrades, bandwidth requirements, etc.?

    Slice some of the choices off the list of potential options and bring some focus onto what you do need (and to a lesser extent, what you want), and you'll make progress.

    Apple's Xserve RAID is seemingly overkill, but I bought it expecting to upgrade the drives when I needed more space, and as my file size demands increase. Since that's impossible, what's the best/most efficient ($) step to take?

    If you can eliminate multi-host sharing, then the prices of your options usually drops substantially.

    DAS is usually cheaper than SAN.

    There's Apple SCSI on an Xserve box I deal with, and that works decently well. There's also add-on PCI-X or PCIe SAS/SATA controllers out to external disk shelves, and which would be preferable to SCSI. There are PCIe RAID controllers, and there are external shelves with RAID controllers that'll work from non-RAID controllers. And there are always the JBOD configurations and software-based RAID-1 where needed.

    My other thought is to install an internal Apple RAID card in my Mac Pro (RAID 5 across 3 2TB drives, system drive is a separate 10k rpm drive), use that as my working 'drive' for Aperture/Final Cut, and use a larger external RAID for Time Machine.

    I'm running a similar 4-volume RAID-10, as I tend to be allergic to RAID-5 as disks get bigger.

    RAID-5 got its start when disks were small and expensive, and parity RAID just doesn't scale.

    RAID-1, RAID-6 and RAID-10 tend to be more common in the larger shops that I deal with.

    The media server RAID (direct link to separate Mac Pro) is less demanding, although I do enjoy the fast write times when ripping videos I buy from the Mac to the FC XServe RAID. A simple direct FW800 would probably suffice. The primary problem on that side is storage space...

    Any 'silver bullet' thoughts?

    Yeah. There isn't one. Stop looking.

    Figure out your particular requirements, and work from there.

    I'm frankly rather surprised no one has come up with a 'hack' to allow installation of larger drives in the XServe RAID, but to date I've found nothing to that end.

    After years of doing low-level device integration and testing, I'm surprised that anything works with anything. Sometimes it's plug-and-go, and sometimes you end up hacking firmware or drivers.

    The extra cost of the qualified storage is not without value; it means that somebody (else) has tested and pays to fix the issues.

    Going cheaper or with random or unsupported gear means you own that testing and that repair and replacement, and you can end up eating the cost of something that doesn't work.

    Modern disks are decently compatible, but you can still have "fun" with differences in areas such as SMART monitoring, and with any vendor-specific sensors or vendor-specific extensions.

    I could just connect both sides of the XServe RAID to one of the Mac Pros, but I had thought I might ebay the XServe RAID if there were a practical solution. It almost seems I should just buy a second one ($2500), but I'm a little afraid of the age of it all, too. (Four years old, just had a power supply fail, but no drive failures to date (knock wood).

    Might want to look at the Promise, then.

    Figure out what your budget is, and what you really need, and then talk to couple of different storage vendors. See what they have to offer, and what they recommend.
  • MacTheKid Calculating status...
    You could purchase a second XRAID on the used market very very reasonable, and configure to RAID 0 + 1 with 2 XRAIDs and using the software RAID in OS X server. I have done this for fully redundant+ 10 TB storage. The system is reasonably fast as well, these xRAIDs serves HD video with multi-track audio just fine. I am assuming that multiple volumes is not a problem for the storage.

    Alternatives are more expensive and I found this to be 100% reliable.

    I have seen this done with another person recording multi-channel audio as well with success.
    xServe 2.93 (8 core) 2.66 (8 core), Mac OS X (10.6.6), MacBookPro and PPC machines
  • mbshields Calculating status...
    Sarge, There is a company called Condre Storage that has worked with Intel to develop a server box that meets the specs of the XServ box. they are loading the server with Red hat, and putting Promise RAID boxes behind it. You might give their sales guys a call to see what they have.
  • bgarlock Calculating status...

    I just picked up a dirt cheap XServe RAID so we could have a spot to stage some large graphics files, and have some breathing room before we get into a SAN, and I'm extremely impressed with it.  From documentation, to management, to installing it; everything went smooth.  I honestly have not worked with a more "likable" piece of HW. 


    I literally had everything up, running, and serving in about an hour.  I had to pick up the Fiber Channel card from Ebay, which came with the cables, and installed it in an old PowerMac G4, and everything just worked.  No driver issues, firmware issues or anything.


    Not to mention, only one drive has ever been replaced in this thing, and it has a lot of hours logged (44k+).  My HP Storage Server can't even come close to those stats.  Not to mention, we had 2 drives go bad at the same time, so the whole thing was toast.


    It is too bad these things didn't sell so well.  I really like ours.


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