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Old 05-29-2010, 07:52 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Question Help building small server

OK, I'm a little over my head but here goes. I've been looking around a lot at NAS units to use as RAID arrays and I was very tempted to get a Thecus 4100Pro until I realized how much I was going to be paying for a very simple and cheap chipset with no actual hardware RAID and a very slow write/read rate. I looked into more expensive models but eventually I came to the conclusion that if I was going to spend a thousand dollars on a NAS I may as well just build my own because it would have a lot more features. Ever since then I've been putting together a system setup from scratch but I have a few questions. To start with, my intent with this machine is to have a simple storage server for 4 PCs all running Windows 7 on my home network. It will be primarily used as a RAID 5 array with four 1.5TB HDDs. I also want to use it to stream media both to the computers and to my xbox 360 for watching movies on the TV. I would prefer to run a Linux type server for both money reasons and also because I might be adding a MAC to my network and would like it to be able to pull off the drive as well. I actually know nothing about server OS's so that will be one of my questions in a bit. Anyway, here's what I've put together so far (haven't bought anything yet, just theory at this point).

- Cooler Master RC-310-BWN1-GP Elite 310 ATX, MATX Mid Tower Case with Window (Black/Blue)
- Cooler Master Silent Pro M700 Series Modular 700W ATX12V V2.3 / SSI EPS 12V V2.91
- Cooler Master 120mm Blue LED Case Fan - (R4-L2R-20AC-GP)
- GIGABYTE GA-MA770-UD3 Socket AM2+/ AMD 770/ DDR2/ A&2GbE/ ATX Motherboard
- AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition, HDZ955FBGMBOX, 3.2Ghz, 8MB Cache, 125W
- Cooler Master RR-B10-212P-G1 Hyper 212 Plus 775/1156/1366/AMD/AM2/AM3 Universal Direct Contact Heat-Pipe 120mm Fan CPU Cooler
- (x2 total of 4MB) PNY OPTIMA 2GB (2x1GB) Dual Channel Kit DDR2 667 MHz PC2-5300 Desktop DIMM Memory Modules MD2048KD2-667
- PNY GeForce FX 5200 PCI 256 MB 2 Port VGA + S-Video Graphics Card VCGFX522PEB
- Western Digital Caviar Blue 320 GB Bulk/OEM Hard Drive 3.5 Inch, 16 MB Cache, 7200 RPM SATA II WD3200AAKS (Connected to motherboard, solely to run the OS)
- Adaptec 2258100-R 5405 RAID 4-Channel SATA/SAS 256MB (Full hardware RAID)
- (x4) Seagate Barracuda 7200 1.5 TB 7200RPM SATA 3Gb/s 32MB Cache 3.5 Inch Internal Hard Drive ST31500341AS (Connected to RAID controller and set up in RAID 5)

I realize I'm probably overdoing it on processing power for such a small media server but frankly the chipset is inexpensive so I figured why not. The real cost is in the RAID controller since I don't want to use a software based RAID.

My first question is about the power supply. I did a test online to see how much power I needed and it said 650W so I'm looking at the 700W just to be on the safe side. It's not the most expensive supply around bought it's gotten good reviews and appears to be on the level. Is this good enough for my needs? At first I worried about the power for the RAID Controller but I read the documentation and it doesn't appear to need a separate power cable.

This brings me to my next question. The Adaptec RAID controller is an x8 lane PCI-Express card, but the motherboard only has 4 x1 lanes and 1 x16 lane. I read somewhere that an x8 lane will fit in an x16 lane and work, is this true? Also, the specs for the motherboard intimate that this x16 lane is for a graphics card. Can it only be used for a graphics card, or will the RAID controller work just fine in it? I am looking at a regular PCI graphics card since the x16 lane will be in use and the machine's not really going to be used for anything graphical anyway.

My next question is whether or not the computer should automatically be able to boot from a USB optical drive, or if I'm going to have to put one in internally. I won't really have much use for a disk drive on the machine once the initial setup is complete, so I'm just wondering if I can avoid this.

Now to the big question. What's the best free OS to use on this kind of a server? Which one would be the easiest and still support my needs (few though they may be). I just need to have the RAID 5 Array be discoverable, mappable, readable and writable to/from my Windows machines and be able to run a UPnP media server that can stream to my Xbox 360, and that's pretty much it. Also, as a side note will the array reflect the file system of the OS, or does the controller determine the file system?

I know this has been an extremely long post, thank you to anyone who has managed to get all the way to the end of this. Any help anyone can give me would be very much appreciated. Thanks for your time!
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Old 05-29-2010, 09:38 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Help building small server

I used to have the Adaptec 2405, currently have the 5805 and have nothing bad to say about either.

You shouldn't need as much as 650W but you can't be criticised for wanting a decent, stable PSU. I chose a 750W etasis.

My 5805 (also a 8x card) works great in a 16x slot. This will depend more on your motherboard (which I have no experience with) but it'll probably be fine.

You could always remove an internal optical drive when you are done with it...

Don't know about streaming media but anything which supports Samba will work as a file server. Give openSUSE a try though; it's easy to install and use it as a headless server because everything but network config can be configured through yast over ssh.

Your last question about file systems does not make a lot of sense. You'll set up and initialise the array in the card bios and because of the excellent drivers you'll see one big empty space in openSUSE right out the box. This space will need partitioning; you can either split it into a lot of partitions or make it one large partition, it's up to you. Then each partition then needs to be formatted with the filesystem of your choice and mounted. It's a lot easier than it probably sounds, you'll enjoy it.
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Old 05-29-2010, 10:27 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Help building small server

Thanks for the quick response and the knowledgeable answers. I will definitely look into openSUSE. Sorry about the filesystem question, I'm rather new to RAID arrays and wasn't sure how the controller affected the filesystem. I'm learning as I go along. I'm excited to get working on this project.

One quick question for you though, is there a filesystem that works best in a RAID server or that you like over another? I know Linux supports multiple filesystems and I've seen a lot of NAS enclosures using ext3 but I just don't know what the differences are. I guess that's another thing I should start researching. Anyway, thank you very much for the help!
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Old 05-29-2010, 11:39 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Help building small server

The only stupid question is the one not asked.
Filesystems should be selected by intended use for the partition. For example; an 8GB partition with binaries and scripts, a 20GB partition with databases, an 80GB partition for files in a network share and a 1000GB partition for archives, images, backups etc.
I'm not an expert on the subject and that is where your own research would have to kick in but ext3 is something of an all-rounder and I would say go for it unless you have specific requirements or problems.
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Old 05-29-2010, 09:32 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Help building small server

Ok, so now I've looked into openSUSE a little more and it's looking like a good solution. My question now is: in order to set up the system as a headless server, should it still be running a GUI that I can just remote into via VNC from one of the Windows systems (bypassing SSH altogether since both systems are on a closed network), or should I install the base server mode and run it over SSH? I'm not sure if I'm going to be taxing the system enough to worry about the processing power of running the GUI, and I have to admit that the prospect scares me a little bit because I'm so unfamiliar with the Linux system (particularly the command line aspect) so I'm afraid I would screw it up and then not be able to access the system even by plugging in a monitor, keyboard and mouse. If it really is a much better solution though I'm certainly willing to put in the time to learn.
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Old 05-29-2010, 10:51 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Help building small server

Running a GUI is fairly pointless on a server but if it would make you more comfortable first time round then go for it by all means. I guarantee you won't feel the need next time.
One of the great things about unix is that if you stay out of superuser mode (root basically), you cannot do harm to the system.
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Old 05-29-2010, 11:25 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Yeah, the more I read online the less I think I'll need to install a GUI. I just have a few more questions and then I'll leave you alone for at least a while. When I'm initially setting up the system I'm only going to have the HDD in that will run the OS. I'm reading a great tutorial right now on setting up a server in openSUSE (The Perfect Server - OpenSUSE 11.1 | HowtoForge - Linux Howtos and Tutorials) but their intent is a webserver and my intent is a storage server. When I'm installing the OS, it's going to prompt for how I want the drive partitioned. Should I run it as proposed and change the /home partition to /srv? Also, what is the difference between the two? Later on, when I insert the four raid disks onto the controller and set them up via the controller BIOS, I want to partition them into a single RAID 5 volume. Should they be incorporated into the /srv volume, or will they be network discoverable if they're a different volume?
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Old 05-30-2010, 08:30 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Help building small server

/srv and /home are used for different things, see Filesystem Hierarchy Standard
You could certainly mount your RAID 5 volume under the /srv hierarchy in which case it doesn't make much sense to have /srv as it's own partition on your boot drive.
I would be tempted to mount a partition for /var and mount your big RAID 5 in something like /srv/samba.
Nothing will be instantly available to your other PCs, you will need to install samba and configure it to share out the directories you want shared. I recommend you install swat as it will make your samba configuration much easier.
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