Building our massive storage Media Tank

Summary:We continue our massive Media Tank story by answering the questions almost everyone asked: what's inside? Read on, and we'll tell you all about it.

Welcome to Part 2 of our Media Tank, Mark I project. If you missed it, last week's article covered the specs behind the Tank, why my wife and I built it, and what we use it for. Today is all about the build itself.

The OS

Our fundamental goal was to build an array that could handle as many hard drives as possible. Because I had a bunch of old, spare, Windows XP licenses floating around, I decided to base the machine on XP. I wasn’t terribly concerned about Web security (a big problem for XP), since I had no intention of surfing the Web from this machine and, once built, it would live behind an enterprise-grade firewall. The Tank was going to be headless (no monitor), and that meant all I needed was the ability to create Windows shares.

Media Tank
Media Tank, Mark I (courtesy David Gewirtz media archive)

We work from home, so the network here is more than just something for family fun. It’s a serious professional tool. My wife co-founded our publishing business with me way back in the 1990s, and we worked together for more than a decade before we got married.

I’m telling you this because our network has been built to run our office, even though that office is located in a house – a house that’s been pretty much optimized to function as a network operations center as well as a family dwelling (although my mom thinks we should have a rarely-if-ever-used sitting area for guests instead of what looks to her like a computer lab).

Here at Camp David, we have a bunch of Windows machines, as well as four Macs, and a few Linux VMs. Because most of our day-to-day work is on Windows, we optimized for Windows shares, and XP did the trick. The Linux VMs and Macs understand SMB moderately well, so they’re playing along nicely.

And yes, I could have set up the Tank as a Linux box, but I didn’t want to. Linux regularly finds a way to annoy me or ruin my week. XP was easy, cooperative, and available. That’s all there is to that story.

Drive boundaries

You may have noticed that this project is about the Media Tank, Mark I. That’s because this is a first iteration implementation. This build is logically drive-centric. Each share lives on a drive and if that drive runs out of space, that share gets full – even if another drive has a ton of spare space.

This works, but storage pooling is a viable technology. At some point, we may embark on a Mark II project that pools storage across all the drives. But for now, shares don’t cross drives.

Before I move on to tell you about the gear, I want to post a disclaimer. When possible, I’m sharing a link to the item I bought. In most cases, those links are on Newegg, because I generally have pretty good luck buying from them. So, when you see the link and it takes to you Newegg, that’s because that’s the item I bought, not necessarily a pitch for you to go there and buy. I’m also using images from Newegg, so it seems fair to throw them some link love in return.

Boot drive

The Media Tank has the capacity to run ten drives: nine shared data drives and one boot drive. For the boot drive, I used an old spare drive. I loaded XP on it, and it runs. Since very little needs to live on the boot drive, as long as it’s not dog slow, it works for my purposes here. As I recall, it’s an old 300GB 7200 RPM platter.

Next up, choosing the components...

Topics: Storage


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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