Getting started with our massive Media Tank home storage project

Summary:Over the course of the next few articles, we're going to take you through the full Media Tank project, including all the tricks that were necessary to cram so many inexpensive drives inside one box and make it all work.

It’s been a while since I’ve introduced you to a completely new project, so I figured it was time to open the sliding trays of one of my favorite (and most useful projects): the Media Tank, Mark I. Here’s the most important spec: 20 terabytes of storage across 10 data drives, in one 20-inch mid-tower case.

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

The whole Media Tank project is actually more than just storage. We ran gigabit Ethernet to every wall of the house (include inside some closets), there’s a second tank (a clone of the first) that’s used for local video backup, and we have an additional three tiers of backup for other types of media.

Over the course of the next few articles, I’m going to take you through the full Media Tank project, including all the tricks that were necessary to cram so many inexpensive drives inside one box and make it all work.

In this article, though, I’m going to spec out the project and explain why we built it.

It all goes back to 2005. My wife and I had just gotten married. We’d decided to move from chilly New Jersey to warm Florida. When we started looking for a house, we realized we’d somehow have to fit the entire contents of my wife’s pre-marriage home, my pre-marriage collection of stuff, and the office for what was then my online publishing company.

We were gonna need a lot of space. A lot of space.

So we rented a big house in Central Florida. We filled a moving truck with 19,280 pounds of stuff. Her clothes, my T-shirts and jeans, her girl stuff, all my gear, her huge music collection, my very large video collection, and both of our book collections. Together we had thousands of CDs, close to a thousand DVDs, and wall upon wall upon wall of books.

Even though the house was a monster, it was still less expensive to rent than either of us spent on rent in New Jersey before we moved in together. Florida isn’t as inexpensive as it once was, but it’s still a lot less expensive than living in the metropolitan New York area.

We managed to combine it all, threw some stuff out, and got some new stuff. After about six years, our way-too-big-to-clean house was even more full of stuff than when we came down here. Our lease renewal was about to come due, and we realized it was time to buy a house of our own.

But we wanted something more manageable. We didn’t want to turn into hoarders. We’d each known a few hoarders in our lives, and we were not about to let ourselves become another hoarder couple. We were committed to cutting back on all that stuff.

Looking around the big rental house, it became apparent that a huge percentage of the space was given to warehousing our books, music, files, videos – our media. What if we could reduce that?

What if we went all digital?

Having the Media Tank made it possible to very comfortably downsize our home.

At first, my wife tried to scan in all our books. We bought an industrial paper cutter and a great scanner called a ScanSnap. Over the course of a few months, she made a valiant effort to scan in all our books.

As it turns out, that project – at the time – proved somewhat impractical, merely because of the physical effort of scanning in the books and keeping the scanner running. She did manage to scan in a hundred or so of our favorite books, plus most of our important manuals (if they weren't available for download).

In the middle of this, the first iPad came out, and we confirmed that reading scanned PDFs on a tablet was just as practical as reading a physical book. The concept worked, at least in theory.

In practice, we wound up getting rid of a lot of our books. This was the third or fourth major book purge I'd done in my life, and each time is as difficult. Each book is a friend. But we donated as many as we could (fewer people and organizations are willing to accept book donations these days). We realized we'd read many of them and were unlikely to read them again. Many of the reference books could virtually be replaced by the Internet. Many others are available on Kindle format if we feel we must reread them at some future time, or available for pennies used from Amazon.

We’re still (almost three years later) trying to get the remainder of our books digitized, though we're nearing the end of our mass scanning days. That’s a story for another article series.

We came to realize if we were going to convert all that physical media (not just books, but files, movies, videos, manuals, even software disks) to digital form, we’d need a central server to store it all.

Next up: what we store on the tank now...

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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