About six weeks ago we realized that we needed more production storage space and decided to look into a NAS solution instead of a traditional server. After doing some searching I came across a neat-looking little black box made by Intel, their SS4000-E. I read through the specs and called up TigerDirect to get some of my questions/concerns answered, the primary question being "will it handle the throughput we require each day?" We are a document conversion business that digitizes paper and microfilm/microfiche, and on any given day we may scan well over 500K images, each at around 65K as the average file size. Needless to say, we planned on beating the devil out of this storage box. At any rate, TigerDirect told me that yes, the system will be able to handle the throughput without any problems. Ok, that's great. So we ordered one ......
Well, I wish I had found some of the postings I have read since then describing the "shortcomings" of the system. I realized, much to my chagrin as CTO and resident tech guru, that my purchase was not all it was sold to be. Part of our processes involves building multi-image TIFF files, and some of these files can be upwards of 15-25MB in size. I realized immediately that something was awry when I tried processing out to the box; the system came to a screeching crawl. Come to find out later that part of the issue was with the drives that we received with the unit. For those who don't know, it comes with a set of SATA-300 drives. On the back of these drives (something I had not thought to check as I have only used EIDE drives to this point) there is a jumper that limits the throughput of the drive to 1.5Gbps instead of allowing the full 3.0Gbps data transfer rate. This apparently was installed for those cases were the motherboard did not support the 3.0Gbps rate. What made no sense to me is that this system states that it does support the faster transfer rate, so why put the jumper on there?
So ... off came the jumpers. Ok, the transfer rate sped the system up from a crawl to a slow walk. Obviously something else is still wrong. Being the Linux "guru" I decided to try and access the system directly via SSH and see what was going on. One would figure that the box, being a Linux-based system, would have a SSH daemon running, right? Nope. Oh, and don't waste your time looking for a way to turn it on in the web configuration interface. I had to do some Google searching to turn up the solution to this one. There is an undocumented CGI script that gives you the ability to turn the SSH daemon on, but you have to put it into your address bar yourself. None of the other CGI pages will take you there.
Ok, now I have my SSH access ... great. I get in there and find out that (a) you're stuck with XFS as the file system on your NAS shares and (b) apparently no one thought that turning on the noatime mount option was a good idea. The mounts are not listed in the fstab, either. There is a conf file that you have to hunt for, add the noatime option, then reboot the box. After all that, it now is no longer at a slow walk, but rather a light jog. (sigh)
If there is anyone out there that can enlighten me on how to speed up the XFS file system, I would appreciate the advice. I have worked with reiserfs in the past and had much better results. Unfortunately the box does not come with reiserfs installed (although according to the conf files it is supported), and even if it were there is no way that I have found to tell the box to make a new share using anything other than XFS.
The only consolation I have found is that there are a number of others out there who also have similar problems with their systems. I even saw an article earlier that discussed a way to install a Debian distro onto the box, but the steps required seem daunting at best. One would figure that Intel would put out a better product than this, but I also have found out that it was not their product in the first place; they bought it from some other manufacturer and have basically no way to support the internal workings of the system.
So, what to do with it? It does make a good storage solution, meaning as long as you write the data once and do not require any substantial processing to be done to that data once it is there, it will work well. It is stable and will run probably for months at a time, if not longer, between shutdowns for maintenance. It just is not designed to handle massive amounts of reading and writing all at one time. At this point, that will be its ultimate mission in our shop, but it sill leaves us with the problem of not having enough production workspace.
To that end, I have decided to take a more traditional approach and install a Linux-based file server. As cost is an issue, I have been pricing out some bare-bones solutions upon which I can build. Also, I have decided to build a Linux From Scratch OS onto the box, instead of installing a heavy distro. I like Mandriva and Ubuntu, but I really do not want to have all that extra software and package management to deal with. I was able to work out a list of applications/libraries that I will need, cutting out all of the fat and trimming the system down as much as possible. Once I have gotten everything successfully installed I will post my results and any performance issues/benefits that I encounter. If all goes well, I should have a solution for anyone else out there who bought one of these storage boxes and is looking for a higher-performance solution.