I promise not to hijack the company website and make it into my own personal blog but, as promised, I will be posting some fun projects to keep the site fresh and active while products for the store are being developed. Here is the first installment:
I love my old HP Proliant Ml370 G4, but it has begun to show it’s age. I could not turn down this behemoth of a server workhorse when I was offered it free of charge by a company that was upgrading their entire infrastructure. The only stipulation was that I would wipe the data from the hard drives and not use the OS that it was running. I was happy to oblige by wiping Windows and replacing it with an x64 Ubuntu Server. That process became a mini-project, as the bootloader was not a fan of the hardware RAID and failed to recognize the logical drive presented to it. I finally stumbled across a great little utility which iirc is now built in to many distros and aptly titled “Boot-repair”. This effortlessly corrected the boot issue and I was on my way to building a powerful home server.
Over the years I built the box up with several useful roles such as: media server (samba, NFS & CIFS) including XBMC and all of it’s goodies, home automation server for x-10 and Z-wave, and a home PBX using Asterisk. Like I said, I love this big ‘ol beast of a server, especially the 5 drive (10K U320 SCSI) hardware RAID array for my media library, but eventually I had to face the music: 146GB SCSI drives with a 548GB total array size was not sufficient for my rapidly growing media library. Using tools such as MakeMKV, Handbrake, and DVDshrink I added my entire physical library of DVD and Blu Ray movies to the media server with some HD files around 4GB each.
My upgrade options were limited, as U320 SCSI drives max out at 300GB, and this was not cost effective on a dollar per MB or GB comparison to newer SATA drives. My solution was to expand my storage with modern and relatively inexpensive SATA drives. Unfortunately the cheapo RAID cards I bought online were only capable of software RAID that gave me problems, especially with large file transfers over my home network. After some quick research I decided that I would take 5 1TB SATA drives and replace the aging 10K SCSI drives in the drive bay. I was able to procure the following parts for this project through online auctions:
SATA extension cables $1.36ea (NEW)
ML370G4 SAS backplane $14.95 (refurb)
SAS cables $15 (NOS)
HP 410i SAS RAID controller, PCIe x4 $19.99 (used)
Total investment was under $60, which is not bad considering that some used drive cages (with backplanes) alone are listed online from $35-$85.
A plug and play complete SAS solution pulled from a used ML370 was well over $400 and I would much rather spend that money on drives. Plus I wanted to see if I could cobble something together that worked.
This is the ML370G4 with a 5 drive SCSI RAID array using a PCI-X RAID card. The 3 drives in the center make up a second RAID using the onboard controller and these run the linux OS.
Pulling the cage was fairly easy: four screws, remove the SCSI cable, remove the power cable, pull the cage.
Unfortunately the SCSI cage backplane mount is not the same for the SAS backplane. To make matters more difficult, the SAS ports are too close together for 3.5″ SATA drives in this SCSI bay, so I had to relocate the new backplane to the middle bay behind the OS drives. The extension cables were plenty long to accomplish this, though the end product was a bit messy looking.
The next task was mounting my SATA drives in the SCSI drive trays. This seemed easy enough at first; however the tray corners are right in the way of the SATA power connector. After attempting to dremel the entire corner off of each tray, I realized that the trays are actually made from (what appears to be) cast aluminum that I could easily score and snap off with pliers. This would not be an issue with the G5 and newer SAS/SATA/FC drive trays.
With the new drives in the trays, and the trays in the cage, I began cleaning up the wires and tackling the next issue: the SAS board power plug was a 10-pin, where the SCSI’s was 8. I was concerned that not all of the drives would get power or that functionality on the backplane would be missing. Luckily this was not the case, and a quick probe of the voltages demonstrated that the 8 pin plug from the ML370’s power backplane board was a direct match for the bottom 8 pins of the SAS backplane (according to a pinout diagram), and the keying was also the same. So this part was indeed plug and play. I still have no idea what the extra 2 pins, a GND and +5V, actually do, but I have yet to experience any performance issues after nearly a year in service.
I placed the new SAS backplane carefully in the the middle bay, being careful not to let it ground out on the chassis. I think my next rainy day project will be to 3D print a proper mount for it, or perhaps make a mount that adapt it to the back of the SCSI drive bay.
The before and after pictures are the same, because with the exception of the coiled up excess SATA wires it is difficult to tell the original configuration has been modded.
I downloaded HP’s ACU (array configuration utility) which was a free download and came complete with a decent GUI from a customized linux live .iso. I was again pleasantly surprised to discover that the utility recognized all drives and configured them without complaint. I have heard stories of non-HP firmware drives having issues, but I have yet to come across this.
The result is a 4TB RAID 5 array for my media library and XBMC server. This project was fun, relatively inexpensive, and I now can easily update the size of my array by swapping in bigger drives and reconfiguring using HP’s powerful ACU. Yay for free hardware, open source software, and a seemingly endless supply of used parts on online auction sites! I heart the internets.
I can’t imagine too many people have old servers lying around, but if you do, or if perhaps you want to add a cool hardware RAID cage for your SATA drives here are some resources to mimic this project:
Sata/SAS extension cables
Drive cage from a G5 with backplane
G5 drive trays (a bit pricey, you may want to watch for a good lot sale or a drive cage with trays)
HP P400 SAS controller with 512MB cache
SAS cable (need 2)
Obviously these auctions will be over shortly after this post, but this gives you an idea of what to look for in acquiring parts.
I spent a lot of time searching and waiting for great deals to get my parts under $60.
HP offline ACU (.iso image)
Good luck and happy hacking!