Build Your Own Cloud Storage Server – There, we offer unlimited storage to our customers for just $5 a month, so we had to figure out how to store hundreds of petabytes of customer data in a reliable and scalable way – and keep our costs down. After looking at overpriced commercial solutions, we decided to build our own Storage Pods: a 67 terabyte 4U server for $7,867.
What we provide to our customers is actually online backup for home and business online backup for work. However, in this post, we share how to make one of these Storage Pods, and you are welcome to use this design. Our hope is that by sharing, others can benefit and eventually, improve this idea and send improvements to us. Development and cost reduction are critical to our continued success in .
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Below is a video showing a 3-D model of the Storage Pod. Read on to learn the exact design details.
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To say it needs a lot of storage is an understatement. We are a backup service, so our data center has full copies of all our customers’ data, along with multiple versions of files that have changed. In rough terms, every time our customers buy a hard drive, they need another hard drive. A long time ago, we started measuring storage in our data centers in gigabytes or terabytes and we started measuring it in petabytes.
To give you an idea of what this looks like, here’s a picture of me deploying the new Pods in our data center. The small stack of six Pods in the rack I work in contains only half a petabyte of storage.
Before we knew we had to solve this storage problem ourselves, we considered Amazon S3, Dell or Sun Servers, NetApp Filers, EMC SAN, etc. As we investigate these traditional solutions, we are increasingly disappointed with the cost. Once you remove the marketing terms and fancy logos from any storage solution, the data ends up on the hard drive. But when we determine the price of various off-the-shelf solutions, the cost is 10 times (or more) than the raw hard disk. Here is a chart comparing prices for one petabyte from various vendors:
Based on cost, we decided to build our own Storage Pods. We have two main goals: keep the upfront costs low by using consumer drives and off-the-shelf components and be as energy and space efficient as possible by using green components and squeezing more storage into a smaller box.
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The result is a 4U server installed in a rack based on Linux with 67TB with a material cost of $ 7,867, mostly to buy the drives themselves. That means just three tenths of a penny per gigabyte per month over three years. Even including the surrounding costs – such as electricity, bandwidth, space rent, and IT administrator salaries – it costs one-tenth the price compared to using Amazon S3, Dell Servers, NetApp Filers, or EMC SAN.
A Storage Pod is a self-contained unit that enables online storage. It is made from a custom metal case with hardware inside. Specifically, one Pod has an Intel Motherboard with four SATA cards plugged into it. Nine SATA cables run from the card to nine port multiplier backplanes that each have five hard drives plugged directly into them (for a total of 45 hard drives).
Above is the exploded diagram, and you can see the detailed list in Appendix A at the bottom of this post. The two most important factors to note are that the cost of the hard drive dominates the price of the Pod as a whole and the rest of the system is made up of all commodity parts.
The Storage Pod wiring diagram is shown below. Power supply units (PSUs) provide most of their power in two different voltages: 5V and 12V. We use two power supplies in the Pod because the 45 drives draw a lot of 5V power, but high-wattage ATX PSUs provide most of their power at 12V. This is not an accident: the ATX power supply of 1, 500 watts and larger is designed for powerful 3-D graphics cards that require extra power in the 12V rail. We could switch to a power supply designed for servers, but two ATX PSUs are cheap.
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PSU1 provides power for three front fans and backplanes of one, two, three, four and seven port multipliers. PSU2 powers everything. (See Appendix A for a detailed list of custom connectors on each PSU.) To power the backplanes multiplier ports, cables run through the PSUs through four holes in the backplane-metal divider that holds the fans in the center of the box (near the base of the fans) and then continues to the bottom of the nine backplanes. Each backplane multiplier port has two molex male connectors on the bottom. The hard drive draws the most power during the initial spin, so if you power both PSUs at the same time, you can draw a large spike (14 amp) of 120V power from the socket. We recommend powering on PSU1 first, waiting until the drive boots up (and the power draw drops to a reasonable level), and then powering on PSU2. Fully booted, the entire Pod will draw around 4.8 amps idle and up to 5.6 amps under heavy load.
Below is a picture of the Storage Pod partially assembled (click on the picture for a larger image). The metal case has screws mounted on the bottom, turned up, where we attach the nylon standoffs (small white pieces in the picture below). Nylon helps reduce vibration, and this reduction is an important aspect of the server’s design. The circuit board shown in the nylon stand is part of the nine-port SATA backplanes multipliers that take a single SATA connection on their side and allow five hard drives to be mounted vertically and plugged into the top of the board. All power and SATA cables run under the port multiplier. One of the backplanes in the picture below is filled with hard drives to show the position.
A note about drive vibration: The drives vibrate too much if you let them sit as shown in the picture above, so we added “anti-vibration arms” (essentially rubber bands) around the hard drive between – the red grid. and drive. This makes driving tight on the tires. We also put a large sheet (16″ x 17″ x 1/8″) of foam on top of the hard drive after all 45 are in the case. Then the cover screws down into the foam to hold the drive securely. In the future, we will dedicate an entire blog post to vibration.
The Intel Motherboard has four SATA cards plugged into it: three SYBA two-port SATA cards and one four-port Addonics card. Nine SATA cables connect to the top of the SATA card and run along with the power cable. All 9 SATA cables measure 36 inches and use a 90-degree locking connector on the back edge and a non-locking straight connector on the SATA card.
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A note about the SATA chipset: Each port multiplier on the backplanes has a Silicon Image SiI3726 chip so that five drives can be attached to one SATA port. Each SYBA two-port PCIe SATA card has a Silicon Image SiI3132, and the four-port Addonics PCI card has a Silicon Image SiI3124 chip. We only use three of the four ports available on the Addonics card because we only have nine backplanes. We didn’t use the SATA port on the motherboard because, despite Intel claiming multiple port support in their ICH10 subbridge, we noticed strange results in our performance tests. Silicon Image pioneered port multiplier technology, and their chips work perfectly together.
A Storage Pod isn’t a complete building until it’s up and running on a network. Pods boot 64-bit Debian 4 Linux and the JFS file system, and are self-contained devices, where all access to and from Pods is via HTTPS. Below is a diagram of the layer cake.
Starting from the bottom, there are 45 hard drives that are exposed through the SATA controller. Then we use the fdisk tool in Linux to create one partition for each drive. In addition, we combine 15 hard drives in one RAID6 volume with two parity drives (out of 15). RAID6 is created with the mdadm utility. On top of that is the JFS file system, and the only access we allow to this entire self-build storage block is via HTTPS running under the -application logic in Apache Tomcat 5.5. After all this is taken into account, the formatted (usable) space is 87% of the total raw hard disk. One of the most important concepts here is that when storing or retrieving data with Storage Pod, it is always over HTTPS. No iSCSI, no NFS, no SQL, no Fiber Channel. There is no such technology scale
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