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AFFORDABLE FILE STORAGE! UNRAID+Used SuperMicro Server: Filmmakers Video/Photo Storage NAS Solution


Every content creator runs into the problem of storage issues -- big files are not easy, but look no further. UNRAID with a storage array has its benefits. And if you upgrade your network, you can edit right from the server.

  • Use your existing hard drives

  • Start with what you have and add drives as you need them

  • You can mix and match any size and any brand to increase storage; up to 30 drives

  • Replace smaller drives with bigger ones as you need more storage

  • Redundancy for your data, if your hard drive fails, UNRAID has the option to protect the data with parity functionality

  • AND with upgraded network switching, you can edit files right over the network (requires switch, network cards)

Depending on what you are looking for UNRAID is not the only option available, there are solutions like ProxMox, TrueNAS, etc. For me, UNRAID was the best choice ... redundancy of data, allows for editing directly from the server with both Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Lightroom and the growth of drives as the video content increases at a very affordable price tag.


Where Do You Start?

UNRAID was built with the idea to take your old computer, throw some hard drives in it, and fire up the operating platform. For a media storage server, it's a little more difficult than that but easier than just buying an expensive NAS. And much cheaper. Plus you have quite a bit more control with growth.


With a little bit of ingenuity, reading the UNRAID documentation and forums, and computer parts, you can build a media server to accommodate that growing library of files.


List of Server & Networking Parts Needed

At the time that we were writing this blog, these were the parts that were purchased. As the technology evolves and gets newer, the process is the same, it's just newer parts.


SERVER ($555)

  1. SuperMicro Server Chassis: ~$200

  2. SuperMicro TQ Backplane (eBay): $50 [if the server doesn't have SATA backplane, it's typically labeled SAS-8#6-TQ)

  3. Graphics Card (Must be PCIe): $20-30

  4. Replacement fans (server fans are loud)(Amazon.com: AITRIP 4PCS 80mm x 80mm x 25mm Fan): $15

  5. Power Extension Cable for ATX Motherboard, it's smaller (Amazon.com: StarTech.com EPS 8 Pin Power Extension Cable): $6

  6. Motherboard pin extension cable: $8

OTHER ($167)


Total: ~$700 plus the cost of hard drives (and if you have hard drives, that's it)

(UNRAID can handle up to 30 drives and more with pool functionality)


Hard drives can run about $150ea for 16TB on Amazon (renewed). You can use the drives that you have but you have to move the data off the drives before you install them. I repeat ... UNRAID can't natively read the data on the drive (you can't just plug them in as-is, the data will not just appear), you have to move the data from the drives to somewhere else before installing the drives.


This sounds daunting, especially if you're new to the world of computers. YouTube is your friend, however, if you have a slight inclination, it's entirely possible. It's cheaper, scales however you want, and runs on a server platform.


How is the Data Protected?

UNRAID uses a function called Parity (How Parity Works | Unraid Docs), which is a drive that stores all 1s and 0s to protect your data from loss. If you can fully explain it, you're a better person than me, we'll take their word for it.


How Much Storage Capacity?

When you purchase the UNRAID Pro license for $129, you get unlimited drives. So quick math on the amount of storage.

  • 8-bay 2U with 16TB HDDs - 7 storable drives is 112TB @ $1,200 (1 parity drive)

  • 24-bay 4U with 16TB HHDs - 22 storable drives is 352TB @ $3,300 (2 parity drives)

  • 36-bay 4U with 16TB HDDs - 34 storable drives is 544TB @ $5,400 (2 parity drives)

  • Other chassis are also available with drive capability for 12, 16, 48, etc.

Plus the cost of the chassis (above). The price of drives will only decrease and the great thing about UNRAID is your add as you go. Build the server knowing that at some point, you might need more drives.


You'd spend $15-20k on a server chassis that was anywhere close to 300TB+. The fact that you can build as your go and do it with minimal equipment is a game changer for the prosumer or weekend warrior. However, many of these servers are online in Pro environments.


The Server Chassis: SuperMicro or Any Brand that Accepts ATX Motherboard

When selecting a case, you need to plan for the size of storage that you'll require. Start with the hard drives in mind. For me, renewed drives from Amazon combined with existing drives are the way that I went.


The server that I built currently has (6) 16TB drives, which are capable of storing 47TB. The math may seem off, but it is, and that's where UNRAID comes in. We'll get to that in a moment, for now, know that UNRAID allows you to configure redundancy for either 1 or 2 drive failures at a time and if you select this option, you, in turn, lose 1 or 2 drives.


So the case, make sure that you have slots for storage capability. We've built two styles of UNRAID server -- one in the Fractal Define 7 XL and the other we built in a $100 SuperMicro chassis from 2010 that was bought off the Facebook marketplace. I am moving the Fractal tower to another used SuperMicro chassis.


That's right, the SuperMicro was retrofit with a couple of new components, and viola! Typically SuperMicro is installed at Unix data centers and gets retired to surplus stores at discount prices. They don't work out of the box, but with some ingenuity, you can get one going.


Example 2U SuperMicro Chassis

Check out Supermicro 2u 3.5 for sale | eBay or Facebook Marketplace for servers available. Many times you can find chassis locally for cheap.


The size of servers is measured in 1U, 2U, 3U, 4U, etc. This is the amount of height that the server consumes on the rack. A 2U server can typically handle 8-12 drives. A 4U server can typically handle 24-36 drives. MAKE SURE YOU'RE LOOKING AT 3.5" TRAYS AND NOT 2.5".

Example: eBay Used SuperMicro Server Chassis

That's right, circa 2010, 2015, 2018, etc. ... if you remove some parts, add a few others, and download the software, you can get a server going in no time at all.


Again ... Selecting the Right Chassis (if You're Retrofitting)

There is a catch. Many of the chassis have a few different variations. So when looking at the images online, ensure that the chassis is ATX compatible. You will know when it's ATX compatible when you have the opening that fits the standard motherboard.



Preparing the Chassis for the Hardware

This is fairly simple, most everything stays. A couple of cables were removed, fans were removed, etc. The 15,000rpm fans sound like you are on a 737 with the jet turbines turning up.

  1. Unplug the cables

  2. Unscrew the processors

  3. Remove the motherboard

And the reason that we replace the motherboard and processor is that the UNRAID software dislikes the typical server hardware, that being the Adaptec HOST RAID card. It acts erratic and unpredictable, so you have to take out the motherboard, but most of the rest of the components are good.

As you can see, the SuperMicro chassis is ready for a quick retrofit with the right parts. And the reason we like the SuperMicro is they are ready for an ATX motherboard on the back. The components line up and the screws match on the motherboard.

So you can pull out the old hardware, TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES, and plug in the bare minimum items to get this server up and running. You can disconnect everything on the motherboard and unscrew and yank it out.


New Components

Once you've unplugged the cables and the motherboard is removed, it's time to plug everything back together. If your server has an optical drive (cd/DVD), you'll most likely have a few cables left over.


1 | Start with the Motherboard & Processor

You can find a cheap motherboard on eBay, Amazon, and/or if you have a local Microcenter, they offer great deals on motherboard + processor purchases. Typically they offer $20 off when the combination is purchased together.


It could be entirely possible to run the UNRAID server from the existing equipment in the SuperMicro server, however, given the sensitivity of the data and feelings about hardware that is 10 years old -- I have opted to replace the key components in this case.


Just know, if you keep the existing hardware, you will need to TURN OFF the RAID Controller. That may require flashing the bios. I have seen cases where servers are running in what is called HBA mode instead of using the RAID controller. UNRAID does NOT like RAID Controllers.

Equipment that I have used for this build includes:


MSI B550-VC Pro Motherboard: $110


The B550-VC has (8) SATA ports. That's 8 hard drives that can be connected directly to the motherboard. SATA stands for Serial ATA which is the cable that transmits the data.


AMD Ryzen 5 4500 or 3600: $75


UNRAID is low processor utilization, so you don't need the most powerful processor. The AMD Ryzen 5 is great. There are debates online about AMD v. Intel. The bang for the buck that you get for AMD was why I went with AMD.


Just make sure that you match the RAM speed to the processor. The AMD Ryzen 5 4500 supports DDR4-3200. And make sure you get a processor with a fan built-in.


Now, screw the motherboard to the chassis and attach the processor to the motherboard.


2 | Connect the Cables

You need to connect 5 cable components.

  1. Motherboard power

  2. Fan power

  3. Power switch and lights [Image#1]

  4. SATA cables for hard drives [Image#2]

  5. CPU power (needs extension in some cases) [Image#3]

Each image shows the connections that need to be made.

There are going to be a handful of spare cables that won't get plugged in.


3 | Install the RAM and Graphics Card

If you get 2 cards, they don't get plugged in side by side, they get installed in slots 2 & 4. You will get an error message if the slots are in the wrong spot. They do not install side by side.


Once this sever is all plugged in and ready to be fired up, you can go to UNRAID.NET and download the drive builder for the USB thumb drive. UNRAID runs from a thumb drive, NOT a hard drive. I believe it actually runs off the RAM.


Power On, Configure

Plug the USB Thumb Drive and build the UNRAID OS: Home | Unraid Docs

Networking

If you are interested in editing videos or photos over the network like a NAS, you will need to upgrade to a 10Gbps network. The server, your desktop, and switching all have to be on 10Gbps equipment for this to work. End to End you must be on the faster network.


NETWORKING ($338)

  1. 10GB Network Card - X540-T1 or X540-T2 or X550-T1 or X550-T2 (x540-t2 for sale | eBay): $50

This is great if you have quite a bit of video to work through. It's not perfect, but it's pretty fast, and it works are good as you would expect with editing over a network.


For now, good luck and I hope this works for you.


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