Corporate servers have used network storage, ranging from fileservers, to SAN for several years. Now, with USB IDE external drive cases selling for as little as $20, people are using external drives on their PC, and get pretty good response with 400 mbit USB 2 or with 1394/firewire. You can get most of the capacity of a 7200 rpm drive over USB 2.
So I want to call for the production of a cheap home external storage box. This box would have slots for 4 or 5 drives and cooling for them, ideally as big a fan as possible to keep the rpms and noise low in the desk model, and an even more powerful fan in the basement model. The desk model might have sound insulation though that’s hard to combine with good cooling.
While this box could and probably should have USB or 1394, even better would be gigabit ethernet, which is fast enough for most people’s storage needs, especially if there is a dedicated gigabit ethernet card in the PC just for talking to the storage.
This could allow for a radical redesign of PC cases of all types, with no need for the space and heat of drives. And of course these diskless PCs would be much quieter. You could put your disk cube under your desk (and thus have it be a bit quieter) but ideally you would like the basement model, to which you string cat5e cable and get a mostly silent PC.
Now I haven’t talked about how these disks could be shared among machines, though that’s an obvious win, if the software can be created to make it easy for ordinary users. Even today, though, they could plug one in with USB with no special software in modern computers.
And of course, since the chips for it are now cheap, a unit with 3 or more disks is ready for RAID-5. Disk drives are so cheap now, they not only make RAID-5 affordable, they also make it more important. Failure rates are up as disk prices have been driven down, so ordinary people start to need it. Slot in 3 or 4 cheap drives and away you go.
You could also have SATA as an interface, though its maximum length is only 1 meter, so it would definitely be for under-desk at best. It also would plug in without software changes in OSs and BIOSs that support SATA.
Of course, to run over gigabit ether, unless you want to play games emulating USB over ether to get you going (not out of the question) you would need an OS ready to run over the network, which linux can do, and people have also done it with Windows and possibly the Mac but they all need some work. Gigabit ether is not as fast as SATA but it’s close enough, and more than the capacity of most drives though perhaps not reading RAIDs.
Some other benefits that come from this:
- It’s much easier to upgrade a computer, the drives stay in the box.
- The boxes would serve everything, Mac, Windows, Linux, Workstations
- They would be particularly handy for hard disk video recorders, Windows MCE, MythTV etc. which need a lot of disk space (though they don’t need the RAID as much) and really benefit from the ability to put the noisy disk in another room.