Sanford & Son backup device
May 27, 2007 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Can I use an older PC with several drives and a firewire card as a standalone backup device?

What I *actually* want is a 4 bay firewire enclosure (mentioned in this thread, but I have more critical uses for the money and I have lots of PCs and harddrives laying around.. I, unlike that poster, do not need access to an optical drive. Also, Zed_Lopez makes a reference in the thread to exactly what I am wondering, but does not go into detail.

Can I just throw 4 drives in a PIII box and a firewire card and be all set? Do I need some minimal OS on at least one drive to boot the PC fully and load the fw card drivers or will just having power and passing the POST be sufficient to have my another computer (mac) recognize and be able to write to the drives? Any other ideas?
posted by horsemuth to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
A "firewire card" generally has a few chips that provide a Firewire style IEEE 1394 interface to a standard PCI bus; you definitely need a PC PSU/motherboard/processor/memory/OS/hard drive controller/hard drive device chain to make something like that work. Once you've got that level of complexity in an external box, you might as well go ahead and make yourself a real backup server, as they don't cost that much these days, particularly if you already have "an older PC" to which you can add a few hard drives to get the requisite storage. Basically, you can then do something as simple as setting it up as a SAMBA server, and then using it's drives as the backup target from other network connected PC's. Works great, and with LVM, you can flexibly add, move and change storage as hardware changes over time.

That kind of solution will also be significantly cheaper than crunking up something like you describe, with 4 Firewire-to-IDE bridge boards, or even (if you stick to the much, much higher unit volume USB interface) 4 in-line USB to IDE adapters. The reason for that is simply the volume/cost curve of commodity PC hardware, and "free" (as in beer), easy to use Linux distros like Ubuntu.
posted by paulsc at 9:41 AM on May 27, 2007

You'll need some sort of OS. I'm using Clark Connect home edition (a flavour of Redhat) as a file server at in my home office. It's free, although I don't know what the firewire support is like. I use rsync to backup everything nightly to the file server, and then rsync again to mirror it across drives (easier to set up than raid) and then rsync once more once a week to offsite the data.
posted by furtive at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2007

Response by poster: I suppose, now that you mention it, that the SAMBA server is a fine idea, and I will use it as a backup plan, but just to clarify -
Unlike Zed_Lopez's idea, I have a fully functional PC with motherboard/processor etc.., and was just hoping to use it as a device to power several drives as sort of a large, multiple bay firewire external drive which I would use to backup data directly from my macbook, but without the overhead of an operating system to deal with. Sorry if I was unclear, but thanks for the info!
posted by horsemuth at 10:09 AM on May 27, 2007

unless it's a Mac, your computer won't really have the programming to know how to just shuffle bits between FireWire and IDE. you'll need an OS and some software to use it the way you want. I'm not sure what you'd use to bridge firewire to your hard drives after it's booted, though, but I've never really looked either. or, fire up an OS and use it as network file server - FreeNAS is built specifically for that. there's not really a way to turn a full-out PC into an external drive box, though.
posted by mrg at 11:40 AM on May 27, 2007

"... Sorry if I was unclear, but thanks for the info!"
posted by horsemuth at 1:09 PM on May 27

horsemuth, you weren't unclear, but perhaps I was. You could do exactly what you want to do. It will be quasi-expensive if you do it with Firewire, and perhaps unreliable if you use more than 2 drives (because of the limitations of most Firewire-IDE adaptors, and because of electrical grounding issues), and you may have drive compatibility issues if you try to use large IDE drives (because of addressing issues beyond 127 GB) but you could certianly do it.

You'd need a Firewire bridgeboard, which would hang off the back of your IDE or SATA drives, and "convert" them to Firewire devices. You'd power the drives from the PC enclosure's PSU. You wouldn't need any of the other "guts" of the PC, other than the PSU.

To my way of thinking, far from an optimal backup solution, but it's your time and money.
posted by paulsc at 12:37 PM on May 27, 2007

Response by poster: paulsc (and anyone else) - I'm afraid that I was at least a little unclear, as I wasn't attempting to be stubborn and get an answer that I liked better or anything...

Just to be clear - what I meant to convey from the beginning was that I was hoping to utilize the motherboard as the bridgeboard with a PCI firewire adapter, and 2-4 drives, without having to outlay the extra expense of the individual bridgeboard(s). I was explicitly trying to avoid any additional expense. Apparently that is not really an option, as mrg also states in his last sentence, and I wholeheartedly agree with you the bridgeboard "solution" is not worth the time and nearly as expensive as purchasing an already assembled multi-bay firewire rig. I will start on the server tomorrow, and I'm intrigued enough to try out FreeNAS, but it's still beta, so I may ditch and go back to Ubuntu if it gives me too much of a headache. My apologies to all if my intent was unclear from my rambling description, but thanks to everyone for their help!
posted by horsemuth at 7:28 PM on May 27, 2007

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