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Backblaze Server Retrofit Project

Hey folks,

I’m wondering if a) I can get a measured opinion about this and b) if I can get help finding solutions to my project(s). Note: I am an enterprise and NAS solution newb and that’s putting it mildly. I am learning via firehose here, I know. But this is my project for this year and hope to learn a lot as I go along.

First, some context:

I found a Backblaze server on Craigslist for $200. It has all the hardware minus drives (boot drive not included either). I know this thing is designed almost exclusively for serving up storage. However, I noticed that there is space for eATX mainboards and there are additional spaces for other expansion cards assuming I were to replace components. This made me think, “Hey, it shouldn’t be all THAT difficult to swap out parts and do something bigger/better, right?” Well as evidenced by me writing all of this, it is clearly not that simple.

Below are the specs that I can dig up as the seller couldn’t find his data sheet so forgive me if there are any gaps. I can probably boot it up at some point and get you more specifics, for instance I don’t know the CPU or RAM speeds, but I am waiting on a VGA-Displayport cable so I can boot it up.

Specifications:

Supermicro X9SCM-F https://www.supermicro.com/products/motherboard/Xeon/C202_C204/X9SCM-F.cfm

Intel i3 CPU

RAM 8GB

3x Rosewill (I think) SATA Boards - PI49230-2X2B - Similar to this, same chips on board same number of SATA ports: https://www.newegg.com/rosewill-rc-230-sata-iii/p/N82E16816132046

9x CFI Group CFI-BXX52PM - 5 Port Multiplier Backplane with 2x Molex and 5x SATA Data+Power ports

230w Emacs PSL-6850P PSU with a custom male 20-pin and 24-pin power output for powering the backplanes

6x 140mm fans

The Projects

This is the part I am unsure about. I have a lot of ideas in need of a lot of solutions so I’ll take them in order of priority:

  1. Backplane retrofit
  • I’ve been reading about why 45drives moved away from backplanes to direct wired and it makes me want to replace the backplanes in case of failure. See: https://45drives.blogspot.com/2015/03/our-biggest-design-decision-direct.html
  • I need recommendations on how to replace these backplanes, if possible. I know that Linus and co. did it for their Storinator and discussed retrofitting it to remove their backplanes I just don’t know what parts they used or how they went about it as they don’t list parts or process the in the video description, and really, why would they? If Anthony is on these forums, would you chime in?
  1. SATA->SAS conversion
  • Not sure what card I need as it would need to be able to support port multiplication at the backplane end assuming that #1 cannot be done easily.
  1. Plex Server
  • Using UNRaid with docker containers for Plex:
    • I want to be able to handle at least 4-6 4k transcodes depending on a given destination device, Byte my Bits on Youtube shows that a Ryzen CPU and a Quadro p2000 could do this handily, however…
    • …in my scenario, if I wanted to do this I would need:
      • a 16x PCI-e slot (current MB only has 8x slots)
      • a new PSU (current PSU has custom pinned connectors, see spec list)
        • This one is a doozy as I do not have any clue how to power 45 drives with a single PSU without having custom cables made based on the original. Any recommendations for supplying 45 drives power either via direct connection or via the existing backplanes which need 2 molex connectors to power up to 5 SATA drives.

If you guys need more please ping me and I’ll send more pics and try and provide more information. Here’s a Google Drive link with images. I couldn’t get the upload to work here for the post: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1VNxYwic5RW-H47zCBkqbV34mOnADjai9?usp=sharing

Please note: I KNOW it would probably make more sense to make a separate server to run Plex rather than shoehorn it into this device, but it would be more effective for my home situation to try and do it in a single unit.

1 Like

Can you post a pic of it?

My bad

Yeah shouldn’t be an issue depending on what you want to do.

This is probably the most problematic part. From what I understand, they could be unreliable and I think they’re difficult to source now.

They’ve purchased several servers from 45drives, but none of those come with backplanes. Is that what you’re referring to?

8x is probably fine.

Will be difficult. You might need 2. Beware of cheap molex adapters (they catch on fire).

Nah, for home this is fine. It’s way overkill really. How expensive is electricity in your area?

1 Like

In their recent petabyte video they cited that they replaced their backplanes as 45drvies used to have them in the Storinators. They’ve migrated to direct wired like in the cited article. I wanted to know what solution they had for plugging in the drives. I actually reached out to Anthony at LTT and got some recommendations there. I’ll have to fabricate something to mount the cables if I do this, but the plan would be to use some kind of sheet metal and cut out the spots for the SATA brackets in the same format as the backplanes so as to use the existing mounting points. Part of the other concerns about the backplanes was compatibility. Reading up on some of the Backblaze blog posts about the iterative configurations, the backplanes and the SATA cards in this system can be finicky with certain drives, which is yet another blow to using the backplanes.

Not if I want to use the p2000 for hardware transcoding. It requires 16x to fit.

Yeah this is the part I fear the most. Wish I knew someone with electrical chops because I really don’t want to screw with the power stuff. This part alone is making me consider separating my efforts into this being a storage-only server and then building a separate plex server.

It’s pretty cheap here in the Sacramento, CA area. Plus we’re moving to solar, so power is less of a long term concern.

those backblaze pods went for free if you could pick them up, a while ago.

No clue on the X9SCM-F, F means ipmi so it isn’t that bad, but i don’t know if i’d pay 200$ for that Hardware.

This video?

They replaced a bad cable. Linus sort of stumbles over his description. A “backplane” usually refers to a circuit board with molex and sas connections on one side and connections for drives on the other. It usually contains a port multiplier which consolidates many drives into a single or few sas connections. In this case, 45drives just runs a unified power/data cable for each drive that screws into a bracket so it aligns with the drives when you drop them in. That’s what that whole article you linked was about, replacing the backplanes with cables.

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This is a bit out of my depth, but afaik, transcoding should be more a processing-limited workload and less of a bandwidth-limited workload, or are you saying the slots are physically too small? In any case, I hope Plex can fully offload to the GPU because it won’t take much to overwhelm the i3.

Cool. If you do want to save on power just turn it off when you aren’t using it.


Sidenote/PSA: Based on that video, Linus is using 15-drive raidz2 vdevs across multiple 60-drive systems in a non-redundant cluster. Additionally, he is extending a pool that is 95% full.

So he is running a relatively high-risk cluster with one node that will be extremely unbalanced. It might work out for him, but I would not recommend that config and definitely wouldn’t want to be responsible for it…

It is possible that he is passing each vdev to gluster instead of pooling them in zfs (in which case, balance would be less of an issue), but I kinda doubt it.