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The IT team has had a number of requests for support with network-attached storage (NAS boxes) and USB disks. We understand there are a variety of models for data storage, not all of which are best addressed by our resilient fileservers. The IT team are investigating how a 'disk hosting' service would work: in this model, research groups would provide the IT team a disk (which would remain the property - and responsibility - of the research group) and the IT team would arrange for it to be accessible across the network.

At the moment, this service is in 'beta test' - broadly speaking, we'd like to learn whether and how research groups would like to use the service and how best we can provide it. To this end, we've pressed some "pre-loved" hardware back into use and are offering hosting for up to 12 disks on a first-come-first-served, best-effort, no-guarantee basis.

Quasi-FAQ

  • What might we use it for?
    That's the question! We've had enquiries about backing up machines not otherwise backed up but we expect other uses will come to light.
     
  • How would we get at our disk?
    The IT team haven't made any firm decisions at this stage. We already host disks which are shared by samba (windows file sharing), NFS, and/or SSH. We also anticipate research groups asking for other methods to be supported; we can't promise to make it work but we'll have a go. 
     
  • What happens if our disk dies?
    The IT team will fish it out of the server and return it to you. If it's under warranty with the manufacturer - and you'd like us to - we're happy to send it away and get it replaced.
     
  • How much would we pay for this service?
    For the beta, nothing. If there's enough demand for a fully-fledged service, we'll have to see what the economics of it are in terms of a charge per disk (or per disk per year, perhaps).
     
  • How long will the beta run for?
    We anticipate that the beta will run for at least two years, subject to the hardware remaining operative. (We don't have any reason to suspect that the hardware will fail at this stage.) After that, we might keep the same hardware running or migrate to new hardware, possibly with a different charging model.
     
  • What's the guarantee / service level agreement?
    This isn't a "highly available" service, unlike the file servers we run. There's only one server running it so if we have to do hardware maintenance on it, we'll have to turn it off while we do it. Having said that, we don't plan to interrupt service unless we absolutely have to; the system will certainly have to reboot to install security patches from time to time but other than that we expect it'll stay up. (If the service being down for an hour or two once in a while will seriously disrupt your group's work, this probably isn't the service you're looking for.)
     
  • Why would I use this rather than a USB disk / NAS box?
    By having your disk hosted in a server room, it's less vulnerable to knocks/bumps and having its plug pulled out. We'll try to keep the temperature nicer for the disk too. In terms of software, the IT team will be able to offer support for the programs used to access the disk, which we can't offer for a USB or NAS device.
     
  • What sort of disks should I buy?
    Physically, we require the disks to be 3.5inch SATA devices. That doesn't narrow things down much - there are still a lot of choices to be made. Some people may prefer to use relatively inexpensive drives and accept the higher risk of failure; others may prefer 'server-grade' drives which claim to fail less often. Perhaps speed of access is critical, in which case 7200rpm drives might be more appropriate than the slower 5400rpm devices. Some drives have more caching available than others, which makes reading and writing smoother at an additional financial cost. If you'd like some advice, contact the Computer Officers with your thoughts about how you plan to use it and we'll do our best to make some suggestions.
     
  • How can I set up regular backups of data to my hosted disk?

    Depends on what you are backing up, but a common use case is to use Rsync to synchronize files on a workstation with files on the hosted disk. Lots of useful documentation and tutorials about rsync can be found at https://rsync.samba.org/documentation.html . Mac users might prefer to use Apple Time Machine - we can make disks available to that too.

  • How do I get it?
    Send us an email - support@ch.cam.ac.uk - and ask!

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