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Data Storage Technology (Apple) Technology

Going Deep Inside Xserve Apple Drive Modules 243

Posted by kdawson
from the stop-thinking-like-a-user dept.
adamengst writes "If you've had an Xserve drive fail, you may have considered saving some money by putting a replacement drive inside its Apple Drive Module. That may be a false economy, though. TidBITS explains why, while pinning Apple down on exactly what goes into Apple Drive Modules and why they cost so much more than bare retail drives."
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Going Deep Inside Xserve Apple Drive Modules

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  • Here we go again (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly (148874)

    Is this like how SCSI drives have special pixie dust on the platters that ATA drives don't, and that makes them more "enterprise-y"?

    • Re:Here we go again (Score:5, Informative)

      by sjf (3790) on Friday March 27, 2009 @10:58AM (#27357445)

      The pixie dust is in the controller, not the platter.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Joehonkie (665142)
        Yeah, this is real "pixie dust." A lot of it is speculative stuff that assumes that somehow NAS drives are magically different from normal HDDs. Also contains references to the "Bathtub Graph" which has been pretty much shown to be a load of bunk: http://www.neowin.net/index.php?act=view&id=38693 [neowin.net]
      • by aliquis (678370)

        Don't master him, he's trying to convince everyone how awesome he is :/

        Though, it's still interesting why they cost so much more.

    • by b96miata (620163)

      no, it's more like how 'audio' blank CDs have special pixie dust in the jewel case that makes them more 'audio-y' than regular blank CDs

      • by alta (1263)

        Actually, the audio ones are usually more compatible with the lasers in consumer audio equipment. I had an aftermarket kenwood deck in my car, back when the cheapest CD player you could get was $200. Some burned CD's worked, others did not. ALL of the ones marked AUDIO did. From what I read, it has to do with the substrate used. What I eventually learned, is that all of the ones with the gold substrate worked, the blue/green ones did not. (Or vice versa) And that all of the audio ones were of the gold

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Well, the "Audio CD-R"s are more expensive, maybe due to better materials, but also they pay a royalty to the music companies, a compulsory license, basically. That's why they cost more - the licensing fees were paid on them.

          SCSI disks may have been manufactured at better factories, but they also tend to work on the assumption that they're in a RAID array, while consumer level drives are often used singly. Thus, if there's a read failure, a SCSI disk will want to "fail fast" so the RAID controller can flag

        • by TJamieson (218336)

          Back in the early days of CD-Rs, people always said "Get the gold-bottom discs! Those are the best!" (It never helps that they're called Gold Masters... yes, we all know the difference but some do not). It also used to be true that TDK produced some of the "best" CD-Rs, which were that blue-green color.

          However, for the past 7-8 years, afaik, there is little to no difference in CD-Rs... they're all made as cheaply as possible. In some cases you may find that the thickness of the disc is causing problems --

    • by Fweeky (41046)

      No, it's like how vendor drives have actually been tested and packaged up nicely.

      Personally I think I'd rather get 3 cold spares with my replacement; no matter what Apple do, they're still going to fail at about 1% per year.

    • by 0racle (667029)
      Ya they just pull that order of magnitude higher mean time between failure out of their ass to take your money. There is a difference between the requirements for an 'enterprise' drive and the disk you put in grandma's desktop.
    • by bashibazouk (582054) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:22AM (#27357829) Journal
      Having worked in the disk mines of IBM many years ago, the SCSI disk controller is somewhat your pixie dust but the real reason is the disks, heads and other parts for the SCSI drives came from IBM's best manufacturing facilities. The deathstar ATA drive's parts came from the lesser manufacturing facilities. In theory a SCSI disk should not be much better than ATA but the reality is the best made, more reliable parts go to the high end more profitable products.
      • Having worked in the disk mines of IBM many years ago, the SCSI disk controller is somewhat your pixie dust

        Nope, that'd be on the platters [ibm.com].

      • by raddan (519638) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:30PM (#27360095)

        In theory a SCSI disk should not be much better than ATA but the reality is the best made, more reliable parts go to the high end more profitable products.

        There are, typically, huge differences between your average SCSI and ATA disk beyond just manufacturing quality. USENIX paper here [hil.unb.ca]. Differences range from disk interface command richness, to reliability under wider operating conditions, to materials and assembly. They do the same thing, but they aren't even close to being the same thing.

  • by SirLoadALot (991302) on Friday March 27, 2009 @10:51AM (#27357325)
    I was going to complain that this is not a very interesting story for 98% of Slashdot, who has never seen an XServe and is happier for it, but since the link is already slashdotted, I guess I should complain about that instead.
    • Perhaps there is some logic in all this - TidBITs probably uses Xserves.

      Serves them right.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        Perhaps there is some logic in all this - TidBITs probably uses Xserves. Serves them right.

        Actually, the problem is that is not serving them at all at the moment...

  • Four comments in, and the server is pooched. Now, to keep this somewhat relevent, I had a hell of a time with hard drives when I tried to get Yellow Dog Linux running on an Apple Network Server, oh, eight years ago. Let alone the BIOS and stuff; oh, the hoops you had to jump through to get that to go!
  • Article text (Score:5, Informative)

    by kriss (4837) on Friday March 27, 2009 @10:57AM (#27357433) Homepage

    While I hate to copy it, the server being pummeled and reporting errors for 9/10 requests doesn't lead to ad revenue either, so here goes:

    About a year ago, we bought an Intel-based Xserve with a pair of 80 GB SATA drives to act as our primary Web server. When the boot drive went flaky on us in October 2008, we were able to recover from the backup on the second drive and off-site backups, if a little shakily (see "TidBITS Outage Causes Editors Outrage", 2008-10-07). But although we were able to bring the machine back online, we didn't trust the drive that had failed. Since the Xserve has three drive bays, the obvious solution was to purchase another drive. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Not so much.

    You cannot buy a bare hard drive and insert it into an Xserve, as you can with a Mac Pro (and having just added a drive to my new Mac Pro, I can say that Apple did a stunningly nice job in making it easy to add drives, especially in comparison to the awful approach they used in the Power Mac G5). Instead, Xserves require Apple Drive Modules, which are custom carriers containing drives.

    For users accustomed to buying inexpensive hard drives, Apple's pricing on the Apple Drive Modules comes as a bit of a shock. An 80 GB SATA ADM costs $200 from Apple, and a 1 TB SATA ADM costs $450. In comparison, a bare 80 GB SATA drive can be purchased for a measly $35, and a 1 TB drive is only about $100. That would seem to point toward buying a new SATA drive and swapping it into the bad drive's ADM. However, when I started down that path, a number of problems arose, such that I bailed on a quick solution and simply purchased a new 80 GB SATA ADM to replace the bad one.

    First, I wasn't sure whether my Xserve had SATA drives, as I thought, because System Profiler on the Xserve shows nothing on the SATA bus, instead including all drives on the SAS bus. (SAS stands for Serial Attached SCSI, and is a high-performance data transfer technology that supports fast SCSI drives and is downward compatible with SATA drives.) After some discussion with knowledgeable folks on the MacEnterprise list and careful reading of the drive details in the SAS section of System Profiler, it became clear that both SAS and SATA drives are shown in the SAS section, with SATA drives having "ATA" as the Manufacturer, and showing "Yes" in the SATA Device line.

    Second, once I knew that I had SATA drives in my ADMs, I started investigating if there were any gotchas involved in replacing the drives. There turned out to be surprisingly little hard information about this, with some people having replaced an ADM's drive with no trouble and others experiencing performance or reliability issues. I did find a few discussions about how replacing drives isn't recommended, but giving no solid sources.

    Confused, I contacted Apple to discuss why ADMs are so expensive in comparison to bare drives, exactly what an ADM does, what Apple recommends users do with failing ADMs, and whether or not replacing a drive in one is a good idea. That conversation revealed a great deal of interesting information about the ADM and shed some light on what people with flaky ADM drives should do.

    Drive Selection -- The most important fact to know about ADMs is that Apple doesn't use just any drives. We've all benefited from the amazingly low cost of storage. But whenever manufacturers compete on price, they cut corners every way they can to reduce costs. Although drive reliability is generally good, everyone who buys bare drives regularly has a drive vendor they refuse to patronize due to bad experiences in the past. (As is often the case, these people all hate different vendors, depending on which one was having a bad run at any given time.)

    Since the Xserve is designed to be in constant use - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for years at a time - Apple doesn't use the least expensive drives available, since those drives are designed for more normal duty cycles in desktop computers - 8 to 10 hours per day, with variable use during that time. Instead, Apple wor

    • Re:Article text (Score:5, Insightful)

      by oldhack (1037484) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:11AM (#27357647)

      That ain't no 3rd-party article, it's an Apple sales brochure.

      Disgusting.

      • Re:Article text (Score:5, Insightful)

        by NormalVisual (565491) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:33AM (#27358045)
        And it also doesn't do a good job of explaining why the drive modules are so expensive. "Server-class" SATA drives? Big deal, if you want that, pay $30 more for a Seagate NS drive instead of the consumer-level AS model. Custom firmware? Again, big deal - every server mfr does that (my Seagate NS drives have HP firmware on them), and the article offer no numbers to indicate a qualitative improvement. Extra hardware in the carrier? Again, show me a net benefit for the extra money. Custom rubber grommets? Puh-lease. The quote I found most amusing was this: "A final fact to realize about the custom firmware in ADM drives is that the Xserve's Server Monitor software is designed to monitor about a dozen variables reported by the drive's firmware and report pre-failure warnings if those variables stray outside acceptable limits." Has this person never heard of SMART, and is he not aware that practically every drive made today implements it? It's hardly rocket science to write a SMART monitor.

        The reason Apple (and every other server vendor) charges that much for drives is because that's what they want to do, and it's disingenuous for this guy to be spinning it as if Apple has something special in that regard.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          The reason Apple (and every other server vendor) charges that much for drives is because that's what they want to do, and it's disingenuous for this guy to be spinning it as if Apple has something special in that regard.

          Is it disingenuousness (disingenuity?) or simple stupidity -- e.g. the opening of the mouth without the removal of the foot, i.e. speaking from a position of ignorance as if it were a position of experience? Certain segments of the Apple userbase seem to have drank several cups of the Apple kool-aid.

          I like the 'custom firmware' argument: I can make my own custom firmware and change the strings on the device to say I made the thing, but it won't change performance.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ColdWetDog (752185) *

          Apple also told me that the rubber grommets that hold the drive to the ADM carrier are chosen specifically to match each drive's vibrational characteristics. Different drives use different types of rubber in an attempt to reduce vibration as much as possible.

          Think maybe these guys [pearcable.com] can whip up some special cables for the Xserves? It might have helped TidBITS stay up.

        • Re:Article text (Score:4, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27, 2009 @12:20PM (#27358827)

          Extra hardware in the carrier? Again, show me a net benefit for the extra money.

          Dude... he is telling you an ADM integrates with XServe using SMART, skipping read-after-write, requesting more airflow if needed, and adapting to OSX block size. That costs extra on a XServe and in other high end machines, thats all.

          And yes, try 15k RPM 24/7 without custom rubbers, see what happens.

          • Doesn't change the fact that none of that costs anything substantial to implement (certainly not a $275 premium over the cost of the drive itself), and you're an idiot if you really believe you need custom grommets for mounting drives. There are plenty of cheap off-the-shelf rubber parts that will isolate the drives just as well.
            • Re:Article text (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Naturalis Philosopho (1160697) on Friday March 27, 2009 @03:29PM (#27362161)
              I don't know what your pay works out to in an hourly rate, but $275 per drive saves me money over the do-it-yourself opportunity cost of the time it would take to, well, do it myself. And it's warranted, so when it fails I can send a lackey to deal with the RMA bullcrap and slap the new component in. The current American work force isn't all that bright, so if I can buy a component that allows me to hire a $17/hr drone to install and maintain it then the extra few tens of thousands for equipment pays for itself within the first year over equipment that needs a real professional to maintain it.
        • "The reason Apple (and every other server vendor) charges that much for drives is because that's what they want to do, and it's disingenuous for this guy to be spinning it as if Apple has something special in that regard."

          It's like the whole world discovered the word "disingenous" at once. Why can't this guy be "gullible", or simply "wrong" about his conclusions?

          It doesn't have to be deception. It can be poor judgment or bad research.
          • He very well could merely be gullible or wrong, but to me this article reeked of astroturfing, which is an inherently deceitful practice IMO. I could be wrong, but I stand behind my choice of words.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by rcw-home (122017)
        No kidding. For the prices Apple is charging, you could just about get a decent SSD (maybe not an X25-M, but an OCZ Vertex at least) + a 2.5"-to-3.5" adapter tray that would still let you hotswap it. You'd never even notice the differences between a stock drive and a drive with Apple's supposed tweaks, but once you go SSD you will never go back.
      • by denttford (579202) *
        Yeah, no shit.

        For users accustomed to buying inexpensive hard drives, Apple's pricing on the Apple Drive Modules comes as a bit of a shock. An 80 GB SATA ADM costs $200 from Apple, and a 1 TB SATA ADM costs $450. In comparison, a bare 80 GB SATA drive can be purchased for a measly $35, and a 1 TB drive is only about $100. That would seem to point toward buying a new SATA drive and swapping it into the bad drive's ADM. However, when I started down that path, a number of problems arose, such that I bailed o
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Logic Bomb (122875)

        Actually, it's incredibly informative for people who run Apple systems but never get hard information from Apple about these drive modules. Since Apple started selling rack-mount servers, they insisted that only Apple-supplied drive modules could be used. Server admins have always wanted to know exactly why. Is it mostly because Apple's trying to make money, or are there a good technical reasons why one must pay 4x the consumer-market rate for disks?

        AFAIK, this is the first time anyone has managed to pry th

        • Server admins have always wanted to know exactly why. Is it mostly because Apple's trying to make money, or are there a good technical reasons why one must pay 4x the consumer-market rate for disks? AFAIK, this is the first time anyone has managed to pry this level of detail out of Apple on the subject.

          And the answer is, astoundingly, "Apple is trying to make money".

          Seriously. "Because it has SMART, which we describe as 'hardware that monitors the drive'", "because we use rubber grummets for vibrations.

        • Re:Article text (Score:5, Insightful)

          by DarkVader (121278) on Friday March 27, 2009 @02:45PM (#27361389)

          It's really NOT that informative.

          Informative:

          Yes. You can use off the shelf SATA drives in your ADMs. They will work just fine, and any special firmware tweaks Apple has done in the drive firmware are completely unnoticeable in any real world environment, if they're there at all.

          I've replaced 500GB SATA drives in ADMs with 1TB off the shelf "consumer grade" Seagate drives. They work flawlessly, with no performance penalty. I'd trust them EXACTLY as much as I would Apple-supplied drives - which is to say, not at all without RAID mirroring and a good backup. ALL hard drives fail.

          Not Informative:

          The article. They didn't do anything but trust what some low-level Apple rep gave them. They did NO actual testing, the whole thing is purely anecdotal.

      • by Trillan (597339)

        Err, I don't see how you could read it that way. Every good point in the article towards Apple is "other manufacturers do this, too." The prices are compared to the most common vendors that come in higher, but doesn't say that Apple's prices are in any way exceptionally low. It seems pretty balanced to me.

        But regardless of how balanced it is, it's very informative: Mere mortals do not get this kind of information out of Apple. You certainly won't find it in any brochure.

  • by clickclickdrone (964164) on Friday March 27, 2009 @10:58AM (#27357451)
    Apple dude discovers that servers use, well, server class HDs and they cost more than normal ones.
    Oh, and the 'sleds' that hold the HDs have some LEDs (cool!) and a controller board to work with the cooling system.
    Like pretty much every other half decent server then.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by samriel (1456543)
      Yeah, but since they're decent, and have an apple on them, everybody rages at the 'fanboys' who don't hate about the 'overpriced' stuff, when stuff that's a) not from Apple and b) NOT CRAP would cost just about the same.
      • by lukas84 (912874) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:13AM (#27357683) Homepage

        Except that in this case, every other manufacturer does the same. A port of the higher price also goes in refinancing the warranty that's port of the server.

        Oh, and don't think other vendor-lock in platforms don't do the same. IBM prices System x hard drives and POWER hard drives vastly different, even if they may contain the same harddrive but with a different firmware and hotplug case.

    • Right. When you buy SATA hard drives for your server's SAS RAID, they tend to be more expensive than the Western Digital SATA drive you buy off the shelf from Best Buy. Whether this is some kind of a marketing rip-off is a question you could ask, but it's certainly not something that's limited to Apple.

    • by guruevi (827432)

      Unless you use SuperMicro or low-end Dell 'servers'. I have seen slides in both brands that are little less than a handle with 2 metal prongs on. The data and power connector have to be directly plugged into the backplane. Lately more and more manufacturers seem to go that way though (since SATA and SAS connectors are so simple yet so fragile) which is a shame.

      Of course if some dimwit replaces those hard drive and misaligns the drive only slightly and then proceeds to 'bang' it in you could end up very eas

      • You haven't seen anything until you personally witness someone who try to jam a brand new SAS HD into a brand new FC HD shelf and broke the HD connector.
  • They are gonna need more drives then. I think this was part of Apple's plan all along.

    1. Charge a lot of money for drives
    2. Let someone post an article on slashdot to complain
    3. Server hosed
    4. ?????
    5. Profit!!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by onefriedrice (1171917)
      Except that other "enterprise" manufacturers also charge plenty for their drives. The only difference, of course, is that it's popular here to complain about how expensive Apple hardware is, and they can usually be modded up for doing so.
  • Cheap compred to EMC (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:08AM (#27357593)
    Wow, those Apple Disk Modules are cheap! A 1TB SATAII 7.2K RPM disk module for an EMC CX3 SAN runs about $1500. But I think they get to high grade the drive makers' inventory since they suggest only 1 hot spare per 30 disks.
  • by JorDan Clock (664877) <jordanclock@gmail.com> on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:09AM (#27357621)
    The gist of the article is "We asked Apple why they're more expensive, and took their word for it." It's just regurgitated marketspeak about how Apple tweaks the firmware for the optimal performance, has special rubber on the grommets of the ADM that is specific to each drive to reduce vibrations, and how off-the-shelf drives are unreliable, slow, noisy, and hot.

    They don't make an effort to verify this information at all. Because Xserves won't run with commodity drives, they can't do a proper comparison to determine how much is truth and how much is smoke-up-the-ass from Apple. This is such an astroturf article, it doesn't even pretend to be anything otherwise.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dog-Cow (21281)

      Because Xserves won't run with commodity drives...

      Except that the article clearly says that an XServe will work with them.

    • by aliquis (678370)

      Simple, build a hack with WD drives and benchmark them against each other for performance.

      Or samsung for noise and heat.

      (Drive champs may have changed..)

      Obviously Apple don't manufacture their own drives so it will all be bullshit but anyway.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:13AM (#27357693)

    ... nicely. Quoting TFA - "About a year ago, we bought an Intel-based Xserve with a pair of 80 GB SATA drives to act as our primary Web server. When the boot drive went flaky on us in October 2008, ... "

    Welcome to pragmatism and reality - Drives fail all the times. So use cheaper drives in redundant mode, replace them with cheaper drives when they fail. You would have saved good amount of money even if the cheaper drives failed three time more than the costlier ones. (450$ for 1TB vs $100 for 1TB - from the same article.)

  • Summary fails (Score:5, Informative)

    by UnknowingFool (672806) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:16AM (#27357735)

    The summary makes it seems that there's no rhyme or reason why Apple charges more for their HDs and why can't the consumer simply replace it with a standard SATA HD. If you RTFA, it goes into a long list of reasons why. Whether you accept Apple's reasoning is another matter.

    To begin, XServes use a HD module called ADM rather than simple HDs. On the new MacPros, they also use a module but those modules are designed to replace the HDs inside. For the XServe you apparently can't get a bare drive alone, you have to replace the whole module. The author begins to list the reasons:

    So the first reason not to slap an off-the-shelf SATA drive into an ADM is that the drive may simply not be able to handle the constant use.

    As I thought about my initial reactions to my drive's flakiness, I realized that the problem is that Apple is essentially selling enterprise-level hardware to Mac users accustomed to mass-market products.

    And then the author concludes:

    But HP's and Dell's prices are either comparable (for the 73 GB SAS drive) or $200 to $250 higher (for the 1 TB SATA and 300 GB SAS drives).. . . To sum up, there are multiple good reasons why ADMs cost more than bare retail drives of the same size, it's possible but not recommended to replace the drive in one, and Apple is in no way charging an unusual premium for ADMs.

    • by Jerry Coffin (824726) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:52PM (#27360509)

      And then the author concludes:

      But HP's and Dell's prices are either comparable (for the 73 GB SAS drive) or $200 to $250 higher (for the 1 TB SATA and 300 GB SAS drives).. . . To sum up, there are multiple good reasons why ADMs cost more than bare retail drives of the same size, it's possible but not recommended to replace the drive in one, and Apple is in no way charging an unusual premium for ADMs.

      Parts of this may be true (it's impossible to say, since they don't specify exactly what they're comparing) -- but even if parts are true, it's misleading at best. In fact, some of it doesn't even seem to make sense. Let's look at real price lists from Apple [apple.com] and dell [dell.com].

      First we note that Dell doesn't seem to offer a 73 GB drive at all, so it's not entirely clear what they're comparing. The most likely possibility appears to be Apple's smallest option, a 73 GB SAS ADM ($300) to Dell's smallest, a 146 GB SAS ($349). While it's certainly true that the prices are comparable, it's also true that the Dell drive is twice as big.

      For 300 GB SAS drives, the Apple site shows $650 while the Dell site shows $699. While Apple's price is lower, it's certainly not even close to $200 lower. To get a $200 price difference, it looks like they compared the full price of a 300 GB drive for the Dell to upgrade price for the Apple (i.e. the price difference for changing from the stock drive to the 300 GB drive).

      For 1 TB hard drives, they have something of a point, but not a very good one. Apple's price for a 1 TB SATA drive is $450, while Dell's is $639. They fail to note, however, that Dell also lists a 1 TB SAS drive (an option not available for the XServe) for $679. Taking this into account, it looks a great deal as if Dell is simply doing their best to encourage their higher-end customers to use enterprise-class SAS drives by offering them at a purely nominal incremental cost over SATA drives.

      The original article attempts to portray the situation as Apple offering prices that are at least as good as, and often better than the competition. In reality, there appears to be only one reasonable configuration where the Apple is likely to be competitive: the one using 300 GB SAS. At the low end, the Dell offers twice as big of a drive as the Apple for a purely nominal price difference. For lots of storage, the Apple offers only SATA drives where Dell offers SAS. If you're storing 1 TB of data (or more) the incremental cost of SAS is usually fully justified. There are undoubtedly exceptions, but they're not particularly common.

  • Ok, some good info. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:21AM (#27357813) Homepage
    There are some parts to the article that make sense.

    If your OS could benefit from custom firmware...for example if you file system writes in certain sized blocks. I can see that being a case for specialized hard drives. But does that really account for the cost? If the drive's firmware is flashable, let the customer flash it to perform better with their OS choice.

    The rubber grommet thing? Now that's some excellent bullshit. You are really telling me that someone spins up the drive, records the vibrating frequency, then selects the appropriate rubber grommets from the bin, then assembles the harddrive caddy? The bullshit flag is on the field, 10 yard penalty - roughing the truth. Again, even if that DID happen, does that justify the increased cost? I doubt it.

    In the end, you still run a sluggish GUI on a server. fail. I bet if you ran your website on a stripped down *nix server, on a $1000 machine, your ass wouldn't be slashdotted right now.

  • Grommets (Score:3, Interesting)

    by actionbastard (1206160) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:25AM (#27357883)
    "Apple also told me that the rubber grommets that hold the drive to the ADM carrier are chosen specifically to match each drive's vibrational characteristics."

    "Yes, sir. In order to reduce vibration we use the finest of synthetic compounds to minimize noise so that your cold room droogies won't have to suffer a higher level of acoustic trauma."
    Get real.
    Every major manufacturer re-labels drives for inventory and warranty purposes. They also use custom firmware to identify the drives for the same reasons. Special grommets? If you have worked with ADMs you know those grommets are extremely thin, shred to bits if you try to reuse them -more likely you lose them taking the thing apart, and are there more to keep the screws from coming loose than anything else. I have replaced drives in ADM modules before with RE drives -because the drives were mirrored- and haven't had a problem. If you are going to replace the drive in a server -a piece of mission-critical equipment- with the cheapest bulk OEM drive you can find, you will have problems.
  • Custom Firmware (Score:3, Informative)

    by Amazing Quantum Man (458715) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:27AM (#27357917) Homepage

    Been happening for years.

    Back in the late 80's, in addition to my dev job, I admin'ed a Motorola Delta 3600 box. We were looking for a little more space, manual said that it would take a Seagate ST-251N 40MB SCSI drive. So we bought on off-the-shelf.

    It wouldn't work. It turns out that Motorola had custom firmware for those 251Ns.

    So it's been going on for at least 20 years.

  • by speedtux (1307149) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:30AM (#27357965)

    The special ingredient in XServe disk drives is... love. :-/

    • by Culture20 (968837)

      The special ingredient in XServe disk drives is... love. :-/

      I thought it was a little bit of Steve Jobs in every drive.

  • by alen (225700) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:36AM (#27358083)

    HP and EMC does the same thing. HP will charge you $500 for a 1TB SATA today and we just paid EMC $800 or so per 500GB drive for a bunch of drives.

    one nice benefit is the support. HP has a proactive failure warranty. if it flashes and alert that it thinks the drive will fail you call them and you have a new drive arrive by UPS the next day. EMC will come out within 4 hours to replace it.

    and they are guaranteed to work with the brand name RAID controller that is the same brand as your server. you're paying for the testing and special drivers knowing that everything you buy will work together and you don't waste time calling support and playing musical telephone

    • by raddan (519638) on Friday March 27, 2009 @02:00PM (#27360629)
      Yeah, but the kicker is, sometimes the support still sucks. E.g., we have (er, HAD; Apple pissed me off to the point that I literally have a stack of Xserves that can turn to dust for all I care) a bunch of Xserves and Xserve RAIDs that we used for various tasks, mostly Mac-related.

      One day, the RAID Admin tool notifies me via email that I have a failing disk in an array. OK, no problem, call Apple. We're paying for support, you know.

      The guy on the phone was friendly, and said the disk was on its way. The next morning, I have a package waiting for me when I get in. It's a drive module, yay! I go into the server room, yank the failed module (conveniently designated by a red light) and insert the new one. RAID Admin proceeds to tell me that there was an unexpected error. Huh? I try again. Same thing. No additional information, just "unexpected error".

      I call Apple back, and explain the problem, they run me through some GUI diagnostics, and in the end, cannot solve the problem. I tell them to hold off on sending me another disk just yet.

      After trawling the Apple forums, I find out, hey, I can get all of the diagnostics and logs from the CLI, too. They're way more verbose. Verdict: Apple sent me a disk of the wrong capacity-- the ones in my RAID are 74.5 GB and this one is 73.x or something. Of course, they're _supposed_ to know exactly what kind of disks I have; that's the whole point of the service. Anyway, it eventually gets sorted out, but after the RAID sat there, operating without a hot spare for about a week.

      Now, if this were the end of it, I would be forgiving of Apple. But I've had other problems. We had a CD reader fail in an Xserve. The Apple on-site person came out for this one. When he left (without checking in with me, of course), it still DID NOT WORK. This is despite the fact that I set him up with a workbench, full complement of tools, power, keyboard, and monitor to test with. The problem? He never bothered to plug the new CD drive into the machine. This is shoddy service. MINIMALLY, you test the part you just replaced, right?

      But the icing on the cake was when a controller module in our Xserve RAID failed. I call Apple and they overnight a part. When I open the box, I have... a CD-ROM drive? I call Apple and say, hey, you sent me the wrong part. The support guy went so far as to call me a liar on the phone. He said that such a mix up was "impossible". He was convinced that I was going to return the box with a CD-ROM drive in it, and keep the shiny new controller that they sent me. It wasn't until I faxed them photocopies of the accompanying paperwork that they would believe me that it was their error, and even then, they CHARGED me for a SECOND part! It took our A/P department about a month to sort that out.

      So fuck you very much Apple. Fucking rot in hell.

      (And yes, I typed this message on an iMac. I like punishment; what can I say?)
      • by drsmithy (35869)

        They're way more verbose. Verdict: Apple sent me a disk of the wrong capacity-- the ones in my RAID are 74.5 GB and this one is 73.x or something. Of course, they're _supposed_ to know exactly what kind of disks I have; that's the whole point of the service.

        That's a ridiculous error for them to have made.

        One of the "tweaks" that "enterprise firmware" should have is to ensure that ALL drives from that vendor - regardless of which OEM they might be rebadged from - have the same logical size. This is so th

  • by jimicus (737525) on Friday March 27, 2009 @11:39AM (#27358131)

    Go to any server manufacturer's website (or a retailer if they sell through the retail channel). Dell, HP, IBM, I don't care. Any of them.

    Price up equipment sold specifically for servers. Note particularly the price they charge for a larger/faster hard disk.

    Go on, I'll wait.

    Right, now go onto your favourite cheap & cheerful parts supplier and look at how much they charge for a hard disk.

    Is it really the exact same disk with that much price discrepancy? Well, I (along with a lot of sysadmins) would dearly love to believe that it isn't. Whether or not that's true I honestly couldn't say.

    What I can say is that if you do go out and buy the cheapest disks you can to populate the server, warranty support from the OEM is going to suddenly become "Oh, you plugged some random disk in? Go away and come back when all the disks are from us". Which starts to look rather expensive rather quickly when the RAID's knackered and you need to resurrect the system as quickly as possible. If your job is on the line, it's soon looking even more expensive, and nobody wants to say "I was sacked from my last job because I cut one too many corners on a system that was critical to the business" in an interview.

    It's not so much of a problem for the Googles of this world who write their own applications to live on huge clusters which have component systems being added and removed all the time. Most of us, however, don't have that luxury.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by RMH101 (636144)
      Parent is bang on. Vendor-insists-can-only-support-it's-own-expensive-configuration-shocker.
      It's not just the IT industry: go to Mercedes and ask them for warranty support after you've fitted third party replacement parts. I personally know several people who's Skoda warranties have been voided after they've remapped the ECU: understandable if they were expecting warranty support after engine damage caused by a remap (which is highly unlikely) but they've had warranties turned down for failed seat mounti
      • by Visigothe (3176)

        They can't actually do this in the US.

        They can refuse a warranty if the 3rd party part was shown to be the cause of the problem (ECU remapping, for example), but it doesn't go beyond that (they can't refuse the seat mounting rails warranty coverage).

  • Dell does the same thing with their poweredge drive modules and there are no electronics on the back, the sata connections go directly into the backplane . Prices are ridiculously out of whack. A 1TB drive is like $600 for a market priced $100 drive and a $10 piece of plastic and metal. This is why we always purchase the smallest 80 or 160GB drive module and put whatever SATA drive we need in. It's really stupid as are the idiots who purchase the larger storage modules.
    • by drsmithy (35869)

      Dell does the same thing with their poweredge drive modules and there are no electronics on the back, the sata connections go directly into the backplane . Prices are ridiculously out of whack. A 1TB drive is like $600 for a market priced $100 drive and a $10 piece of plastic and metal.

      While they _are_ overpriced, it's not by that much. The 1TB drive you get in a Dell server will be something like a Seagate ES.2 - these retail for 50%-100% higher than the bottom of the barrel el-cheapos you are comparing

  • This retarded fluff piece aside, the reason people buy (and pay a premium) for oem "blessed" hard drive replacements is because they JUST FUCKING WORK. If I save $100 on a hard drive, but spend two hours dicking with the raid controller to get it to play nice, or find out that it is in fact 2 mb smaller then the other drives, and now the raid won't rebuild, or has some firmware issue that I now need to rig up something to update, etc. I've lost money.

    There is value in having everything already tested, and all your equipment in a "supported" configuration. When you have problems it makes it that much easier.

    The fact that this article was apparently written by someone who does not know the difference between SAS and SATA makes it completely worthless. Clearly they are not qualified to admin the server they do have, much less write articles about the technical benefits of apple drives over other replacements.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jazuki (70860)

      If you read the article, this was one of the author's points: He had gone into this thinking like a consumer, and realized that thinking like a consumer isn't enough when you're talking about high availability/high throughput systems.

      The article may be worthless to you because you may have an admin background, but I know of a lot of so called "admins" who don't understand some of these basics, as well as a lot of developer types.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kaboom13 (235759)

        I read it, and that's what made me conclude it was a waste of time. If you are an amateur, what good does listening to another amateur read off lines from Apple's PR sheet do you? That's what he did. All the reasons are pretty much prefaced with "Apple said". If you asked Dell why their hard drives have a markup they'd tell you the same line of BS. Last I saw the tagline for the site was "News for Nerds" not "Regurgitate PR crap without question". Now if he had replaced some Xserve drives with afterma

  • My guess the custom firmware has more to do with Apple's monitoring and management tools for the Xserve. That being said, I have swapped out the ATA drives in a Xserve G4's drive modules with success. I went from the included 120GB drives to 250GB drives. I ran them for close to three years. I finally retired the server after purchasing a new Intel based Xserve to replace it. The reason the SATA drives are listed under SAS on the Intel Xserve is because they are connected to a SAS drive controller that is b
  • I've never seen an Xserve, but it seems to me that if it is truly a file server, the drives themselves are probably hot swappable and that explains that increase in cost over a standard drive. The summary mentions something about "drive carrier". I read that and I picture the drives on my Proliant servers (both SCSI and SAS). They have special carriers and can be hot swapped while the server is still up (when running on the RAID module).
    • by darthflo (1095225)
      Uh, no it doesn't?
      I've been hot-swapping el-cheapo sata drives for years now; SATA supports hot-swapping [wikipedia.org].

      I even recall having to unplug all of the data hard drives in an old frankenputer, boot Windows 2003, then reattach the drives because Windows wouldn't boot with any disks attached to the RAID controller. Fun times. (SATA-1)
    • by drsmithy (35869)

      I've never seen an Xserve, but it seems to me that if it is truly a file server, the drives themselves are probably hot swappable and that explains that increase in cost over a standard drive.

      All "standard drives" today are SATA, and hot-swap is part of the basic SATA spec.

  • Its simple. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LoRdTAW (99712) on Friday March 27, 2009 @12:11PM (#27358663)

    Guys drives dies in Apple server hardware.
    Guy looks into buying retail drive for replacement.
    Guy asks forum members for advice and decides to call Apple
    Guy calls Apple wanting to know why their drives ar 4x+ the cost of retail
    Apple gives Guy song and dance about magical marketing BS
    Guy falls for BS and tells everyone else to follow magical marketing BS

    Honestly what did he expect to learn by calling Apple? Call any manufacturer, tell them you want to use cheaper 3rd part parts instead of their overpriced parts and be prepared for a load of horse shit to flow from the phone. I worked in the IT department of my college for an elective credit way back when. The head IT guy almost never bought OEM stuff if their was a cheaper retail part that would do the job. He insisted its just a 3rd party part with company logo stuck on it sold at a 3-5x mark up. He would rather used the money he saved for better things like new equipment or upgrades. Never had any problems.

  • The article says that drives with mapped out blocks that don't work in a RAID work just fine in a Drobo. Actually, the Drobo is a RAID. It automatically configures itself to use either RAID 1 or RAID 5 depending on how many drives you put in it. These schemes have redundancy and therefore some robustness to them. Apple tends to use RAID 0 by default(which isn't really RAID and has no redundency) to improve performance and give the most possible space. When you do that, you really do need to be sure that
  • I can hardly believe this article got posted on Slashdot. It's a bit disconcerting. However, I would like to reference one paragraph.

    We've all benefited from the amazingly low cost of storage. But whenever manufacturers compete on price, they cut corners every way they can to reduce costs. Although drive reliability is generally good, everyone who buys bare drives regularly has a drive vendor they refuse to patronize due to bad experiences in the past. (As is often the case, these people all hate different vendors, depending on which one was having a bad run at any given time.)

    The bottom line is, you buy a cheap drive, you get a cheap drive. I have friends who refuse to buy Maxtor. I have friends who refuse to buy Seagate. News flash! Same company! Cheap drives everywhere! Probably all manufactured in the same place, getting stickers based on what you're willing to purchase.

  • Site back up (Score:3, Informative)

    by eggboard (315140) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:01PM (#27359563) Homepage

    TidBITS system guy here. Sorry for the troubles. We had a glitch in our Apache min/max/spare/etc settings that was triggered for the first time by Slashdot traffic. (A combination of a new method to zoom images and AJAX produced a very high set of spawned children for each new visitor.)

  • Some simple economics play into the pricing scheme.

    Consumer Equipment:
    Anyone that can sell 100,000 units to customers who demand *far* less in the way of service and generalized performance can sell a cheaper widget.

    Production Equipment:
    **Far** fewer customers (1000 units) who demand much higher levels of service, and generalized performance demands that the drives must be way, way more expensive than the consumer product.

  • by sarkeizen (106737) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:38PM (#27360267) Journal

    The people who write these articles are stupid and contribute stupidity to IT in general.

    1) Apple calls these beefier models "server-class" drives; you may also see terms like "RAID edition"

    There is simply no data to back this up. The vendors themselves do NOT do sufficient testing to make these claims ergo Apple can not make these claims. This parallels the so-called better failure rates of SCSI/FC 'enterprise' drives and consumer SATA drives. In the FAST paper by Schroeder [usenix.org] we see the following quote.

    ". . . we observe little difference in replacement rates between SCSI, FC and SATA drives, . . . ."

    2) Firmware - the closest thing to an argument here is "may prevent Server Monitor from being able to report on the drive's health"

    3) Carrier - "Apple also told me that the rubber grommets that hold the drive to the ADM carrier are chosen specifically to match each drive's vibrational characteristics."

    This leaves out the most important thing. "So what" - ok if the drives vibrational characteristics are not matched what happens. Is it significant? Where is the data to say so?

    4) Extensive testing - Essentially arguing that Apple does burn-in testing (which you could easily do yourself) however...again from the FAST paper:

    "Contrary to common and proposed models, hard drive replacement rates do not enter steady state after the first year of operation. Instead replacement rates seem to steadily increase over time."

    Drives act like mechanical devices NOT electronic devices.

    In general - have you EVER read an article with so many "may"'s and "possibly"'s? There's very little here that could be risk assessed (giving some kind of probability of some consequence) - which means it USELESS as advice. The parts that actually IMPLY some kind of probability/consequence are not well supported by the studies with the largest sample sizes.

    • by sarkeizen (106737)

      Incidentally: Our dept actually did a similar kind of upgrade on an XRAID (which was PATA but Apple had made all sort of claims: 'zero defect drives' blah, blah, blah). It's been working fine for close to a year now. The only issue was a firmware upgrade (to the XRAID) to handle the 750GB drives which would have had to be done even if we bought Apple. The cost savings was pretty significant I recall - something like 60% of the Apple price.

      This was a complete replacement though. I do agree with one admi

  • We have two PPC xServers (dual G5s) and when the stock ADMs (3 x 250 Gb ) hit EOL, we replaced them with standard retail *server* grade drives (3 x HITACHI 1 TB's w/large cache & high MTBF). We saved a few hundred dollars and experienced no problems.
  • and it also tells me that there's very little novel in this tie-in between server manufacturer and storage vendor (i.e., the same company).

    • Custom firmware on Apple hard drives? That goes back to the first Apple SCSI hard drive on the first hard-drive-included Macintosh. Apple Drive Setup, anyone?
    • "Server-grade" hard disks with specialized "drive module" casings or fixtures? Sun servers had this feature ("SPUDs") waaay back, at least to 1996.
    • Specialized, "extensive", testing of their parts. Yup. Every serve
  • After researching this topic, I'm convinced that although replacing a dead drive in an ADM is possible - Apple explicitly does not prevent it - it's not a good idea if the Xserve in question is a production server. If you do decide to go this route, I strongly recommend that you get a drive that's designed for RAID or server use.

    I'm pretty sure the I in raid stands for "inexpensive". Isn't the whole point of RAID to avoid paying extra for high performance disks?

  • by frank_adrian314159 (469671) on Friday March 27, 2009 @06:24PM (#27364583) Homepage

    ... how they use oxygen-free conductors in their wires to make the bits sound better.

  • Check the HD model (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OneArmedMan (606657) on Friday March 27, 2009 @08:09PM (#27365909)

    In this image : http://db.tidbits.com/tbthumbs/tn10166_System-Profiler-SAS-report.jpg [tidbits.com]

    the drive model is listed as : st380815as n

    2 seconds of googling shows this page : http://www.seagate.com/ww/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=809a4d4b57cb0110VgnVCM100000f5ee0a0aRCRD [seagate.com]

    Uh... that doesn't look like a server / enterprise class disk to me. It looks like a normal old Seagate disk that Apple want to charge lots for cause it has an Apple sticker on it.

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