Can you do better than 16?

Exchange, System Admin

I recently got a challenge to build a solution that could be price comparable to what cloud storage services charge, except with the performance being key.

The challenge: You can’t build a $3 Exchange 2010 Mailbox!

Vlad: “Sure I can! Just not one you’d ever want to put data on.”

So I set out to prove myself wrong and create a PoC (proof of concept) redundant system that could do random read/writes in the very high double digit MB/Sec, possibly even triple digits. Mission accomplished, here is how I did it:

Storage Server Contents

rack2Below is a list of components, all available as a retail package (ie, 3 year warranty when it explodes) all accessible to everyone. Due to the pricing constraints I’ve had to make some significant sacrifices (particularly with the consumer-level drives, processor and motherboard) but mostly in the areas where I wish I had server-grade components but could not justify the cost differential based on performance.


Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 2.8GHz

G.SKILL 4 GB DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)

Gigabyte GA-G31 MicroATX Intel Motherboard

SuperMicro CSE-825TQ 2U Rackmount Server Case

8x HITACHI Deskstar 2TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s

areca ARC-1220 PCIe x8 SATA II RAID

rack1So to sum it up: 8x 2 TB hard drives ($149), Intel C2D Processor ($124), 4 GB DDR2 Memory ($93), Intel G31 Motherboard ($47), 2U Server Chasis with Rails ($339) and a RAID 6 SATA Controller ($454) all for the grand total of $2,249 or approximately $0.16 cents / gigabyte.

In RAID5 configuration this system delivers 14 TB of space at a bottom line cost of $0.16/GB. The overall system draws almost 2 AMPs and takes up 2U with included rack rails. It took roughly 30 minutes to put together the whole thing, most of the time having gone to taking 3.5” plastic fillers from hotswap trays.


Before I show you the actual performance thats relevant to Exchange 2010 servers, do you have any recommendations,  suggestions or questions? Anything I could have further skimped on?

I considered Western Digital Green series, since they were significantly cheaper, but they run at 5400 RPMs and I had serious concerns about their ability to withstand a beatdown of an Exchange mailbox role. I didn’t consider any other RAID controllers and software RAID is a bit out of the question considering that every time we tried software RAID in a high performance server the motherboard melted down – also without battery in high performance situations things tend to smoke. What I wish I could find is a more efficient power supply that didn’t cost thousands of dollars.

Update: Specifically, what I’m after is if anyone out there knows how to get similar performance at a similar price/GB. Are there better controller, drives and motherboard choices?

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