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SS4200 NAS Installation

...also applicable to any other x86 multi-drive SATA box that you want to use as a NAS running Ubuntu Server. This is an old old article and the machines themselves are long since decommissioned but the instructions are still relevant for other boxen.  Checkout the small HP Microservers for a more modern equivalent that doesn't require the dancing on the keyboard to get it started. I've always found Simon Webb at Servers Plus to give really good service - no connection, just a happy customer.

These instructions are to install a highly resilient RAID configuration to an Intel SS-4200 storage system. These things are cheap but highly capable NAS carcasses - £155 from eBuyer at the time of writing. If you can find one get the SS-4200EHW variant as the only difference between the SS-4200E and SS-4200EHW is that the E comes with an IDE module containing the EDS software. That is pretty limited, IMHO, and the EHW is only £131. Running Ubuntu 9.10 Server on the hardware makes this thing a complete steal - a 4TB NAS with very sophisticated features for £370 is good value in anyones book!

These are not step by step instructions - if you need that level of detail then you probably shouldn't be building a highly available RAID system; please go buy one of the many devices that are available on the open market.

I had a punt at booting from the IDE with a CF card adaptor (working with Gorgone at but the problem is that you've still got a single point of failure – not to mention that the IDE isn't recognised as something that can do DMA by Linux, so performance is pretty poor at the moment.

These instructions will give you a system which can boot from any one of the four hard drives in the system (i.e. 3 of 4 drives failed) although your data is long dead at that point. It will retain data with any one drive failed (and, in some cases, with two drives failed since they're in RAID10 configuration). I used Samsung HD103SJ drives which are nice and quiet and seem to run quite cool (Average 35C, max 45C so far).

Booting into Installer

This is the only bit that's SS4200 specific. For most 'normal' machines you won't have to bother with this serial boot stuff, so skip directly to the next section.

Remove the IDE Module from the SS4200, if there is one present.

Boot SS4200 with serial cable, CDROM and USB keyboard attached, hit F4 until BIOS appears.

Make sure 'Removable Device' is the first option in the BIOS boot order. Save BIOS settings and reboot, making sure that Ubuntu Server 9.10 CD ROM is in the drive.

Wait until the CDROM stops spinning, then, on the USB keyboard, enter;


The CDROM will now start booting. If it doesn't then switch off and re-start. Note that the BIOS sometimes re-orders the boot sequence on reboot if you've not got all the way out of BIOS to program control, so you might have to go re-set it again.

The Serial Interface will now appear for setup. Use the serial keyboard to interact with it.

Configuring Disks for Reliability

For a 'normal' machine this is where you start reading....

My arrangement is four one TB drives. Each drive is configured as;

1. 200MB Boot (RAID1, 200MB in total)

2. Extended Partition containing;

5. 20GB Root (RAID10,f4, 20GB in total)

6. 730GB Storage (RAID10, 1.56TB in total)

7. 250GB Scratch (Not RAIDed, 1TB in total)

Come out of the installer at the 'Partition Disks' step by starting a shell and fdisk the drives manually. Once the drives are fdisk'ed, they look like this;

























Linux raid autodetect






Linux raid autodetect






Linux raid autodetect

Create the /boot RAID 1;

mdadm --create /dev/md0 -c 256 -n4 -l 1 /dev/sd[abcd]1

Create the system RAID10 volume;

mdadm --create /dev/md1 -c 256 -n4 -l 10 -p f4 /dev/sd[abcd]5

(This is created with -p f4 to create 4 far copies – 3 drives may fail and this system will still boot!)

Create the storage RAID10 volume;

mdadm --create /dev/md2 -c 256 -n4 -l 10 -p f2 /dev/sd[abcd]6

Now cat /proc/mdstat and wait for all the drives to be fully synced, or carry on regardless.

Configure Disk arrays for manageability

Create the physical volumes;

pvcreate /dev/md1

pvcreate /dev/md2

pvcreate /dev/sd[abcd]7

Note that /dev/md0 is just 'clean' RAID1 and doesn't have a LVM configuration.

Now create the Volume Groups;

vgcreate vg_system /dev/md1

vgcreate vg_storage /dev/md2

vgcreate vg_scratch /dev/sd[abcd]7

...and then the Logical Volumes;

lvcreate -L 2048 -n lv_swap vg_system

lvcreate -L 15000 -n lv_system vg_system

(This leaves vg_system with 3.36GB free for snapshots etc.)

lvcreate -L1.2T vg_storage -n lv_storage

(This leaves 231GB free for snapshots etc.)

Note that the scratch space is left unallocated for the present.

Install the System

Go back into the installer and re-detect the disks. Then go into the LVM configuration so that it is all saved. Overall configuration looks like;

Volume groups:

* vg_scratch (778664MB)

- Uses physical volume: /dev/sda7 (194666MB)

- Uses physical volume: /dev/sdb7 (194666MB)

- Uses physical volume: /dev/sdc7 (194666MB)

- Uses physical volume: /dev/sdd7 (194666MB)

* vg_storage (1567667MB)

- Uses physical volume: /dev/md2 (1567667MB)

- Provides logical volume: lv_storage (1319414MB)

* vg_system (21483MB)

- Uses physical volume: /dev/md1 (21483MB)

- Provides logical volume: lv_swap (2147MB)

- Provides logical volume: lv_system (15728MB)

...and perform the installation. Put /boot on /dev/md0, / on vg_system-lv_system, swap on vg_system-lv_swap and mount vg_storage-lv_storage at /storage. Create a default user called adminuser or similar, since we'll make sure that home directory stays on the highly available partition so we can log in even when the system is badly degraded.

Configure the System

Once you've done don't forget to add bootdegraded=true on /etc/default/grub kernel options line – even though it claims to be set by the installer it isn't, and you'll only get as far as a console if you don't do it.

Also worth adding 'console=ttyS0,115200n8' to the /etc/default/grub kernel options are deleting the quiet options there – that way you can boot via a serial link under almost all circumstances.

In /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf add a sensible address for MAILADDR to indicate who the mail is to go to.

Install smartmontools and add a line something like the following to see when drives misbehave;

/dev/sda -a -o on -S on -s (S/../.././11|L/../../6/11) -W 4,45,55 -R 5 -m <address>

Move the home directories for new users under /storage, so they get access to the significant amounts of space – don't forget to edit /etc/passwd to reflect the change.

In Operation

You'll get email messages when disks fail. When they recover they are not automatically added back into the arrays, you have to add them with mdadm –add /dev/mdX /dev/sdX. If you intend to remove a drive from an array don't forget to –stop it first!

If a drive needs to be replaced the replacement needs to be able to support at least the same partition size as the existing array members (one of the reasons for leaving some empty space at the end of the disk dedicated to non-array LVM).


As with all benchmarks, take these with a huge pinch of salt!

hdparm -t /dev/md0  (RAID 1, 4 members); 136.37 MB/sec
hdparm -t /dev/md1 (RAID 10, f4, 4 members); 266.52 MB/sec
hdparm -t /dev/md2 (RAID 10, f2, 4 members); 264.30 MB/sec

Replacing a Drive...

/dev/hdb started giving me a few sector errors, so I had to replace's the process;

mdadm /dev/md0 --fail /dev/sdb1 --remove /dev/sdb1
mdadm /dev/md0 --fail /dev/sdb5 --remove /dev/sdb5
mdadm /dev/md0 --fail /dev/sdb6 --remove /dev/sdb6

Replace the drive and setup the partition table to match the old drive, then;

mdadm /dev/md0 --add /dev/sdb1
mdadm /dev/md1 --add /dev/sdb5
mdadm /dev/md2 --add /dev/sdb6

Then cat /proc/mdstat while the magic happens....

Further Updates...

Well, vg_scratch didn't prove to be that useful, so I removed it and changed it over to another RAID10 array;

mdadm --create /dev/md3 -c 256 -n4 -l 10 -p f2 /dev/sd[abcd]7
pvcreate /dev/md3
vgcreate vg_scratch /dev/md3

....It looks the same from vg level, but it's now RAID10...isn't abstraction wonderful? The whole system now looks like;

Volume groups:

* vg_scratch (362GiB)

- Uses physical volume: /dev/md3 (362GB)

* vg_storage (1567667MB)

- Uses physical volume: /dev/md2 (1460GB)

- Provides logical volume: lv_storage (1319414MB)

* vg_system (21483MB)

- Uses physical volume: /dev/md1 (20GiB)

- Provides logical volume: lv_swap (2147MB)

- Provides logical volume: lv_system (15728MB)