Written by John Miller

Even though it's in packed away in the storage unit right now, I have been thinking a lot about the C220M3. Specifically about its own storage. Right now the only aspect of the machine that I have not seen to in one way or another is drives, specifically drive caddies - which, frankly, is not an uncommon issue with servers. Some machines, like the G5-7 HPs, and a few generations of Dells, share caddies (within their respective brands, granted). Because of this, their caddies are incredibly cheap. For this cisco, on the other hand, the caddies are relatively more expensive, often around $15 each. It's often more cost effective to just go ahead and buy caddies with drives in them already, provided you're okay with it being spinning media. The one drive I have for the machine now, the drive it came with, is an A03-D600GA2 - a Western Digital 600GB 10kRPM SAS hard drive. Aside from being a spinner, and having all of the downsides of spinners, there's nothing wrong with it.

Additional A03-D600GA2s, with caddy, are often about $50-60 shipped on ebay - which isn't bad, but I don't want them, for a few reasons typical of hard drives. I don't want to deal with the additional power consumption and the heat generation that goes with that. I also don't need the relatively cheaper dollar-per-gigabyte that spinners offer, since any large amount of data I need to to store can live on the NAS. Since SATA drives can be plugged into SAS backplanes, what I done prior to taking the C220M3 offline was have SSDs simply hanging out in the bays, two 480 and two 240 - the former in a RAID1, the latter in a RAID0. These were in bays 5, 6, 7, 8 whose SAS cable was connected to the Adaptec 2405 PCIe card I had added. This was necessary because ESXi has no support for the onboard intel soft raid - I had more posts about that in the past so I won't really go into it here.

Anywhoo, I was talking with some pals earlier tonight about storage and we started looking specifically for quad m.2 SATA PCIe cards. I know there are practical reasons for this not to be a thing, but they kind of are. Quad NVMe m.2 cards are actually fairly common. But that's not what this is about. This is about mSATA, which predated m.2 and was briefly popular. A card I found that I am particularly interested in is the Addonics AD4MSPX2-A - a $55 PCIe card with four mSATA slots and a Marvell RAID controller. It supports 1, 0, and 1+0 (which is what I would be using) and based on some cursory research on mSATA SSD prices, it seems rather competitive for what I am interested in - which is reliable SSDs that are "fast enough" - I don't need blazing.

256GB mSATA SSDs, name brand models from Samsung and the like, are about $50-60 on the second hand market. Four drives plus the card comes out at $260 or so, which is not bad at all for a bootable 512GB RAID1+0. Unfortunately 512GB mSATA SSDs are not very cost effective, still priced at around $100-115, putting a 1TB RAID1+0 closer to the price point of standard 2.5" SATA SSDs. Certainly one could take this in the other direction as well - 128GB mSATA drives can be found for as little as $20 shipped, meaning you could get a 512GB RAID0 (cough) for a mere $130 or so. Would I trust it? No, probably not, but I would sure as hell try it.

So why is this so interesting to me? Well, one of the PCIe slots in the C220M3 is already occupied by the the Adaptec 2405, so swapping that out with the Addonics card wouldn't cost me anything more. If I use the eight SAS bays on the front as individual drives in ESXi I can also pass them straight through to VMs, meaning I can use softraid in windows/linux, and at the very least have some dedicated IOPS for those VMs. Or I can just not use those bays at all, and only use the Addonics card. Now, I don't know yet if ESXi supports this Marvell chipset - I don't have high hopes, but I'm certain that windows and linux do, so there's always Hyper-V and Proxmox. (Hyper-V and Proxmox also support the Intel SoftRAID, so, you know... but... nevermind that).

Either way, look forward to a post with more information on this. I am incredibly interested in what a card like this can do, especially as mSATA prices continue to fall. More likely than not I would start with four 32 or 64GB for testing, then once I am satisfied with the performance, get another Addonics card and four 256GB drives. This gets me a 128/256GB fast scratch volume and a nice big protected working volume. It may be a while, but this will be interesting, I can promise that!

UPDATE 1 - Found a cheaper card here: Syba SI-PEX40109 - Currently $55 on prime. I also like the form factor a bit more than the Addonics model - it has an SFF adapter, and is a bit shorter because it has two mSATA on the front and two on the back. Not sure how the chipsets compare...