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Not sure if this belongs on here or SuperUser, but here goes...

I'm trying to figure out how to make a mass hard drive imaging PC out of COTS parts. A dedicated imaging device can do 10 drives at a time, but costs several thousand dollars. So far, I'm thinking to use several 3-port PCI-E Firewire cards, and use some kind of Firewire-to-IDE adapter to connect the drives themselves. The "software" would consist of scripting diskpart, or some other imaging utility.

The problem is that I can't seem to find any sort of adapter. I could use standard external hard drive bays, but then I'd have a dozen power cables that I need to plug in. Ugly, messy, and inefficient. I picked Firewire over USB not only for better transfer speeds, but also because FW can deliver power over the bus (and could theoretically power a hard drive). Does anyone have any input on this?

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USB-to-SATA adapters work well for me. My work laptop can do 4 drives at a time without any special hardware. –  Chris S Jan 4 '11 at 3:07
    
Thanks, but I need it to do PATA/IDE drives. Seems like they have SATA to IDE adapters, and I can work from there. –  Bigbio2002 Jan 4 '11 at 9:07

3 Answers 3

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Buying a handful of PCI-E Firewire cards and then buying a bunch of Firewire to IDE/SATA adapters seems far, far messier than even having ten external hard drive bays. Nonetheless, here's my opinion on how to create a good imaging station:

Buy a large tower case that has 10 or 12 external facing 5.25 inch bays. All of your IDE / SATA cables and power cables will be housed inside the case. You will also have a bevy of high powered fans to keep the drives cool while they are all operating in unison. It would look something like this:

alt text

Those IDE to Firewire adapters aren't the cheapest. A good one is $25. Times that by ten... you can afford a case like the above. Inexpensive, clean... and it looks darn cool. Success!

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Considering that the FW ports are on the rear, how do I go about geting all the cables tucked inside the case? Or is there a mobo with a dozen SATA ports? Also, another issue would be staggering drive spinups. All at once and the whole thing would crap out. –  Bigbio2002 Jan 4 '11 at 9:06

Check out these guys, they have a very nice diagram and parts list for a big storage box. Overkill in most ways but shows how to use SATA backplane for connectors instead of adapter cables.

http://blog.backblaze.com/2009/09/01/petabytes-on-a-budget-how-to-build-cheap-cloud-storage/

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Very cool link. –  Steven Monday Jan 4 '11 at 5:31
    
Thanks, that gave me some insights. Cool article, too! –  Bigbio2002 Jan 4 '11 at 9:07

Do you need to do this on one PC? Is there any feasible way you can use multiple ones?

I tried this once with 4 SATA HDD's on a SuperMicro server machine. The results? It took six hours to image four hard drives. When I used 15 separate serverss with CloneZilla, it took 20 minutes to do 15 hard drives (note that this would be 20 minutes for N hard drives, where N is the number of computers you have connected).

Imaging a bunch of hard drives from one PC is pretty inefficient, if there's any way to do it with multiple machines, I would suggest that.

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Space is kind of an issue, so one machine would be best. I'm trying to minimize any internal bandwidth issues to ensure that all drives can image quickly. Of course, there's no way to tell unless I actually build and benchmark it. FW should give about 60MB/s, which should be fine. –  Bigbio2002 Jan 4 '11 at 9:04
    
Is this a one-off setup? If so, you just need the space temporarily, which I imagine is feasible. You don't even need room for the monitors if the computers you use can PXE boot. It's hard to believe you don't have room anywhere for a stack of 10 computers. –  devicenull Jan 6 '11 at 4:18

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