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I'm working at a project with around 7 computers (regular, mid-end PCs) connected to an Ethernet LAN, running Linux and used to run molecular simulation software like PyMOL. There are several users, each of which has his/her $HOME folder. The amount of data stored on those directories is very large, so since PC has an average of two HDD of 1TB each, and only the second one is being used to store $HOMEs, every computer hosts a couple of those folders and is, at the same time, an NFS server and client:

  • A client when a user logs in (all boxes have equal /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow files) and his/her $HOME is not hosted in that computer, then it'll be on other on, mounted via NFS.
  • A server to export the $HOMEs it hosts.

When I started working as a (very unexperienced) IT admin at this project, about two weeks ago, I thought that this is wrong, and that the right thing to do is to centralize the storage, in a NAS-way. But we (the project) cannot afford a dedicated NAS device, though we will purchase a few more computers soon.

Since, while working, the R/W amount is not that intensive, and the number of PCs on the lab isn't expected do scale, I was wondering if putting all the HDDs in one machine (Core2Quad, or similar) and using it only as NFS file-server is a plausible option. Is it? (First doubt that crossed my mind is that a standard motherboard doesn't have seven or eight SATA plugs..)

Thank you

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This does not directly answer your question, but I think in this case, ceph could be an interesting option. You would not need to invest in more hardware as you would probably need to do with a centralized storage. You can leave the data where it is, and the software will take care of distributing it.

But you will need at a bit of extra (external) storage, as you will need to reformat your disks. Exactly how much will depend on the amount of used data on the local disks and your ceph configuration.

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It does seam like an interesting solution, but I have only little time to reinstall the SO and come up with a "definitive" (in the mid-term, at least) solution for it to work. And the truth is that it works (it's a very small and simple network, actually). Thus it is complicated to study the documentation of ceph. – twfm Jun 6 '13 at 13:34

If multiple servers works for you - keep it. Sharding is one of most effective scaling solutions and you already have it:) The only option, to migrate to one PC is that it could reduce maintenance.

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Well, yeah, I'm just thinking it's a little bit harder to maintain (more drives to mount via NFS to do the backups, e.g.) and it makes /etc/exports and /etc/fstab different for each machine.. But it may be, in this case, the simplest solution. – twfm Jun 6 '13 at 13:32

I think your second solution (NFS on dedicated PC) will work without problems, also when a user switches off a workstation.

If you prefer you can install a NAS linux distro, so your PC will seem a NAS. Maybe this article can help you to choose the best NAS distro for you.

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Sorry for the stupid question but... what do you mean by "PC seem a NAS"? – twfm Jun 6 '13 at 13:35
PC seem a NAS = your PCs will work like a NAS – lg. Jun 10 '13 at 12:44

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