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I am setting up a router/nas/http/whatever server based on an ION mini-ITX board. I've installed Ubuntu Server on an old 160 GB drive, but it generates a lot more heat and vibrates more than my other new drive (storage). It just doesn't fit the concept, and worse: it takes up a SATA port.

As SSD's are crazy expensive I'm thinking of buying an extra 4 GB USB stick, and raid0 it. From my point of view, these are the pros/cons:

Pros

  • Low power consumption
  • No vibrations
  • No heat
  • Smaller
  • Get to buy new, larger USB stick (:D)

Cons

  • Shorter life time
  • Slower
  • Raid 0
  • More work maintaing/installing?

I think the pros overweighs the cons. Shorter life time and raid 0 is countered by regular backups of the configs/settings. Slower is partially countered by raid 0, and I don't know about the last one.

What do You think? Experience? Another solution?

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Instead of USB, have you looked into using compact flash? With swap disabled you should get a significant amount of life out of a single card, and there are various SATA->CF cards or, if you have a spare IDE channel you figure you won't use, IDE->CF. Additionally, you won't be dealing with the potential pitfalls that come with USB (bad unmounts, resets, etc) –  brent Dec 22 '09 at 19:53
1  
What is the RAID0 about? It sounds like you would only have Flash device? –  Zoredache Dec 22 '09 at 21:47
    
"..buying an extra 4 GB USB stick..", meaning I already own one ;) CF would be an interesting solution, even though it's about twice as extensive –  Znarkus Dec 23 '09 at 23:09

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Not much of an issue with this really, but here are a few pointers

  • USB Devices can "reset", I got that with my Raid-1 USB Setup, once in a while the whole thing breaks because the devices get removed/readded. Generating a nice mail, and most of the time a required reset :(

  • Lifespan, isn't an issue anymore, SSD storage has become smarter. Very interesting read SSD Endurance Myth

  • Slower, depends a bit on the speed of the USB stick you using. But with enough ram for cache after boot, it should not be an issue.

  • You might not be able to use grub to boot the system. Check what kind of stick you are getting. Most are USB devices, but I have one 16GB Extreme stick that acts like a hard-drive. 10 bucks more can save a lot of headache here. I'm not sure how to check the difference, I only noticed it when using it to boot Ubuntu and had to look somewhere else (HD boot order, instead of regular boot order)

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Didn't know they could reset, that sounds almost bad enough to go in another direction. Has USB sticks gotten smarter too? I realize both are solid state, but they're not quite the same price range or purpose. –  Znarkus Dec 23 '09 at 23:38

One thing to remember about flash memory is that it is fast to read, and slow to write. So if you can make your USB stick readable only, and write to your storage partition (eg /tmp) then you'll be ok. I wouldn't RAID0 a USB stick, make a copy and boot off that instead if the original dies.

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Could you please elaborate what you mean by making my USB stick read-only, and only write to /tmp? –  Znarkus Dec 23 '09 at 23:16
    
I mean, boot off a USB stick as if it were a CD image, but with the advantage of being able to save some configuration changes (as /etc will still be on the flash drive). You won't suffer the write perf hit, but you'll have to map the directories you do want to write to to a different partition, so mount /tmp, /swap and /home on a little hdd instead of the usb stick. –  gbjbaanb Dec 27 '09 at 2:15
    
This is handled by live distros by using unionfs (or its siblings). Google can tell you all you need to know. –  Viaken Aug 17 '10 at 14:31

I've been shipping an evaluation software image on USB for a year or so. It works.

Nasty cheap USB devices can be undersize, and some bad ones had trouble when worked hard.

The disk can be partitioned easily enough, I'd recommend syslinux ( treat the front partition like a CDROM) That way your OS image is pretty safe. The RW partition(s) are for data.

Without a UPS, a SINGLE stick USB based machine can be tempermental. We have a robot and when I use my "use it like a HDD" image it's not terrifically reliable, but a syslinux / readonly os disk fixes that.

I've found remastersys type bootable ISO's on USB are good.

So, it works, maybe RAID would be better...

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I've been running servers (Debian Linux, Dell 1850 server hardware) on 4gb USB sticks for YEARS now and never had a problem (knock on wood). True, these are firewalls which send all logs to other machines via network (syslog etc) so there isn't much writing going on.

In the mean time I've had a lot of servers of the same make/model crash their hard disks on me.

I tried raid-0 and raid-1 but just gave up (latencies are too high to be useful) for a single stick. When the system is configured I just clone the stick and leave it for disaster recovery.

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