Filling time

Answer quick… what’s the largest sensible disk partition? My month has been almost entirely concerned with disks. I don’t know how they manage it, but my clients display an uncanny talent for having the same things go wrong, at the same time, in different companies, at different sites, all with the same degree of urgency. The dark thought that it’s all a conspiracy is hard to quell, even by telling myself that everyone uses the same software nowadays so they must all be consuming about the same amount of disk space, and therefore advancing together in lock-step. This just isn’t true, as one client uses WordPerfect, while others are Mac users with Quark or InDesign as their weapon of choice. Nevertheless, the issues remain the same no matter what your business, so walking you through their problems and their solutions may give you some food for thought in appraising your own setup.

Filling time

First of all, there’s the march of the gigabytes. In one of my two cases this month, they really were staring disaster in the face because they’d lost the boot partition of a server whose other partition contained a whopping 320GB of information. No matter how hard you look, there’s no easy ride when faced with a data repository of that size: no shortcut by running a tape restore; no prospect of doing anything useful to retrieve data, short of bringing up the whole machine intact; and, despite the presence of copies of BART PE, plenty of tape backups and even identical spare servers waiting to be run up as hot-swaps, the sheer mass of those gigabytes was never going to make resumption of service a simple task.

I’m used to the idea that data growth in companies happens by fits and starts, and for a long time I’ve been pretty relaxed about server disk space. While it’s true that in my experience reasonably competent users can get to the 50GB mark pretty quickly, it’s also true that by then they’ll have so much trouble finding things and archiving old documents that I don’t need to worry too much about what happens inside that 50GB. Gains in data volume will be balanced by losses, in much the same way that Outlook PST files seem to converge on a size around 5GB in small companies. I’ve written here before about the disaster that can creep up, like the iceberg to the Titanic, when a small business without a central email store and with 50GB of data on its server decides to refresh its workstations and discovers that these PST files comprise 150GB of purely local, highly structured, indispensable and indivisible information… but that wasn’t the problem in this case. I’m happy to size a server RAID array at 60-and-a-bit GB, then sit back and watch the increase in space used per week tail off as the pressure of workflow – keeping track of where you’ve put stuff – balances out the retentive impulse (always keeping everything to hand). People learn the hard way to be good at looking after their data.

But 320GB between 60+ users is a lot bigger than the run-of-the-mill data-recovery job. What’s more, on further inspection, I realised that the machine serving this monstrous pile of files was an HP/Compaq DL380 (do get the HP website up now if you want to follow what I’m describing – this story is going to be mostly illustrated by examples from the HP product range, although its principles are universal). Now I like the 380 range – it’s into its fifth major incarnation and its great saving grace as a platform is interchangeability. There are six disk slots on the front of a DL380 chassis, in three columns of two, and you can take six 9.1GB drives out of a DL380G2 and slot them straight into an empty DL380G5 and stand a fair chance that they (and all the logical drives you might have laid out on them) will be readable. Most DL380s come with an on-board SCSI RAID card – the 5i – and while this unit isn’t likely to break any speed records it’s well able to get you started with a clutch of drives. The 5i was the mainstay of the range until very recently: brand-new DL380s feature the 6i, which can be described in the same terms as its predecessor, as a good starting point.

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