Home Server Storage Upgrades

My current, primary home server has been humming along quite nicely since I upgraded to the 2018 Mac mini a few years ago. And I’m still using the OWC ThunderBay 6 that I bought in 2020 to house its storage.

The Mac mini that I ordered was just the base model with 128GB of storage. Rather than booting from the internal drive, I’ve been using an NVMe SSD that occupies the M.2 slot in the back of the ThunderBay. Up until just a few days ago, I was using a 1TB drive for this purpose. That size was chosen because it was the right price at the time and served my needs.

Since then, my needs have changed a bit, though. I started running a few virtual machines on the Mac mini, which I wanted to run on SSDs for performance reasons. But the 1TB boot drive just wasn’t going to be large enough. So I re-used a 2TB SATA SSD that I had lying around to store the virtual machines until I was ready to make an upgrade to the boot drive.

I was finally able to upgrade that drive a few days ago. I swapped the 1TB drive for a 4TB NVMe drive from Crucial.

The process was as simple as could be. I put the new drive in an external enclosure and ran SuperDuper! to clone the boot drive. Once the cloning process was complete, I moved the new drive into the back of the ThunderBay and booted from it. And that’s it. The whole thing, including copying the data, only took an hour or two.

I moved the virtual machine files to the boot drive and removed the 2TB SSD from the ThunderBay.

The ThunderBay now has a 4TB NVMe SSD that I’m booting the home server from, two 8TB Seagate hard drives that I’m using for media storage, and two 14TB Western Digital hard drives that I shucked and am using for local backups — the home server itself and every other computer in the house.

It’s about time I start thinking about upgrading those spinning disks too, though.

The two media drives are about 80% full, which is generally the threshold where I think about upgrading. I know how I am, so this whole process will likely end up taking a handful of months to complete.

My typical strategy when upgrading drives would be to buy two new drives that would be used as the new backup storage and then demote the old backup drives to media storage. This felt like the most cost effective way of increasing my available storage over time. But I don’t think I want to do that this time.

The 14TB drives that I shucked from their USB enclosure are a little loud. They’re fine for backups because I have a bit more control over when my backups take place. I have them all scheduled to run when I’m not in the office — I’m using TimeMachineEditor to accomplish this.

I sit about three feet away from the home server throughout my work day and the media drives are in nearly constant use during that time. If I used these louder 14TB drives to store our media, they’d drive me mad. I just don’t want to hear them all day long.

So I’m left thinking about upgrading all four drives in a fairly short period of time — probably over the course of a month or two.

At the moment I’m looking at 16+TB Western Digital Red drives. The company had a bit of a hit to their reputation a handful of years ago when it was discovered that they were selling drives that used shingled magnetic recording (SMR) without labeling them as such. But my understanding is that they’ve gotten better about labeling their drives and WD Red’s are quieter than Seagate Ironwolf drives.

Seagate Ironwolf drives are typically cheaper than WD Reds, though. And given the size of the drives that I’m looking to purchase, that can’t be ignored. I’ll have to do some more research to see just how much louder Ironwolf drives are and whether they would be something I could contend with. I suspect I may end up buying WD Reds that I use for media storage and then larger Ironwolf drives for backups.

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