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Storage and Bootable Drive Alternatives for Enterprise Servers

 

Enterprise servers are designed to hold multiple hard drives in bays. In fact, most enterprise rack servers have no less than six bays, and the Dell PowerEdge' xd' models can have up to twenty-four drive bays (and that's not including any Flex Bay options!).

In addition to the robust storage options for standard Long Form Factor (LFF) and Small Form Factor (SFF) drives, some servers have alternative storage solutions that you may not be aware of. If you are tight on storage or looking to maximize the number of drives you can squeeze into your server, these might be useful to your server build.

We'll share some of these "exotic" enterprise servers and storage options, what solutions they provide, and some caveats.

SATADOM

SATADOM (SATA + "Disk-On-Module") drives are compact flash-based drives that connect directly to the motherboard via the integrated SATA port. The advantage to using a SATADOM drive for installing bootable media is the module will provide faster speeds and a more secure connection since it is directly mounted to the system board (as opposed to a USB thumb drive). 

They can also be an advantage if your drive bays are already full of drives and your server needs additional storage. 

A caveat to keep in mind is not all servers support SATADOM drives. For example, on the Dell PowerEdge R720xd, the integrated SATA port and controller is disabled (however, it is available on the R720). 

SD Card Readers

Most Dell servers come with a native SD card reader. However, some servers can add an SD card reader, which has dual SD capability. The advantage of the dual-SD module is that it allows mirroring between the two installed SD cards. This mirroring can be especially helpful if data on the SD card is critical.

TECH FOOTNOTE:  It's worth noting that the vast majority of our customers who include SATADOM or SD card storage solutions on their server builds are utilizing it for the bootable media in light OS solutions such as ESXi or many of the small Linux distros available. Due to the limited redundancy and read/write cycles of SD cards and SATADOM drives, they aren't recommended for heavy reading & writing.  

Optical Drive Bay Converter

While some customers still require an optical drive for reading/writing DVDs, for the most part, it has become an antiquated technology. Fortunately, many server models, such as the Dell R330 and R430, have the capability for the optical drive to be removed and replaced with a conversion bay that allows for up to two 2.5" (SFF) drives. 

Keep in mind certain caveats still apply. For example, if the server only has one integrated SATA port on the motherboard, you could not install a SATADOM drive and an optical drive conversion kit. It's best to confirm your system's specs before procuring any upgrades.

TECHMIKE'S 'PEACE OF MIND' PLEDGE: If you configure an incompatible build through our configure-to-order tool, our builders will be sure to catch it in testing. And you can rest assured one of our reps will reach out to offer alternatives and a solution! 

A Word on PCIe Drives

We've had several customers reach out to us about installing a PCIe SSD through one of their server's free PCIe slots. While some customers report they've gotten it to work, we've always experienced compatibility issues, and as such, it's not a configuration we offer (or support if a customer installs one on their own).

Final Thoughts

Enterprise servers have storage options beyond standard hard drives.  Especially if you are looking for booting a lightweight OS such as VMWare or a base Linux system, a SATADOM drive or SD card reader could be a more reliable and robust solution than a USB stick protruding from a server’s chassis.

Do you have any questions or storage solutions? Leave a comment below or reach out to us at info@techmikeny.com!

 2 comments

  • Hi Bob. Thanks for the comment. We read the guidance on VMWare’s site, and it looks like, just as you said, future versions of ESXi will lose the SD media boot functionality. Thanks for the heads-up and sharing your YouTube channel – it looks like a wealth of info. We’ve subscribed! Thanks again!

    TechMike
  • Hi,

    You may wish to note that VMWare has publically said it will no longer support SD media (or USB) to boot VMware ESXi in the future.

    Bob

    P.S. We review Vmware and used servers on our Youtune channel. Search BOB PELLERIN or CTOBOB.

    Bob Pellerin

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