How important is port multiplier support?

by Alex Kuretz on January 15, 2009 · 19 comments

in Windows Home Server

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot ever since I first uncovered that the new MediaSmart Servers don’t support port multipliers on their eSATA port. HP has told me that the vast majority of their customers don’t use port multipliers on the eSATA port and so the removal of this feature from the MediaSmart Server was an acceptable regression. I can understand this position, though I am disappointed at the removal of the feature. I’m afraid that this will dissuade some potential customers whose storage needs exceed the available internal storage capabilities, though perhaps this will be somewhat (at least temporarily) mitigated by the rumors of soon to arrive 2TB hard drives.

Another MediaSmart Server enthusiast site, MediaSmartHome.com (which has support from HP) is currently running a poll asking users if they have a device connected to the eSATA port of their MediaSmart Server, and if they use a single drive or an enclosure. Here are the results as of the time of writing this blog entry.

Poll results from MediaSmartHome

Poll results from MediaSmartHome

Not surprisingly, not quite 60% of respondents report to not using the eSATA port for storage expansion at all. Also not too surprising to me was 15% of respondents reported using a single eSATA drive. However I was very surprised to see that twice as many respondents, a whopping 30%, were using eSATA storage enclosures with their MediaSmart server.

Granted, this is only a tiny subset of all MediaSmart Server customers, however I think there is some value in the results. If you have not yet voted in the poll I encourage you to visit MediaSmartHome.com and give HP some visibility on how you plan to expand the storage of your MediaSmart Server.

What do you think, is the lack of port multiplier support in the EX485 and EX487 a deal breaker for you when deciding on what Home Server to purchase?





Article by

I'm Alex Kuretz, and I'm the founder of MediaSmartServer.net. I was the Lead Test and Integration Engineer at HP for the MediaSmart Server until April 2008 when I moved on to other opportunities outside HP. I've kept active in the Windows Home Server community, creating several add-ins and helping users make the most of their Home Servers.


{ 19 comments }

Diehard January 15, 2009 at 5:11 pm

The EX47x have only been out for a little over a year. It has 4 drive bays available that I don’t think many people have filled yet given that 1 TB might take the casual user a while to fill up. Does this mean that HP should convert the MediaVault to a 2 drive EX460 model ? No. It will take a while to fill up the EX47x’s so my guess is that not a lot of people have planned ahead much. They see 2 or 3 empty drives and a e-sata connector and think that they are good FOR NOW.

Coming out with the new model should give a little more HARDWARE to the customer not a little less. We can always add larger hard drives when the price drops or larger capacity drives when they come out or ever add newer software. But it’s only HP’s hardware that limits us to what we can connect to their boxes. So come on HP, don’t take a step back with the port multiplier.

They should have kept it and given us the VGA connector for some debugging, maybe hide it behind a plate. Tranqil did and you can have 10 drives ready to go.

Diehard January 15, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Good thing HP didn’t go to a 32 bit chip and stop us from being able to upgrade to Vail.

T-Bone January 15, 2009 at 5:45 pm

I think I participated in the survey. I answered that I dont use the port multiplier, because right now I dont. I have always planned on taking advantage of it though. I think if they based their decision on a bad marketing question someone should have to answer some questions higher up. This is exactly the kinda of questions your told to stay away from on an marketing survey.

Greg January 15, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Wow! I didn’t realize they pulled out the multiplier!! That would/will kill me from upgrading for sure! I mean how much can that cost?!? With the massive space needed for movies/video losing that feature kills it for those of us looking to stream.

tmontana January 16, 2009 at 3:01 am

A better poll would have asked people whether they planned to use a port multiplier in the future…

Jonathan January 16, 2009 at 6:18 am

I have not one, but two HP home servers. One I use strictly for backups and the other for file server and everything else. I bought the HP with the understanding that I could use a port multiplier on the eSATA port. I am doing more and more video and taking more photos all the time. I’m about 70% full with 3.5 TB of storage (I use duplication a lot, too.) I am sad to hear that the new machines won’t support multipliers as that limits what I can do in the future. I just hope I can stick with the original EX47x machines for a long time.

photon January 16, 2009 at 10:43 am

My internal storage is not yet full and currently I only have one external drive attached via eSATA but it is not part of the pool and it is full. I have plans to add a an external encluse that will require port multiplier down the road when I get to it.

My drives are less than a year old. I would rather add drives than replace perfectly good 1TB drives with larger drives. I also plan on using an external enclosure for off site backup at some point.

This loss of the port replicater feature from the new modle of the MSS means that I will have to go with a home build if my MSS hardware fails again this year.

Hank January 17, 2009 at 12:09 am

From my perspective, HP has done a horrible job marketing the benefits of MS’s Drive Extender system, and directly related to that, the full expandability potential of something like the MSS.

I’ve barely seen mention of the extra USB ports and the eSATA port, and I’ve never seen mention how powerful those things can be used in conjunction with Drive Extender and some specific hardware.

Is it because they don’t make the hardware?

If HP went ahead and built their version of a MSS-matching Sans Digital TR4, then they would have had to educate people on what it was for, and in turn, maybe more people would use the eSATA multiplier. If you went to the HP web site, and there was an accessory to attractively expand the MSS to 8 drive bays, consumers would instantly react, “It can do that?!?”

Maybe properly educated consumers would recognize the value associated with the MSS over trying to implement crazy NAS/RAID systems in their homes to achieve spindle redundancy. As it is, most people who would be inclined to use the eSATA multiplier probably didn’t even consider the MSS as a solution because they didn’t properly understand what the thing did, and how it did it. They saw a box that could “only” hold 4 drives, and one of them was this “tiny” 500GB drive and it all seemed too limited and expensive from the start.

I don’t want to be so cynical as to say HP didn’t see any need for the eSATA multiplier because they didn’t sell any hardware to profit from it, but it may be a reason why they failed to invest in marketing it that way.

But then, you can still do all this with USB. And for a back-up machine that just got a CPU upgrade, USB is probably good enough. And cost effective. Unless you’re upgrading.

Alex Kuretz January 22, 2009 at 1:53 am

Some good points here, and everyone who has commented is disappointed that the port multiplier support no longer exists with the release of the EX485 and EX487.

Diehard, you seem particularly opinionated about this, which surprises me a bit. If I correctly remember the recent roundtable Podcast at http://www.homeservershow.com you stated that you only have two drives in your MSS, with the second drive used as backup only and not even for duplication. I do understand being disappointed with the removal of a feature and the loss of potential expandability.

I too am disappointed that this feature has been removed, but at the same time I can understand why HP is ok with it not being available. I do like Hank’s reasoning that people would be more inclined to purchase an enclosure if it looked great with the MediaSmart Server. At the same time, I’m pretty pleased with how the Sans Digital black enclosures look next to my server.

Thanks to all of you for sharing your input!

Freejack April 8, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I am dissappointed to see that the multiplier has been removed, this was one of my main considerations when thinking about purchasing this device. I guess I will wait to see if they bring it back in a future model, otherwise it is off to eBay I go to look for a E47* model. Dissappointing….

stewbacca April 10, 2009 at 10:02 am

Ok. I bought an ex485 and newegg had it bundled with a rosewill drive enclosure that holds 5 drives. Yes, after it was too late i figured out that the enclosure wouldn’t work. I just got my RMA number this morning for the enclosure. But I already bought 5 1TB drives. I’ve put 3 into the server and am wondering if there is an enclosure someone could recommend that I could put the remaining 2 drives into that I could put onto my eSata port and the HP would recognize both drives? Even if it recognized them as 1 drive that would be acceptable imho. It would mean I’d get all the disk into my server that I bought. Or does someone make a 5 bay enclosure that the hp would be able to see all the drives? I do have a credit coming from newegg.

theraidbox July 14, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Consider using a hardware port multiplier solution instead of the software raid implementation of SATA controllers and port multipliers using Silicon Image chips. A 4×1 eSATA/USB Hardware Port Multiplier (HPM) that is OS independent and will work with any eSATA port is an alternative solution. The 4-port SATA integrated HPM with an Oxford OXUFS936QSE chipset uses hardware raid technology.

RAID mode selection is done using a rotary switch and setup is
completed by pressing a raid setting button. Once configured all is needed is to connect the HPM to your system via USB 2.0 or eSATA and detect, partition & mount the RAID volume.

RAID mode supported are FAST2 (2 drive RAID 0 Striping),, SAFE2 (RAID1 Mirroring), SAFE FAST (RAID 1+0 Mirrored Stripped), BIG 2 (2 drives Concatenation), FAST4 (4 drive RAID 0 Striping), BIG 4(4 drives Concatenation), RAID 1+0, RAID 5 over 4 drives, or RAID 5+S.

Connecting the HPM to onboard SATA ports on the motherboard is possible by using 2 eSATA ports PCI slot mounting bracket with two eSATA connectors to convert internal Serial ATA to
eSATA.

2TB, 3TB, 4TB, 6TB & 8TB Turnkey RAID solutions utilizing the 4×1 eSATA/USB Hardware Port Multiplier (HPM) are available at
https://www.theraidbox.com

The way software RAID works using SI controllers and port multipliers (PM) is that, you use the SATARAID5 array manager installed in Windows to see and configure as a raid volume all 5 drives connected to the PM. If the PM is connected to non-PM aware controller card (legacy) it will only detect one drive out of the 5.

But using a Hardware Port Multiplier which uses an integrated hardware controller, the raid setup is done on the HPM itself. So once you connect it to a SATA port, it will be seen as a single RAID volume.

diggityDawg August 14, 2009 at 9:08 am

I’d been planning on adding a 4-bay enclosure to my 2-month old EX485 until I saw this post about it not supporting port multipliers. Do you have any recommendations for enclosures that have integrated/hardware port multipliers that would work with a 485?

Thanks!

Alex Kuretz August 14, 2009 at 3:14 pm

People around here like the Sans Digital TowerRAID series of enclosures, they have some 4 and 8 drive USB enclosures that many people here have had good luck with. Do a search in the forums for “TR4U” and “TR8U” for some good reading. USB is the only way you’ll get multi-drive connectivity via an external array with the EX48x servers since they do not have the port multiplier ability to recognize multiple drives over the eSATA port.

diggityDawg August 14, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Thanks Alex – after posting that I did a little more research and found out about the port multiplier issue. I ended up ordering a Mediasonic HF2-SU2S2 that others have had success with.

jasonn May 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I’ve done tons of searching after purchasing a TR8M from sans digital yesterday. fortunately I have a EX47x model so I think I can plug in with esata and get at least four drives working. Anyone know of any tips or tricks to get it to support all 8? Can’t put the dual port pci-e card that it comes with, but I looked at adding an external port multiplier. Before I buy that too (100$), wondered if anyone had any luck?

Chuck November 6, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Hi Jasonn, did the external port multiplyer work for you? I’m looking to do the same thing. This is what I’m looking at http://www.satasite.com/sata2-hub.htm.

Thanks

Alex Kuretz November 8, 2010 at 9:45 am

Chuck, external port multipliers will not work in this case, the EX48x servers are limited to only a single drive connected to the eSATA port. You can search the forums here for more details, here’s one link. http://www.mediasmartserver.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=5355&start=0

Chuck November 6, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Can this be used to add port multiplying to an EX485 HP Mediasmart server.
http://www.satasite.com/sata2-hub.htm
I can’t find specs on the eSATA card used by HP.

Thanks

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