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Storinator Re-Design - Direct-Wired Backplanes

This week, Brett focuses in on one of the major improvements of the Storinator which is the direct-wired backplanes. These backplanes give us the ability for hot swapping and staggered spin-up.

Hey, everyone, Brett Kelly here for another Tuesday tech tip at 45 Drives. So last week we intro-ed the next revision of our Storinator storage product. And first of all, I want to say thank you to everyone for all the love and great feedback we got over that. It was a pleasure reading some of the comments. Glad that you guys loved some of our design changes. So in light of that, I figured let's walk through the major changes and get some more detail so we can all see all the fun new stuff.

This week I'm going to start with our direct-wired backplane. Talk what is that why we did that and why we've switched from our cables to our direct-wired backplane. So before I dive into some of the cool stuff that we can do with the backplane now let's go back in time a little bit, let's rewind.

The original Storinator design utilized multiplexing back planes. And for anyone who knew us back then, might have been noticing that we were almost anti-backplane. But we weren't anti-backplane, we just hated the multiplexing design of five hard drives to one SATA connection cable. Two main reasons: single point of failure and performance is no good. And that's where our design evolved to the direct-wired architecture. Check out our other tech Tuesday on exactly what that is. But that's when the Storinator really became the Storinator.

But there are some great benefits to putting your connectivity onto a printed circuit board rather than fan out cables. i.e. if you need a little extra circuitry on the input of some of your pins, it's not very easy to do with cables. This is why we have transitioned to the direct-wired backplane. It's still the same architecture of a direct one-to-one, like four hard drives, four lanes right in the HBA card and then replicated for each port. But we now have a little bit of room and ability to add some extra circuitry to the input circuits to allow these features that I'm talking about.

So with that history lesson out of the way, let's dive into the two main ones, staggered spin up and universal hot-swap support. Why those are important and why we can do it with these now.

So, the first thing I'm going to talk about is the universal hot-swap support of all different drives. Some of you might be thinking, what are you talking about, man? We've always supported hot-swap. That's always been a feature of our box. The HBA cards support it, therefore it's supported.

However, not all hard drives will play nicely. Some hard drives do not use limiting circuitry on the internals of the hard drive, and particularly on the five-volt line can suck in a lot of current to fill a couple of capacitors on them when initially plugged in. When these are on the same power leg of the power harness, this can actually droop your voltage a little bit. And what this means, unfortunately, is adjacent drives can sometimes be affected by that just enough that it triggers their power on reset and they drop out and come back instantly.

Now, not completely the end of the world, but that is not ideal. And since all drives aren't going to play fairly, you should design around that, right? So what this allows us to do is to put current limiting resistors on the incoming five-volt line of the of the hard drive connectors. Meaning that whenever we plug one of these thirsty, current-sucking hard drives in, it won't affect its neighbors.

The other big feature that our director of Backplane now allows staggered spin-up. So for those who aren't aware, staggered spin up is kind of just as it sounds. It staggers the spin up of the hard drives.

Hard drives, really at their core is a DC motor that spins up some spinning discs inside of each one. One of the problems with motors is starting from stop is a big in-rush current. It pulls in, therefore you see a big power surge. So ideally to reduce wear on your power supply or reduce the complexity of supporting electrical equipment such as UPS or anything like that, it's nice if we could just stagger that's been up and we could have it a nice linear increase to steady state. Rather than a surge fall back to steady state. So we can do that with the backplane now. That's defined in the state of state standard, one of the power pins on the power side of the SATA connector, pin 11.

So the LSI HBA card will actually control the spin up. It issues the command that tells the drive, OK, it's time to spin up now. And we set the settings in the card of the different spin up rate because you can spin them all up very quickly. You could spin one drive and wait for the next one. You can spin up groups of drives. It's kind of configurable, like that's really cool. But how that works is by leaving PIN 11 open to ground and the HBA card tells the drives when to start up. As a little added bonus to that the PIN 11 is also the same pin that controls the LED indicator lights. So we now have led indicator lights that are included on the circuit board as well.

So there's the rundown on the direct-wired backplane, why we switched to it, some of the new features that come with it, the universal hot-swap support, staggered spin up, some LED indicator lights added. On top of that, it really cleans up the amount of cables we have in the box and the serviceability, and possible component failure decreases overall. We're really excited to get these out into everyone's hands.

And as always, I hope you enjoyed the video. I hope you learned something. Stay tuned for next week. I'm going to talk about the mechanical changes and what we did for the user feel and the new drive cages. So excited to see you guys next week if you want to ask us anything. In the meantime, you know how to do that: comments, social media. See you guys next week.

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