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Real World Review: AMCC 3ware Sidecar Kit

Volume Number: 23 (2007)
Issue Number: 05
Column Tag: Real World Review

Real World Review: AMCC 3ware Sidecar Kit

When it's time to step up to more and better

by Michael R. Harvey

Recently, we reviewed a small NAS unit that was good for smaller home offices or work groups. That product, however, lacked features critical to any group larger than a few people or workstations. The AMCC 3ware Sidecar is the next step up. It is a full hardware RAID storage device, but not so big as to be cost prohibitive for smaller installations. This desktop RAID unit is an ideal starting point as your storage needs grow beyond a single disk, and a CD backup.

Figure 1: The AMCC 3ware Sidecar Kit

The unit itself is a four bay SATA enclosure. It attaches to any G5 or newer Mac with PCI Express, via a multilane SATA II cable to an AMCC 9590E-4ME controller card that is included in the kit. The card itself is 4 lanes, and so will work in either a 4x or 8x PCI Express slot. There also is a controller cable that runs between the RAID unit and the card providing device management and information to the set up and monitoring software. The unit can be placed anywhere with good airflow. It is small enough to fit on top of a G5/Mac Pro tower.

The software itself is two parts. First, a background process that runs at boot and does the monitoring, and, second, a web based interface for configuration and reporting. The system requirements are OS X 10.4.6 (10.4.8 for Intel based Mac Pros), and Java 1.5 or later. The installer is dreadfully slow, but it's Java based, so that behavior is expected. The web interface, however, is responsive, and includes a good help system.

Hardware and software installation are pretty straightforward. Put the parts where they belong, link up the cables, make sure the RAID unit is powered on before the computer, and then start up. To configure the Sidecar, you type into a web browser: https://localhost:888. From that web-based interface, after logging in as an administrator, you can select drives and choose the RAID level you want. We suggest either a 3 disk RAID 5 with a hot spare (you can designate a drive as a spare in the web management software), or a RAID 10. Both these configurations require all four drive bays be used, but they give you either very good performance and fault tolerance (RAID 10) or high capacity with hot fail over in case of a drive problem, along with a performance boost (RAID 5). After the 3ware interface has your unit set up, you'll need to partition it using Disk Utility. You are good to go after that.

Figure 2: The web control interface, displaying an error condition

The one obvious failing of this unit compared to the NAS we reviewed earlier is availability over the network. Two options here: In smaller settings, you can use Hornware's SharePoints to enable sharing using OS X. Your other option is to attach the unit to an Xserve, or othe Mac running OS X Server, and share it out that way. It's not an XServe RAID, but then again, that much hardware is not what you are looking for in the scenario we are assuming for this review.

Also, at NAB 2007, AMCC announced that support for Windows systems was now available for the 3ware Sidecar. This opens up more options if your backend is running on Windows Server. You can still get RAID level storage made available to your Mac desktops that way.

The base unit, that does not include disk drives, costs $1295, and can be purchased directly from AMCC, as well as a few resellers. This allows you to add whatever size drives you need to complete the unit.

The AMCC unit is a very good starting point for moving into RAID quality storage. The price is not unreasonable, and the options the unit provides, as well as the reporting capabilities, make this product an excellent choice for moving from basic storage to fault tolerant, and better performing, RAID storage.


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