[Guide] Direct Attached Storage (DAS) - Add up to 16 3.5" drive bays to an existing server for less than $300

Another good option for the large DAS is the NZXT Source 210, with 8 bays native. https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811146077&cm_re=nzxt_source_210--11-146-077--Product

Add up to 16 3.5" / 2.5" bays to an existing storage server, directly attached to the server through SAS->SATA connections. This allows for increased bandwidth compared to NAS solutions, and decreased complexity. In theory, you can add up to 16 drives for each x8 PCI-E slot available in your server. So add as many DAS setups like this as you want! The drives in the DAS will be passed through directly to the host-OS, as if they were internal drives. Therefore, you will be using software RAID or JBOD.

This first part of this guide will detail the parts needed to add 12 drives to your existing setup with a full-size DAS. 16 drives may be added by adding another set of cables and another drive cage. This build will be fully SSD and HDD compatible, so feel free to use any combination of those.

This second part of this guide will also outline a mini DAS build for those that don’t need more than 6x3.5" drives, or if you are using a more 2.5" HDD/SSD focused build. The mini DAS can support 6x3.5" and 8x2.5", or 14x2.5".

Rules for buying used server-grade parts on eBay:

  1. Buy from highly-rated, reputable sellers
  2. When “Or best offer” is available, use it. Sellers will likely discount parts, often up to 30%.
  3. Shop around. There are many resellers selling the same exact parts on eBay, find the one with the best price. Sometimes Amazon or Newegg prices are better.
  4. When in doubt, join the #hardware channel of the /r/plex discord and @JDM_WAAAT with questions in the #hardware channel. I’ll do my best to get back to you.

12/16 Bay full-size DAS Build

Type Item Price (eBay)
Recommended Case CoolerMaster N400 8x3.5" bay $63
External SAS card LSI 9201-16e $44
3x SAS-> SATA cables SFF-8088 -> 4x SATA $20 each / $60 total
PSU EVGA 500W $40
HDD Cage Caselabs 4x3.5" HDD + 120mm fan mount $40
3x SATA power cable 4xSATA power splitter $5 each / $15 total
120mm Fans 5x120mm Fan pack $23
SATA Fan Controller Thermaltake 10 port fan splitter $13
Total $298

6/10/14 Bay mini DAS Build

Type Item Price (eBay)
Recommended Case Fractal Design Node 304 ITX $100 w/ shipping
External SAS card LSI 9201-16e $44
2x SAS-> SATA cables SFF-8088 -> 4x SATA $20 each / $40 total
PSU EVGA 500W $40
2x SATA power cable 4xSATA power splitter $5 each / $10 total
SATA Fan Controller Thermaltake 10 port fan splitter $13
Total $247

About this build:

  • General: This build assumes that you have an existing server with a free PCI-E x8 or x16 slot. One free PCI-E slot is all that is needed in order to add up to 16 drives (SSD or HDD) via an external DAS. This build guide outlines the requirements to connect one DAS. If you would like more than one, just build another!
  • PSU: Any PSU will work. If you find a better deal on a PSU, feel free to take that route. Modularity isn’t a hude deal here because there will be plenty of room to manage cables. Also, we’re only going to be using the SATA cables, so as long as the PSU has 4 SATA power we can split them off into 16 SATA power. The PSU on/off switch will be what turns the DAS on and off. It is helpful to make sure that the PSU select actually has a physical switch, otherwise unplugging / plugging in the cord will be your on/off switch.
  • Case 1 full-size DAS - 12/16 bay: This case is really good value. 8x3.5" are native, and you can add 4 or 8 3.5" or 2.5" by using 1 or 2 Caselabs 3.5" or 2.5" cages. Mount the 2.5" cages with double-sided velcro in a convenient location. Mount the 3.5" cages in the two top 120mm fan locations. Note: fitment up top while using two cages will be tight, and may take some finageling to make it fit - but it will fit. I suggest using the top 120mm fans and rear 120mm fans as exhaust, and the front as a passive intake. Your front 8 drives will be adaquately cooled in this configuration, requiring only 3 fans total. Reminder, if you expand to 16 drives instead of 12, you need another SATA power cable and another SAS->SATA cable in addition to what is outlined above.
  • Case 2 mini DAS - 6/10/14 bay: I love this case. It’s tiny, fits a full size PSU, and natively supports 6x3.5" or 6x2.5" drives, or any combination therein. You can add 4 or 8 2.5" easily by using 1 or 2 Caselabs 2.5" cages, and using doublesided velcro to mount the cage where the motherboard would go. Note: The Caselabs 3.5" cage WILL NOT fit in this case - only the smaller 2.5" cages will fit. Make sure to add an appropriate amount of SATA power splitters and SAS->SATA cales, 1 of each for every 4 drives. The single 140mm fan will be enough to cool however many drives you fit in this case due to the way air flows in this case.

Upgrades, other parts

  1. 2TB Refurbished HDD’s on ebay - look for Western Digital 2003FYPS or similar, they run around $45. Hitachi/HGST 2TB refurbs can run as low as $28 per drive.
  2. Link for Caselabs 120mm 4x3.5" add-on cage - includes mounting hardware, NO FAN INCLUDED
  3. Link for Caselabs 4x2.5" add-on cage - includes mounting hardware
  4. Fan speed reducer (if you don’t want your fans to run full speed) - $7 for 5 pack

Build and setup

  1. Configuring the PSU - First, we need to make the PSU be able to turn on via the switch at the back of the PSU. We will be shorting out the green wire on the 24-pin ATX connector to any other black (ground) wire. This simply jumps the two connectors, simulating what happens when the PSU is plugged into a motherboard and the power button on the PC is pressed. I suggest using a long staple or part of a paperclip. You can wrap this with electrical tape if you wish, but no significant amount of current will be flowing through this connector so it’s not necessary. If you need more information, follow this link: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-power-up-an-ATX-Power-Supply-without-a-PC/
  2. Install and re-flash the LSI card in the server - Install the LSI 9201-16e into any free x8 or x16 PCI-E slot. I used the windows application (Megaraid Storage Manager) found here to flash the card with the IT firmware and bios found on LSI’s website found here. The MSM application is available for other OS’s as well. I found this to be much easier than this way, but both work just fine. IT mode passes the drives directly to the host OS, and does not use any hardware RAID features. It’s JBOD (just a bunch of disks)! Don’t forget to restart your server after flashing the LSI card.
  3. DAS Setup - Install the parts into the DAS, starting with the power supply. Mount the HDD’s / SSD’s into the cages or native case mounts, and then wire the SATA power splitter to the drives. hook up the SAS->SATA cables to the hard drives, and router the wires either through the PCI expansion slots on the case or where the motherboard I/O shield would normally go. The SAS SFF8088 ends will connect to the LSI card in the server, but don’t connect that yet. Once your drives and PSU are installed, make sure to connect the PSU to the SATA power splitter and the fan controller. Don’t forget to cable manage! There should be plenty of space to tuck and manage stray cables. Close up the DAS, and plug the PSU into the wall. The only cables coming out of the DAS should be the SFF8088 cables.
  4. Shut down the server - while the server is shut down, plug the SFF8088 ends from the DAS into the server’s LSI 9201-16e. Don’t worry about what ports you use for which cable, it doesn’t matter. You can plug them into any port, even after the RAID is configured. Turn on the DAS via the PSU’s power switch - you should hear the fans and drives spin up.
  5. Turn on the server - the disks should show in the host OS as being configurable for whichever software RAID method you are using.
  6. Notes on using the DAS - The DAS is always the first thing you turn on before turning on the server, and the last thing you turn off after shutting the server down. You can also leave the DAS on between restarts and shutdowns, you do not have to turn it off. DO NOT turn off the DAS while the server is turned on, even if you are not logged in. Doing so could result in DATA loss.

Please feel free to leave a comment or ask questions below.
Keep calm, Plex on!

Thanks for taking the time for this guide JDM. I greatly appreciate your comments and help on reddit as well!!

1 Like

Hi guys. Does this require the drives to be SAS drives? Or is the SAS only for the connection between the server and the DAS array?

You can use SAS or SATA drives.

This looks perfect for my needs - will use a Lian Li PC-80 for this.

Can’t really source those caselabs cages. I am looking at these for budget buy:

Any thoughts? I probably wouldn’t even put a fan in it as my Lian-Li has 3 x 14cm fans covering the entire front of the case.

Looking at building a DAS and had a couple questions. My thought was use a 9200-8e with 8088 cable to the external port of the hp sas expander and then use breakout cable from the expander to the drives. To power the hp expander,using a mining pcie adapter since they have 6 pin to sata adapters and then use a psu test switch to power on the machine. My main server uses freenas so assuming the 9200 can be flashed to IT mode(it needs that firmware?), is this a viable setup for having one cable to connect the boxes?

Personally, I would recommend using either the LSI 9202-16e or 9206-16e, as they have much higher maximum bandwidth.

I was looking on that thread and apparently didn’t read it well enough. Other than switching to that in the main server, does everything else work or would I need to come up with a different setup?

Would this cable be what I need (https://www.amazon.com/CableDeconn-External-SFF-8644-SFF-8088-3-3FT/dp/B00XQTRQJ0/ref=mp_s_a_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=sff-8644+cable&linkCode=sl2&linkId=c855c55332a3864aa472f23e9415f82f&qid=1592838526&sr=8-5&tag=serverdiscord-20) to connect the 9206 to the expander?

How do I connect SAS drives from the server to the DAS? I currently purchased the external sas cable to sata connection but I have SAS hard drives.

Edit: No I think I’ve got it wrong a SAS cable will go into a sata drive just fine but not the other way around.

One thing I’ve learned from googles that I hadn’t previously thought of…

Say you have an old board (namely one with ipmi)…you could use that as a JBOD controller even without ram/cpu. I do think the paper clip on the power supply works just fine as well but if you wanted more control over the network an old board w/ipmi (hopefully non-java) would work great for that purpose on a DAS.

Then have a pcie raid card (internal and external ports) plugged in for a clean install passing thru the data to the drives. And of course a power button could be used or ipmi at that point. You wouldn’t get much features out of ipmi without a functioning stick of ram/cpu though consuming power.

The LSI card listed in the original post of this thread.

You can also reference this thread below for more info.

I have the LSI 9201-16e in, I have that card in my dell t110 ii and I am running the external sas cable to my das. The issue is I have sas drives in my rosewill 4u. Do you recommend that I move everything to the Rosewill 4500, meaning would that be easier?

or is it a cable that goes from the lsi card to sas drives instead of the one listed above that goes to sata?

What is the issue exactly? You haven’t specified.

I need a cable that runs into the DAS from the NAS to connect to my 3 SAS hard drives. The cable listed above is for SATA. My bad

(FYI: I would like to preface this comment by saying that I am not specifically recommending any of the parts listed below, they might be great or they might not be, they were simply the first listings I found that were representative of what you need. Please do your own research in order to find equivalent products that may offer better prices or reviews. Thank you)

Based on the SAS HBA that you are using, I would say that you need a SFF-8088 to SFF-8482 cable like the one below to connect your SAS card to the drives in your DAS.

Alternatively, If you want a slightly cleaner look when you are finished you can also use a setup like the following.

Use a cable like this one (SFF-8088 -> SFF-8088) to connect your SAS card to the adapter card listed below.

Install an adapter (SFF-8088 -> SFF-8087) like this one in your DAS.

Then you can use a standard internal SAS cable (SFF-8087 -> SFF-8482) like the ones listed elsewhere on this forum (also below) to connect the adapter card to the drives in your DAS.

I hope that helps

Makes perfect sense. Thanks