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Trying to use SAS to SATA fan-out cable on Raid Controller

Posted on 2008-10-25
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Last Modified: 2013-11-16
Okay, I'm fairly new to SAS, but far from new to SATA.  I purchased a new raid controller for my file server last week, a Promise SuperTrak EX8650.  The raid controller has two SAS ports on, however it also supports SATA.  I ordered two Adaptec mSASx4 (SFF-8087) to SATA (4)x1 with sideband (SFF-8448) cables.  Needless to say, I was in the office last night until about 3am before I gave up on it.  When I plug the SAS to SATA cables in, then connect the drives, only the drives on the first two channels of the cable are recognized (Channels 0 & 1).  I know all the drives are good, they're all brand new, plus if I move one of the working channels to another drive it also recognizes.  This would be fine and dandy if i was only trying to connect 4 SATA drives, but I'm trying to connect (6) 1TB drives, setup in a raid 5.  I toyed around with it for hours, trying everything I could possible think of, but all to no avail.  The only thing I am not sure about is the 5th connector on these cables, the 'sideband'.  I honestly have no idea what that is, but from what research I've done, it looks like its a type of connection used on a backplain...is this connection necessary?  If-not, why would only the first two channels of both cables work?  I know adaptec makes this same cable without the sideband on it, but I wanted to seek advice before I go returning cables back and forth.  I'm at a loss here.  Thanks in advance for the help.
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Question by:CMHowes
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by:andyalder
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It has 8 internal SAS/SATA ports and 2 4-lane SAS external connectors. The external 4-lane ports are probably tied together as one wide bus rather than 4 seperate serial busses. Unless you can override that in BIOS/CMOS you're only going to be able to hang one single-lane SATA disk off each external channel since they don't understand SAS addressing. You're probably better off passing the internal SAS/SATA ports to the outside of the case using SATA to eSATA brackets - like this but I think you can get 4 port ones - http://www.cooldrives.com/essaii3gbexp.html
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by:CMHowes
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Listed in the description of the Raid Controller though, is that it supports up to 8 SATA disks with the proper cable.  The thing that is really throwing me for a loop is that when i connect all the SATA drives, it will recognize three of them: Disk 1 on SAS Channel 1 (aka: Disk 1), and Disks 0 & 1 on Channel 2 (aka: Disks 5 & 6).  I just got off the phone w/ Promise about the issue, and they're going to call me back about it.  He did mention that they've had issues in the past with Adaptec cables though.  In a situation such as this, what is the sideband signal (SFF-8448) used for?  Is it used for extra power, or is it just another data connection?  Is it necessary to have it connected to something?  Should I get a cable that doesn't have the sideband connection on it?  
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by:andyalder
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The sideband signal is used to "square up" the signal if it is used over a long distance, it's probably not used on your hardware. I don't find anywhere in the description that it supports 8 external SATA disks but that's maybe an oversight on my part.
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by:CMHowes
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I'm looking through the description once more, and I can't find anywhere that it specifically says that it supports 8 SATA discs, I guess I'm just assuming that it does because it says: 'Eight internal SAS/SATA ports at 3Gb/s.  I suppose I could be interpreting that incorrectly, but when I called Promise and spoke with their tech support, the guy didn't seem to think what I was trying to accomplish was out of the ordinary for that controller.  Just for kicks and giggles I'm going to try upgrading the firmware on it with the newer version that is posted on their site.
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by:CMHowes
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So theoretically, that extra sideband connection does not need to be plugged into anything for it to be functional, correct?
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by:andyalder
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That's what I read as well, 8 *internal* SATA disks. Doesn't tell us anything about the two external 4-lane SAS ports. You could of course buy an external enclosure full of SATA drives with a RAID controller with SAS interface to the host (maybe that's confusing their tech support).

I would phone him again and ask for the exact spec of the external SAS (and possibly SATA but don't hold your breath) ports.

The adaptec cable is just a few copper wires, it does not have the inteligence to un-bundle 4 bonded serial lanes into four seperate "singles", that's down to the controller.
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by:andyalder
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And the sideband connection doesn't have to be plugged into anything; correct.
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by:CMHowes
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I guess I'm getting lost here...let me go back and confirm so I know for sure I understand.  I got the Raid controller, the only ports on it are two mSAS (SFF-8087) connections.  Into those each of those connections I'm trying to connect a single mSAS SFF-8087 to 4-port SATA cable.  The four SATA ends are going directly into the back of four internal WD SATA 1TB HDDs.  Basically you're saying it looks like the controller doesn't know to divide each individual SATA channel, of the four coming in, in order to manage the drives?

I guess one of the biggest things that I am confused about is that on the description of the Raid Controller, it specifies it has both mSAS & SATA connections...but the only two ports on the card are the two mSAS.  Thus, in this situation.  BTW, thank you for your assistance and prompt responses in this...
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andyalder earned 500 total points
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I've been looking at the wrong picture, yes, it's got 8 internal ports on two SFF 8087 connectors. In that case it ought to work with the fanout.
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by:CMHowes
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Just as a slight update...I received the new SAS SFF-8087 to 4-port SATA w/o the sideband connector cable yesterday but only had a short period of time to toy around w/ it.  I unhooked the current RAID from the on-board SATA controller, and using the new cable connected four new SATA HDDs, and they all four recognized, even after rebooting multiple times.  I have yet to have the time to run a full backup and then implement the new controller, but knock on wood, it looks like these new cables that do NOT have the sideband connection may do the trick.  I will post again once I have implemented it and all is well.  
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by:CMHowes
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Final follow-up:  Even though all the research I've done, all the technicians I've spoken with, everything basically points to the fact that the sideband connector does NOT need to be connected for everything to work, I got in the new SFF-8087 to 4-port SATA cables w/o the sideband connector and this weekend took the server down for a few hours, installed the new drives along w/ these two new cables, and the new cables did the trick.  I honestly have no idea why the sideband connector made the difference, but it obviously did because that is the only difference in what I was trying before compared to what is working now.  I wanted to post this final follow-up in hopes that it will assist someone in the future so they don't have to go through the same ordeal as I did.  If there is anything I can help clarify or answer, please don't hesitate to message me.  Thank you all for your help.
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by:CMHowes
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I finally received the fanout cable from SFF-8087 to 4-port SATA w/o the sideband connector and it worked...not exactly sure why, but the damn thing did the trick.  Thank you for your assistance in this.
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