Distributed storage space across multiple computers

Ok,  so I have like 42 windows XP machines that have at least a 250gb primary hard drive,  these machines basically just sit there and process information and send it back to the network,  so all there is ever going to be on those 250gb drives is Windows XP.  So each of these computers has about 230gb of free space,  when you total that up its like 9.6TB of wasted space.

Is there a way to somehow utilize this storage capacity in a meaningful way without having to use each drive as a separate shared storage drive?  It would be awesome to somehow tie all this free space together across all these systems and create some type of virtural drive that any system on the network can use.
kfstoutAsked:
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BigSchmuhCommented:
I consider the following points:
-Your 42 pc are standard XP client that are not reliable (Their user may shutdown it at any time)
-You need at least 3 copy per file saved
==> You are not wasting 9.6TB...but only 3.2TB usable and redunded.

A 2TB drive is $240, so you are "loosing" at most $960 (4TB RAID 10)

I think the cost to deploy a Distributed parallel fault tolerant file systems would be a lot more than $1k !

Anyway, please see this list to check for this usage
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_file_systems#Distributed_parallel_fault_tolerant_file_systems
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kfstoutAuthor Commented:
Yeah,  I know this is pretty out there,  and generally isn't a very good idea.  Just figured I'd see if anyone had any bright ideas. I control all these PC's personally,  there is no other user interaction. Reliable?  not always.  

I already have multiple RAID 5 arrays,  just thought I'd see if there were any practical ways to utilize "wasted" space like that.  I'll check out that link.
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QEMSCommented:
There is also the performance issue to consider - would that kind of setup give you the kind of performance you would want/need from a storage array?

You may also need to consider the impact on network traffic that may be generated by spreading data around the system like that.

If you want a use for that space, maybe you could consider partitioning the drives and storing a local image of the workstation. At least that way, in the event of a failure, virus outbreak, dodgy update, user breaking the system in some way or whatever you have a locally stored image of a working system that could get your machines up and running again very quickly.
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BigSchmuhCommented:
I won't try to use those wasted space.
I would rather try :
-to move to an OS with no local drive needs
-create a network bootstrap for it
-order new pc without any drives (and at least 1 USB)
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Duncan MeyersCommented:
SANMelody from DataCore will do exactly what you want: http://www.datacore.com/products/prod_SANmelody.asp

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QEMSCommented:
Thats not quite what he wants meyersd.

The datacore site quotes "A much more cost-effective solution is available from DataCore. Our SANmelody" shrink-wrap package turns a general-purpose server into an expansion "disk server" from which other systems can draw capacity."

He's not talking about using a general purpose server, he's talking about attempting to use surplus desktop storage capacity. I certainly wouldn't want to farm out critical data from my servers out on to the rest of the network! That product appears to be more about storage consolidation where as kfstout is effectively asking for the opposite of that.

Feel free to correct me if there is a feature that I've missed, but that product seems to be aiming in a slightly different direction.
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Duncan MeyersCommented:
The "general purpose disk server" draws its storage from the disks in other systems - not just disk that is directly attached to the storage server. Datacore used to pitch their product (a couple of years ago) as being able to use spare space from desktop PCs and although they no longer use that sort of marketing, the principle remains the same. It's a nifty idea.

Having said that, their website is a cherishable exercise in obfuscation and bewilderment...  :-)
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QEMSCommented:
Yes nice idea, we have quite a few terabytes of unused storage on desktop PCs here but I wouldn't want to risk that data being compromised/lost or risk a large impact on network performance from that kind of solution.

I can see the benefit of the main examples they use on the site and I've just found the following on there!
"Also, please download the White Paper entitled, 'SANmelody Software Converts PCs into Powerful Network Disk Servers'"

The other thing I would consider is the cost of that software compared to the cost of a nice 4TB (or more) NAS. How much dedicated storage could you purchase for the same cost as that software? And how much space do you expect to gain from the PCs around the network? Take into account that the useable space will drop from the total amount "available" as you will need some kind of fault tolerance.

Answering those questions should get you a good idea of whether it is worth pursuing this idea or whether it would be better to spend time and money on dedicated storage.
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