Redundant Array of
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Servers - RAID Configurations

Servers - RAID Configurations, these definitions apply to any RAID Array.

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Configuring the RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Drives) Array means taking more than three hard drives and making one or more large partitions (do not confuse this with MS Volumes). Sounds simple doesn't it? As with most server services and hardware it sounds simple but really isn't until you understand the process.

This is a hardware solution! Not to be confused with Windows Disk Management!

There are three main types of RAID : RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 5. We will not consider the other types in between. (This also applies to the newer SATA and IDE controllers that are add on cards or built in to a server/desktop motherboard).

Servers - RAID Configurations descriptions:

RAID 0 is when you have a RAID controller in a system and don't use the RAID facility of the controller.

RAID 1 is one of the most often used to backup the OS drive.

RAID 5 is the other most often used configuration for enlarging and making a redundant partition.

A RAID Arry contoler will not only safe guard your data some controlers cache data and make the access faster.RAID 1 also known as 'Mirroring' is when you have your OS on one drive and make an exact copy of another drive. When the mirror process is complete any thing that is written to the original drive will also be written to the mirror drive. This is a excellent way to backup the OS drive because you can write all security and configuration to the mirror drive with out any extra software or security considerations.

RAID 5 configuration allows for you to replace one failed hard drive with out losing any data. This is very important when dealing with very large volumes of data. Be aware that RAID 5 DOES NOT take the place of scheduled backups!

The way it works is the controller will write data across all but one of the drives, then on the last drive it will write a parity bit with the location of the written data, you can select the size of each part of data that is written, 64 bytes is the normal size. When you do a 'mirror' type RAID 1 you use two drives of the same make, modle, and size. One dirve is an exact image of the other one.

A visualization: you have a RAID controller in your server, other than the OS drive you have four more drives, say 36 gig each. When you setup the RAID 5 the controller will combine three of the drives into one partition of 108 gig (approximately) and the fourth drive will become the parity drive. So you have lost 36 gig of drive space! Yes, but if you have one of the drives fail all you have to do is replace the drive and your data will be safe!

Ok, now you know why you should use a RAID controller and configure it in your server.

Do your RAID Configurations  right with the Build a Server Guide.

Servers - RAID Configurations, really?

But Wait! There's More to RAID's

What more can there be? I mean you need a RAID controller, you need to 'Mirror' the OS drive, and use RAID 5 on the data drives. Well there are a couple of things you should know, some pit falls of the different RAID configurations. Do's and Don'ts of using the RAID controller.

Servers - RAID Configurations Considerations - SCSI or SATA?

SCSI (Small Computer Serial Interface) is the most common drive and controller interface at this time. First introduced in the mid 1980's it has been the main stay for servers because of the data transfer speed and reliability. The controllers have built in memory and cache, if power fails the data will be retained by the back up battery for the cache on the controller card. Although the controllers and drives are moderate to expensive (depending on the size of the drive of course).

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) is the 'new kid on the block' and is coming into it's own. Originally only for workstations and only one or two drives per system now there are RAID controllers that can accommodate up to 16 drives and soon more. A SATA controller and drives would be comparatively cheaper than the traditional SCSI configuration. (Check this page if installing SATA or IDE drives).

Tid bits that you may want to know about Servers - RAID Configurations -

When you get your RAID controller you will receive a cd or floppy with the current drivers on it, safe guard this data! Make yourself a bootable device (floppy, usb, or cd) with the drivers on it incase of catastrophic failure.

When you have a hard drive failure replace it right away, if you have two failures the data on the RAID will be lost. The RAID controller can only recover from ONE drive failure not multiple drive failures.

As the server ages you should also consider powering it down when there are long periods of inactivity. A server normally runs 24/7 never being shut down for any longer than it takes to replace a failed part. Because the materials of the computer expand with heat they do not get a long cool down period. This continuous expansion will over time take its toll on the soldier joints and pcb boards of the components.

A Rack full of servers would create a large amount of heat, be sure to have adiquite ventaltion and cooling.To overcome this if the computer is powered off once a week for a period long enough to dissipate the heat build up and return to their pre heat expansion state you will have less failures especially hard drives, next to the processor a hard drive will create the most heat inside the computer.

The last tid bit for the RAID configuration you should be aware of is this: When you make a RAID 5 with SCSI or SATA controller and drives you should use all the same size drives. What the controller sees as the smallest drive you want to create the array with and resize all the other drives to that size. The reason for this is the parity, the parity bit is dependent on the overall size of the drive, if you have four drives, three 36 gig and one 16 gig then the array would be 48 gig with one parity drive, you will lose 48 gig! In other words use the same size and type of drive when you use RAID 5 solution.

Something you may want to consider:

Using a SSD (Solid State Drive) for you boot / system with a RAID 1 (mirror) will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Actually the drives themselves will out last the usefulness of the server. With over 1.5 MILLION hours between failures this is a very cost effective way to keep your server running. When you think about a mechanical drive that the MTBF is just over 300 K hours this would make sense. The SSD will out last all the mechanical drives in the server (add up the number of drives in the server then multiply that number by 300 K and how many hours would all the mechanical drives total? Not even close to one SSD - unless you have a very large RAID 5 array).

After making your array with the hardware controller you need to make the volume with Windows Disk Management, which has it's own idiosyncrasies.

By the way ...

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