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My history of RAID and storage

Posted on 23rd Apr 2009 at 10:46 by Richard Swinburne with 13 comments

Richard Swinburne
So I run three terabyte Samsung F1 drives in RAID 5 at home from a motherboard with an Intel ICH9R Southbridge with Matrix RAID. It's 'onboard RAID' but even so, I've still been impressed.

My experience with Matrix RAID has transversed the ages ever since Intel introduced the technology. Previously I've played with Western Digital Raptor 74GB hard drives connected to an ICH6R (on an Intel 925X reference board) and getting all sorts of super-sized theoretical bandwidth figures for fun and it booted a fresh install of Windows XP like lightening. Yay for a bit of e-peen swinging, hey?

After that came two Maxtor 300GB hard drives in RAID 1 on an Abit 955X motherboard and I soon came to the conclusion that I would never, ever buy a Maxtor hard drive again. RAID 1 is great idea - until the DiamondMax 10 hard drive controller corrupts and writes wrong data to one, confusing the RAID software about who has the right data... Chalking it up to experience didn't do much for my mood at the time given that 300GB of precious data has gone down the pan. We've all been there, we've all felt that pain.

My quest for reliable storage then lead me to try tape (SCSI! wooo!) but that took too long and couldn't be automated - plus the drive got dusty and the outcome was high cost and high pain-in-the-arse factor for little gain. DVD-RWs are far cheaper than reels of Crome-Oxide, but are too small for mass storage needs.

I moved on and tried an external hard drive over the newer and faster eSATA but the JMicron chipset on my Asus P965 motherboard threw a fit under Vista and blue-screened my PC whenever I plugged it in. This was despite the fact it was a P5B Deluxe Vista Editionmotherboard. The 500GB of the Western Digital MyBook was also limited as it was a self-contained unit it wasn't upgradable. So that idea went too.

Discovering FreeNAS and a cheap mini-ITX board in our trading forums, I then built myself a NAS box. Firstly I built this, which was fun but ran too hot or too noisily, so eventually I bought a Cubit3 case for £40. It was a little beauty, running FreeNAS from a USB stick, with software RAID1 (Western Digital drives this time), mounted with rubber bands to reduce vibration, and a silent 14dB 80mm fan to keep everything cool. Before I got much time to use it for myself, my parents/family required something similar and so I gave it away. They still use it today - three years later.

My history of RAID and storage Intel Matrix Storage, CoolIT Domino ALC and the Akasa Mirage

As you can see, my storage history is very varied, and here I am, settled on buying cheap 1TB Samsung F1 hard drives, RAID 5ing them and convinced Intel's Matrix Storage is great.

Well, for one, it's helpful. I recently upgraded my CPU cooler to the CoolIT Domino ALC and plugged the drives back into different ports. The software automatically detected the RAID setup requires re-initialisation and a redundancy check, but has gone about sorting itself out in the background. Very nice! I can still explore the array and pull data off it, but the downside is that it's only 3 percent done it's going to take another 8 hours and 45 minutes to finish. At 10pm this evening I'll be able (brave enough) to shut down my PC. So, considering what I've been through to date, I'm impressed, but I'm having to expend a lot of patience to keep my data safe.

Ask Harry and he'll tell you that patience is not something I'm naturally in possession of. Normally if it doesn't work right I resort to the fist smack and shout at it method of correction, despite its low success rate.

One thing I do particularly like about the Matrix RAID technology is that you can migrate it across Southbridges - and therefore upgrade your motherboard. Having said that I've not tried a RAID 5 migration, and not with either ICH9R or 10R but I have moved a RAID 0 and RAID 1 array up a generation without issue. This gives me faith that when upgrading I can most likely take my critical storage with me.

13 Comments

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mclean007 23rd April 2009, 11:38 Quote
Have you looked at ZFS? A seriously impressive intelligent volume manager / file system. It does all sorts of very smart things - end to end data checksumming (detects "silent" corruption where a drive writes corrupt data but reports itself as working properly, unlike your poisonous 300GB Diamondmax 10); copy-on-write with atomic write operations; snapshotting; top-down resilvering; clever load balancing.

I've road tested it and performance is excellent (it loves lots of RAM and 64 bit processors though), and my next backup box will definitely be running Solaris on x64 with a RAIDZ (broadly similar to RAID-5) / RAIDZ2 (broadly similar to RAID-6) storage array. I'll probably repurpose my GA-MA78G-S2H for that when the upgrade fairy next visits...
Bindibadgi 23rd April 2009, 11:41 Quote
I haven't checked ZFS but have v.little experience with *nix so Solaris is alien territory to me. I'd love to investigate it though, but it's just a question of ease of use and time.
Fod 23rd April 2009, 11:46 Quote
really, windows home server's drive extender tech is the way to go for home users. they really need to roll out the feature to other OS products. i am buying WHS pretty much for that feature alone. the only redundancy it offers is duplication, but it's on a per-folder/share basis, which is nice. also absolutely no hassle in expanding the array, you just plug any old drive in, USB, SATA, ATA, whatever and it gets added to the storage pool.
mclean007 23rd April 2009, 13:14 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bindibadgi
I haven't checked ZFS but have v.little experience with *nix so Solaris is alien territory to me. I'd love to investigate it though, but it's just a question of ease of use and time.
My *nix knowledge was very basic before I started playing with Solaris. I'd say it is as easy to get a basic install up and running as Ubuntu - burn a boot CD from iso and the installation is trivial. ZFS is part of the standard Solaris install (IIRC it is the default FS for Solaris volumes), and it is incredibly intuitive and easy to get started with. If you have a spare test box in the office (what am I talking about, of COURSE you do!), I'd really recommend giving it a try and let us know how you get on.
phuzz 23rd April 2009, 16:00 Quote
The latest beta version of FreeNAS includes ZFS, so no mucking around with this Solaris malarky needed ;)
In fact, I can't praise FreeNas enough, it can pretty much do anything you might conceivably want your storage device to do, from ZFS and iSCSI to XBox streaming and ftp, although I'll admit it's not super user friendly yet.

(and you can automate tape backups if someone buys you one of these:
http://www1.euro.dell.com/content/products/category.aspx/tapebackup_automation?c=uk&cs=ukbsdt1&l=en&s=bsd
:)
Xtrafresh 23rd April 2009, 16:02 Quote
i just moved my 3x F1 750GB RAID 0 array over from ICH9R to ICH10R, with no real issues. Great stuff, i really didn't expect that to work.

The only funny thing is, it still lists a ICH9R in the bootup screen
Bindibadgi 23rd April 2009, 16:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by phuzz
The latest beta version of FreeNAS includes ZFS, so no mucking around with this Solaris malarky needed ;)
In fact, I can't praise FreeNas enough, it can pretty much do anything you might conceivably want your storage device to do, from ZFS and iSCSI to XBox streaming and ftp, although I'll admit it's not super user friendly yet.

(and you can automate tape backups if someone buys you one of these:
http://www1.euro.dell.com/content/products/category.aspx/tapebackup_automation?c=uk&cs=ukbsdt1&l=en&s=bsd
:)

Indeed FreeNAS is fantastic. It was fantastic 3 years ago when I built my parents machine that's still running!
WildThing 23rd April 2009, 19:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fod
really, windows home server's drive extender tech is the way to go for home users. they really need to roll out the feature to other OS products. i am buying WHS pretty much for that feature alone. the only redundancy it offers is duplication, but it's on a per-folder/share basis, which is nice. also absolutely no hassle in expanding the array, you just plug any old drive in, USB, SATA, ATA, whatever and it gets added to the storage pool.

WHS sounds good, but would that OS also be suitable for a media centre PC? I have an AMD 4050e with a Gigabyte 780G motherboard which I use to watch TV/films etc and also to leave on overnight downloading stuff (its nice and quiet). However, it would be nice if i could have some storage/backup on there too as I currently have 2x 1TB drives in RAID 1 on my main gaming rig (see sig).
ryall 23rd April 2009, 21:25 Quote
Definitely worth checking out BTRFS, very similar to ZFS (they both have pros and cons) but you're not locked in to Solaris. Still a bit new, but it's in the kernel now so only a matter of time.

I have my storage server in a virtual machine, so no worries when I change hardware configuration of the host box. If a hdd starts going south I can move the disk image to another drive.
Fod 23rd April 2009, 22:55 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by WildThing
WHS sounds good, but would that OS also be suitable for a media centre PC? I have an AMD 4050e with a Gigabyte 780G motherboard which I use to watch TV/films etc and also to leave on overnight downloading stuff (its nice and quiet). However, it would be nice if i could have some storage/backup on there too as I currently have 2x 1TB drives in RAID 1 on my main gaming rig (see sig).

no it really is designed to be used as a headless server. it's win2k3 at heart, with the cool drive extender tech and a lot of user-friendly web frontends. you can always get at the windows core, but it doesn't run media center.

works well WITH a media center machine, though.
Ross1 25th April 2009, 04:12 Quote
Ive lost count of the hard drives i have (im sure it adds up to over 11TB), however i have yet to see the point of raid. I backup the data i want to backup to external drives.... and am able to take those where i want (useful for going between uni and home).

the performance advantage with hard drives is about to be redundant with the newer ssd's.... and as for backup storage, only works if its a mechanical hd failure. a psu blowout can take out a number of components in one go....

Obviously it has use for on the fly automatic backup, but i dont need that personally.
Bindibadgi 25th April 2009, 11:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ross1
A psu blowout can take out a number of components in one go....

Ahh but a quality PSU, and quality surge protector largely prevents this unlikely event ;)
Zurechial 29th April 2009, 05:44 Quote
I don't know about Intel Matrix RAID, but having to wait 7 hours to rebuild a mirrored RAID on a silicon image 3132 chip every time I got a BSOD or any other 'incorrect shutdown' drove me crazy.

I ended up ditching RAID altogether and splitting the drives up, setting one drive aside for backup, with scheduled drive-image backups in Macrium Reflect every night.

The Sil3132 chip was on a cheap £30 RAID PCI-E RAID card, so I couldn't have honestly expected much from it, but it definitely left a sour taste with regards to RAID.
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