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A bit about RAID

For Help Questions on RAID visit this section

What is RAID?
RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive/ or Independant Drives.A RAID array is a collection of drives which act as a single storage system, which can tolerate the failure of a drive without losing data, and which can operate independently of each other.The basic idea of RAID is to combine multiple drives into an array of drives to obtain performance, capacity and reliability that exceeds that of a single large drive. For the different levels of RAID see here.

I have heard of Hardware RAID and Software RAID, what is the difference?

Software RAID is just like hardware RAID, except that it uses software instead of hardware.Instead of using a dedicated hardware controller to perform the various functions required to implement a RAID array, these functions are performed by the system processor using special software routines.

What are the Pro's and Con's of using Software RAID?
The Pro's

If you are already running an operating system that supports software RAID, you have no additional costs for controller hardware; however you may need to add more system memory to the system.
You don't have to install, configure or manage a hardware RAID controller. Duplexed RAID 1 can sometimes be implemented in software RAID but not in hardware RAID, depending on the controller.
The Con's
The best-known drawback of Software RAID is that it provides lower overall system performance than hardware RAID. This is because cycles are "stolen" from the CPU to manage the RAID array. This slowdown isn't that excessive for simple RAID levels like RAID 1, but it can be substantial, particularly with any RAID levels that involve striping with parity (like RAID 5). Since the operating system has to be running to enable the array, this means the operating system cannot boot from the RAID array.
This requires a separate, non-RAID partition to be created for the operating system, segmenting capacity, lowering performance further and slowing boot time.
Software RAID is usually limited to RAID levels 0, 1 and 5. More "interesting" RAID levels require hardware RAID (with the exception of duplexing).Software RAID normally doesn't include support for advanced features like hot spares and drive swapping, which improve availability.
Operating System Compatibility Issues: If you set up RAID using a particular operating system, only that operating system can generally access that array. If you use another operating system it will not be able to use the array. This creates problems with multiple-OS environments that hardware RAID avoids. Some software utilities may have conflicts with software RAID arrays; for example, some partitioning and formatting utilities. Again, hardware RAID is more "transparent" and may avoid these problems.
Some RAID users avoid software RAID over concern with potential bugs that might compromise the integrity and reliability of the array. While hardware RAID controllers can certainly also have bugs, having said that some operating systems are more likely to have these sorts of problems than a good-quality hardware RAID controller would.
All things considered, software RAID doesn't seem to have much to recommend it. At the same time, realize that in many cases it is much better than using nothing at all.

What are the Pro's and Con's of using Hardware RAID?
Hardware RAID is using dedicated hardware to control the array, as opposed to doing array control processing via software. There are two main types of hardware RAID differing primarily in how they interface the array to the system.

Bus-Based or Controller Card Hardware RAID
This is the more conventional type of hardware RAID, and the type most commonly used, particularly for lower-end systems. A specialized RAID controller is installed into the PC or server, and the array drives are connected to it. Some motherboards, particularly those intended for server systems, come with an integrated RAID controller. These are built into the motherboard, but function in precisely the same manner as an add-in bus-based card. The only difference is that integrated controllers can reduce overall cost.
Intelligent, External RAID Controller:
In this higher-end design, the RAID controller is removed completely from the system to a separate box. Within the box the RAID controller manages the drives in the array, typically using SCSI, and then presents the logical drives of the array over a standard interface (again, typically a variant of SCSI) to the server using the array. The server sees the array or arrays as just one or more very fast hard disks; the RAID is completely hidden from the machine. In essence, one of these units really is an entire computer in itself, with a dedicated processor that manages the RAID array and acts as a conduit between the server and the array. Bus-based RAID is cheaper and much simpler to implement than external RAID controllers while still offering often impressive capabilities; they range from entry-level cards for IDE/ATA systems up to top-of-the-line, full-featured devices costing several thousand pounds Dedicated, external RAID controller systems are still more expensive but offer many advanced features, are typically more expandable than bus-based RAID implementations (offering support for large array well into the terabytes) and can offer better performance. They often cost well into the five figures, so they are not something a typical PC user would even consider.

External RAID controllers should not be confused with external RAID enclosures. Enclosures provide power and physical infrastructure for the drives in a RAID array, but not the processing of the controller; they are functionally a large, fancy PC system case. An external RAID controller can be thought of as such an enclosure combined with a high-end, integrated controller as well. In most cases, the decision to use hardware RAID is made almost exclusively on financial grounds: hardware RAID is superior to software RAID in virtually every way, it just costs more. If you want to use any of the more esoteric RAID levels such as RAID 3 or RAID 1+0, you generally require hardware RAID, since support for these levels is usually not offered in software. If you need top performance while using a computation-intensive RAID level such as RAID 5, you also should consider a hardware solution "mandatory", because software RAID 5 can really hurt performance.


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