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Windows Server Software Raid?


VaKo
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I am planning on building a file server around Windows Server 2008 Storage Server or R2, with 4-6x 1-2TB WD Green edition HDDs. It will be used to store media files, some of which will be HD, and other general files. However, I am wondering about Windows Software RAID, compared to a cheap (£100+/-) (fake)RAID card for RAID5 or RAID10, and would it work ok with an Atom D510 or would a Celeron E3200 be required? I've not looked into software RAID on Windows before, but under Linux I hear it is quite good, and often recommended over cheap RAID cards. I want to stick with Windows for this, but if I was to use *nix I would use ZFS on FreeBSD 8.

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I am planning on building a file server around Windows Server 2008 Storage Server or R2, with 4-6x 1-2TB WD Green edition HDDs. It will be used to store media files, some of which will be HD, and other general files. However, I am wondering about Windows Software RAID, compared to a cheap (£100+/-) (fake)RAID card for RAID5 or RAID10, and would it work ok with an Atom D510 or would a Celeron E3200 be required? I've not looked into software RAID on Windows before, but under Linux I hear it is quite good, and often recommended over cheap RAID cards. I want to stick with Windows for this, but if I was to use *nix I would use ZFS on FreeBSD 8.

When it comes to Raid solutions, I think you would be better off with a Raid Card.

Here are some disadvantages for using raid software.

* Performance: The best-known drawback of software RAID is that it provides lower overall system performance than hardware RAID. The reason is obvious: cycles are "stolen" from the CPU to manage the RAID array. In reality, 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).

* Boot Volume Limitations: 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.

* Level Support: Software RAID is usually limited to RAID levels 0, 1 and 5. More "interesting" RAID levels require hardware RAID (with the exception of duplexing, mentioned above.)

* Advanced Feature Support: 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.

* Software Compatibility Issues: 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.

* Reliability Concerns: 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, I think it's reasonable to believe that some operating systems are more likely to have these sorts of problems than a good-quality hardware RAID controller would.

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On my file server (running *nix) I have a smallish boot drive and a hardware RAID5 array with 3 x 2TB drives.

I was debating on going software or hardware but decided to go for hardware so I could use any OS.

Anyway, software does have a few advantages over HW raid, mostly being that you can use whatever sized drives you want, and you don't have to worry about a hardware card dying on you.

There are a few more but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

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Anyway, software does have a few advantages over HW raid, mostly being that you can use whatever sized drives you want, and you don't have to worry about a hardware card dying on you.

That's why back ups exists, to back you up in the event of a hardware failure. But yes you do make some good points in there as well.

Edited by Infiltrator
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What I was trying to point out, is that if you use a HW card, and it dies, you usually need to get one that is the exact same model or very similar for it to be able to see the array. Otherwise you just have to redo the entire thing.

Having a good set of backups is a life safer. :)

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What about using a motherboard with build in Raid control?

I've used it before and its quite good actually, not as good as a dedicated add on card but it still do a decent job. If you really want performance the add on card is the way to go.

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I've used it before and its quite good actually, not as good as a dedicated add on card but it still do a decent job. If you really want performance the add on card is the way to go.

Is your experience with those cheap-o $100 raid cards? I'm still torn personally, from what I read (review wise) they stink... but then again would I expect a $100 card to be comparible to $500++ ?

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My basic issue is that a decent 4-8 port SATA II RAID card with cache costs £300+, which for a 2-4TB home server, built around mini-ITX board and WD Green HDD's is simply far to high (if I was going to get hardware RAID, it would be a LSI MegaRAID coupled with WD RE4 GP disks). So this leaves me with either built in motherboard RAID (which is fake RAID) which is tied to the motherboard, or going with Windows built in software RAID, which for RAID1 at least, seems to do the job, and will be portable between other Windows systems. All I want is 2-4 sets of 2TB drives in RAID1 run as a NAS, to store media files.

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The good thing about Windows software raid is that even if machine is dead, you take drives to any other Windows box, plug them in. It will recognize it and you don't worry about the data. Disadvantages were mentioned before so there is no point on rewritting them.

Also dedicated cards are good. But be aware of build in solutions (in mobo). I use it know. Performance is good, but if mobo fails then ... to put it nicely - it's not good. When moving drives to other box system will not recognize them. I don't know about trying this same mobo model. It might help, but raid configuration is stored on mobo. When trying to create new volume on new mobo it will result on overwriting actual state.

And yes.. I've been there. Fortunately raid2raid helped me to recover data from array. But even thou I have raid5 i constantly backup important stuff on separate drives. Just in case mobo failure happens again.

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Is your experience with those cheap-o $100 raid cards? I'm still torn personally, from what I read (review wise) they stink... but then again would I expect a $100 card to be comparible to $500++ ?

I am a cheap person but I don't deal with cheap stuff. All my gear I buy has quality built into them.

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The question is, for a cheap 2-6 disk NAS, based around a dual core Atom, would a proper RAID card (with cache) actually be worth it?

I would say no. The card would cost as much as the rest of the machine tbh. Minus the drives, of course, but that's a given.

Would you be running Server 2k8 regardless?

Edited by Charles
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I would say no. The card would cost as much as the rest of the machine tbh. Minus the drives, of course, but that's a given.

Would you be running Server 2k8 regardless?

So when would you consider running a raid add on card? In what scenario, I am just trying to get a clear picture of when to use it.

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Perfect Mobo here

Now I just need to find a decent 2 or 4 bay NAS case.

That's a pretty nice mobo. I'd love for it to have 8GB of RAM, but you really don't need that much memory for a NAS.

As for a case, you'd probably have to go with an ATX case, since I don't know of any regular ITX cases that'll handle 5 drives. I have a regular ATX HTPC case that is a bit large, but it can handle 6 drives in it, and it is a bit smaller than the tower I have as my main server.

So when would you consider running a raid add on card? In what scenario, I am just trying to get a clear picture of when to use it.

Depends on what you want to do. I probably could have used mdadm, but I wanted the convenience of being able to configure it via web interface as well as not deal with mdadm itself.

That and I found a decent card that worked with Win/Mac/Linux and had linux drivers (even if I did have to compile them from source).

I was originally going to do software RAID, but I would have needed to purchase Windows Server 2008 to run it on and I didn't want to cough up the cash for that. I could have run HW raid but it would have needed Vista at the least, since XP (32-bit anyway) didn't support GPT partitions. Vista ran a bit heavy on a similar machine and I didn't want to deal with it, since I would be running the machine headless.

Server 2008 would have worked, but I didn't feel like spending 800+ dollars + $$$ for Antivirus since it is a server OS. Turned out that Linux was my best option, since it was free, and I could use a good AV for scanning the files.

The only real cost outside of the hardware was the time for me to learn Linux (I already knew a bit, but I hadn't messed with SSH or anything before). So far the only hiccup I have is that I have to rebuild the drivers from source after a kernel upgrade, but that's to be expected.

Edited by Charles
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That's a pretty nice mobo. I'd love for it to have 8GB of RAM, but you really don't need that much memory for a NAS.

As for a case, you'd probably have to go with an ATX case, since I don't know of any regular ITX cases that'll handle 5 drives. I have a regular ATX HTPC case that is a bit large, but it can handle 6 drives in it, and it is a bit smaller than the tower I have as my main server.

Depends on what you want to do. I probably could have used mdadm, but I wanted the convenience of being able to configure it via web interface as well as not deal with mdadm itself.

That and I found a decent card that worked with Win/Mac/Linux and had linux drivers (even if I did have to compile them from source).

I was originally going to do software RAID, but I would have needed to purchase Vista or Windows Server 2008 to run it on and I didn't want to cough up the cash for that. Vista ran a bit heavy on a similar machine and I didn't want to deal with it, since I would be running the machine headless.

Server 2008 would have worked, but I didn't feel like spending 800+ dollars + $$$ for Antivirus since it is a server OS. Turned out that Linux was by best option, since it was free, and I could use a good AV for scanning the files.

The only real cost outside of the hardware was the time for me to learn Linux (I already knew a bit, but I hadn't messed with SSH or anything before). So far the only hiccup I have is that I have to rebuild the drivers from source after a kernel upgrade, but that's to be expected.

I am pretty sure you can buy raid cards that comes with a web-based administrator interface, but like you mentioned above price would be the issue. And of course not everyone can afford forking out $500 dollars or more for a raid controller card.

And using the builtin raid controller on the motherboard makes perfect sense. Even though it may not always come with the features would except on a raid card.

Edited by Infiltrator
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True. I originally got the mobo for my server with the intention of using the fakeraid on the mobo, but that didn't exactly work out as I planned. It was too much work and hassle, so I just took the easy way out and got a decent controller and did it that way.

My original "server" was a Sempron 1.8GHz with 1GB of RAM running WinXP with 2 160GB drives and a 1.5TB external. Slow as all hell, that one was.

Now I've got a 4TB Array on my server running with 2 externals for daily backup and 2 externals for a monthly backup (which are disconnected and in a safe when not being used).

Definitely a better solution than having all your eggs in one basket (1 external drive with all yer data on it)

EDIT: For anyone who cares, this is the card I use.

Edited by Charles
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Now I've got a 4TB Array on my server running with 2 externals for daily backup and 2 externals for a monthly backup (which are disconnected and in a safe when not being used).

Definitely a better solution than having all your eggs in one basket (1 external drive with all yer data on it)

That's exactly what my situation at the moment is, I only have on external HDD with all my data on it. I am considering in buying something like these ones

iOmega 4000GB (4TB) Ix4-200r RAID 5 NAS Network Storage - 1U Rackmount

OR

Qnap TS-509 PRO 5 x 3.5 SATA NAS Hot-Swap RAID ADS 1.6GHz 1GB [NASQNP50902A]

Edited by Infiltrator
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Looks like the Qnap has more features, but has a different form factor than the iOmega.

Yes in deed more features but Qnap is intended for home use whereas Iomega is intended for a server environment or a server data center.

That's why it cost more and has a different form factor, besides it always comes down to the individuals tastes anyway.

Edited by Infiltrator
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