Network Storage Tips

The Problem With Workstation RAID

Lost Data, Corrupt Data, Cannot Transfer RAID Array

I spend some time on network storage forums and I frequently see threads regarding workstation RAID and lost data, RAID corruption or, why-oh-why do they even use it, RAID 0 problems.

RAID on a workstation, i.e. normal PC running a non-server version of Windows, is NOT recommended.

Yes, I have used it on RARE occasion, but here is the thing:

RAID relies on drivers, and workstation RAID drivers are notorious for being buggy. In the cases where I have used workstation RAID (RAID1) successfully has been on Promise brand controllers – either add-in cards or built-in to the motherboard.

BUT! In those cases, when I ran the RAID monitor utility to let me know if a drive had failed, the monitoring utility had a memory leak that required at least a weekly reboot! Otherwise the system would crash. (It was never fixed on that product.)

Further, server RAID manufacturers now (in the last 10 years) pretty much conform to standards such that you can move a RAID array from one controller to another without having to backup/restore. THIS IS CRITICAL!

Otherwise, what if your RAID controller fails, but your data is salvageable, yet you cannot find an identical controller to replace it with? Back in the late 1990′s I had this situation with an Adaptec controller that failed. Adaptec tech support told me my only option was to restore from a backup – and lose that day’s data (it was after 3 p.m.). Totally unacceptable.

The RAID0 Trap

RAID0 is awful. Now, instead of the potential for one drive to fail and lose data, one of TWO drives can fail and you lose data. You have just doubled your chances of losing data. RAID0 is NOT redundancy. People do it for speed, yet, on all those threads I read, folks just are not seeing blazing speed.

RAID0 is a huge time hassle, extra expense, for little to no benefit.

If you want speed, buy an SSD (solid state drive). Buy a small (64, 80GB – currently around $100 with rebates) SSD drive and install that for your Windows (C:) boot drive. Put anything of any size that does not fit on the SSD on either a 2nd internal hard drive or an external hard drive. DON’T FORGET TO BACKUP!

Or, better yet, put those large files which are probably valuable to you on a network storage device (click here for home or here for small business).

Save yourself time, money and frustration, do NOT install workstation RAID and NEVER use RAID0.

Server RAID Is The Answer

Server RAID is the answer; the only problem is that it can be very expensive on a Dell or HP server running Windows!

Enter the NAS device. MUCH lower cost, rock solid RAID protection. Make sure you choose RAID1 (mirroring), RAID5 (with 3 or more drives), RAID6 (4 drive minimum, DUAL REDUNDANCY) or the equivalent in Netgear ReadyNAS products using X-RAID2 (which has more features than standard RAID, but still fully compatible).

Check out these solutions:

Home NAS Server RAID

Small Business NAS Server RAID

Enterprise NAS Server RAID

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2 Comments

  1. signal7
    Posted October 7, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Interesting. I’m a sysadmin by day and I wouldn’t have taken such a firm and absolute posture regarding workstation raid solutions. One thing to consider is security. NAS solutions are usually pretty horrible about protecting sensitive data because their authentication mechanisms are there only serve the most basic functionality. I’d trust my Windows workstation far more than I would trust an off the shelf embedded NAS.

    And then we come to the subject of software updates. NAS devices are marketed as appliances with most vendors issuing updates for only one year after the device goes to market. I’m not ready to purchase a new NAS every year just to make sure all of the security holes have been patched. Microsoft supports their OS’s for 5 years after the last service pack was issued, on the other hand.

    And when it comes to reliability, there’s no reason to believe that an embedded, consumer solution is going to be any better than the raid you would get with a hardware controller. I’ve dealt with some pretty poor raid solutions in my time and I really don’t think a stand-alone unit is any better.

    Finally, lets think about power consumption. A standalone NAS is basically the same as leaving your computer on 24×7 in most cases. Personally, I’d rather spend the money running my workstation 24×7 and avoid running two devices (with double the overall power consumption).

    just my opinion….

  2. admin
    Posted October 7, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Points taken, and I appreciate you taking the time to write them.

    One of the things I do when I have time is help on forums, and there, too, workstation RAID problems are often horrific. That coupled with my personal experiences led to the my opinions as they are.

    Security: We use ReadyNAS for most client solutions and often tie the security into a Windows domain… Additionally, firmware updates are frequent enough although I would not try to specify a timeframe.

    As for power consumption, consumers may be interested in that but our business clients never are. My home NAS I have the unit set to spin down the hard drives in periods of inactivity so the only real draw is the cooling fan.

    thanks for your comment.