Articles – Everyone Needs RAID

Everyone needs some form of RAID (and how to build a file server)

Yes, I dare say it and I dare say it again. Computer data are getting overwhelming in this information age of ours and ask anyone, it will just get more by the day, weeks and years in any office, home and on any computer, telecommunication devices, portable storage you may have now, MP3 players…

You see, today, someone told me he just got his thumb drive died on him while I was in his office doing some computer hardware setup. What can I do he asked. I gave it a few tries, and replied, “Nothing”. It’s gone faulty with about 4 mb of files (according to him) in it. There’s no way to even format the thumbdrive. He, like so many others that have come to ask me this told me how important this document is and is only stored only in the thumbdrive, how unlucky he is, how unreliable this thumbdrive brand is, how bad this technology is blah blah blah but have it ever occurred to him, it was his own fault? Backup backup and backup dude!

I’ve learnt my lesson many year back when my 4Gb harddisk drive died on me, I was using a IPC computer, a Pentium 166 computer and that almost brought me to tears. So don’t tell me I don’t understand how you feel when you loose data. I lost more things anyone can imagine and more important things than you, oh well, at that time, at least those hard to find pictures of clip art were to me.

Over the years, I started working after my national service of 2.5 years got me thinking back and I build myself a file storage PC. I wouldn’t really call it a server…yet. It’s running a DFI Lanparty Ultra B motherboard, one of the boards that supports DDR400 dual channel, AMD processors and has 4 SATA ports on it. I migrated my 2 x 250Gb Western Digital harddisk drives to it after running these 2 beautiful harddisks on a Abit NF7-S which has only 2 SATA ports in a RAID 1 array for about 8 months. It worked like a charm and has yet to crash on me but it’s always good and important to be diligent…by doing a crash test one in a while like 6 monthly.

Building a RAID PC is relatively easy and cheap nowadays. Here’s a short guide.

1. CPU

The CPU will decide the kind of motherboard you may be using. For this article, I choose AMD as it’s more cost effectively and since it for home use (and good enough for small offices), I choose to keep cost down.

2. Motherboard

I wanted something with at least 4 SATA ports and hopefully on nForce2 chipset. One that fitted the bill just nicely was the DFI Lanparty Ultra B+. This is the board I need to withstand my files for a long time with 4 x SATA 150 ports and 2 x IDE ports totally 8 harddisk if wanted.  I had a Gigabyte 8KNXP-Ultra, a 875P chipset based board support Intel Pentium 4 processors, this baby has incredible capacities for harddisk drives, up to 15 SCSI harddisk on it’s onboard 2 x U320 controllers, 6 SATA ports and 2 IDE, effectively, putting in 40 harddisk is of no problem, but I don’t think will be using that for now as it’s really an overkill.

The DFI Lanparty Ultra B is chosen, it has 4 SATA ports and support an AMD processor.

The Box.

The Board

The 4 SATA ports on the board.

3. Power Supply Unit (PSU)

A good and powerful PSU is very important in this system especially since I won’t be shutting down this file server after setting it up. A Verudium 450W is chosen. It emits a cool blue from the back of the PSU when turn on.

The PSU from Verudium

4. The harddisk drives and RAID configuration

It is good if you can briefly decide and predict just how much space/ protection you need. For me, data backup on RAID 1 is for important files that I don’t wanna loose (ever!) while there’s chunks of “work in progrss” data like video files, MP3, sample presentation that I just want to keep but are not crucial as, if they’re lost as I can retrieve them back easily from office or other media (CDs, DVD) thus the plan:

I am putting in:

2 x 250Gb SATA hdd in a RAID 1 (mirroring) array

2 x 80Gb SATA hdd on the remaining SATA ports and configured as normal harddisk drives without any RAID

The Western Digital 250Gb harddisk Drives

2 x 80Gb SATA for non critical data

5. Cooling

Cooling the drives will ensure they “live” longer. It is recommended that you have at least a 80mm fan blowing at your harddisk. Harddisk coolers are good ideas too. Here, I’ll be using a Vantec Vortex for each of the 250Gb harddisk while 80mm fans will be cooling the 2 x 80Gb SATA harddisks.

250Gb sitting nicely in the vortex.

6. Done.

Here’s the setup done.

Upper part of the casing with the PSU and as you can see here, the 2 Vortex and 2 Optical drives.

Bottom – Here’s the 2 x 80Gb harddisk and a 20Gb harddisk that holds the Operating System

The Vortex nicely displaying the current temperature of the harddisk it holds.

Overall Picture of the Chieftec full tower casing.

Here the bundle SATA Raid software that can be used in Windows to monitor your harddisk array. It depends on the brand and model of your motherboard for bundled software.

The provided SATA Raid software that can be run in Windows’s GUI mode.

Here, you can see the SATA Raid 1 Array configured. It’s configured in RAID 1 for the 2 x 250Gb harddisks.

Members of the RAID 1 set

Device 1 connected to the mobo, it’s one of the 250Gb harddisk

The other 250Gb harddisk

On channel 2 is one of the 80Gb harddisk

The other 80Gb harddisk

The file server’s desktop showing the amount of harddisk space used (and other useful information) using a software name Coolmon.

7. Crash Test

It is also very common to see people have a small backup plan of their own but they have never tried restoring the backup or done any crash test to check the integrity of their backup. This is another wrong perspective, you can have the best backup and restore plan but if you have never tried or check the integrity or validity of the backup, it’s as good as having no plan! Testing also is a ongoing thing, testing once 6 monthly to 12 monthly for any personal home user is more than enough but of course, I have never stopped anyone who has a weekly schedule to test and check their data backups.

Test Plan

My plan is just to test the RAID 1 array of the 2 x 250Gb harddisk. I’ll simple plug the slave (aka “mirrored”) harddisk as the master and leave the orginal master harddisk out of the system. Boot up the system and do a check. It’s that simple! You can run scandisk or any of those commercially available tools if you want to. When plugging back the harddisk to it’s orginal RAID 1 state, it depends on what RAID controllers/ chipsets you are using, you may have to re-create the array from scratch again or there’ll be a Windows GUI tool you can use to re-create the array.

– Contributed by etegration
28 March 2005


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