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Understanding RAID and NICs better

Posted on 2005-05-02
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Question from Australia for all gurus out there.

I am an IT services provider in Sydney with more enthusiasm than experience. I hire experts to perform work I cannot perform, but these guys are not experts on everything.

The problem I have at the moment is that I have a client with a 2000 Server box running an application called DMS which is a finacial planning application using a SQL database on the server. They have an Intel entry level motherboard model model S845WD1-E, using 2 512mb ram modules. The database is 3.5GB in size, and the machine is burdened by giving up 800MB of RAM to the SQL server, which I assume is about as much as it could spare.

The motherboard apparently supports hardware RAID, and 2 Seagate 80GB, 7200 RPM hard drives are installed in a mirrored array, but using software RAID. My experts advise that this is madness that what could be acheived with no CPU overhead is instead being acheived with an impact on system performance.

My questions are these.

1. I wish to convert the machine from software RAID to hardware RAID. I know with hardware RAID that you can Ghost the RAIDed drives (whether striped or mirroed) to a single drive, and then Ghost back to a new array. Can you Gost a software RAID set to a single drive, and then build a new hardware RAiD array. Alternately, can you more directly simply tell the hardware RAID controller to build a new mirror array from the two software RAID drives? I suppose what I'm really asking is, "is a single drive on a software mirror RAID array exactly the same as a single drive, or is there RAID data written to each drive that complicates teh issues?"

2. The 1GB of ram fitted fills the motherboard. I wish to fit additional RAM capacity. Sub question 1, does the Intel motherboard support non ECC ram as well as the fittted ECC ram? Would it be madness to fit non ECC ram if it were possible? Is the latency of the ram critical, ie should you be safe an use slow latency 3 ram, or run top of teh line latency 2 ram? Will replacing the 2 512MB sticks with 2 1GB sticks of ram (whether they be ECC or non ECC) be likely to improve performance, given teh size of teh database?

3. This one is a doozy! The three workstations running off this server are new. They are AMD Athlon 2600CPUs on generic mobos (biostar, for example). When DMS is run and a global change of details is run, it slows the entire network, including Outlook to slow to a crawl. THe Outlook PST files are kept on the server, so I'm guessing that the global update is tying up the server, and all users are affected by its overlaoded state. It takes about 3 to 5 minutes for teh global update to occur, and for normality to return. When I changed the network card in the machine that was performing the change with a range of cards from 8139's to Intel 100pros, and everything in between, I found remarkable changes in performance. On one NIC the problem almost went away entirely, while others made it worse still. I thought I was a genius when I found teh so called fast NIC, until the third user came back from hoolidays and confirmed that although the others had benefited from the change, her performance had deteriorated badly. In other words, there was no silver bullet that solved all problems. Gains in one area caused pain in others. The DMS reseller is no help, and I'm operating beyond my comfort zone. Any ideas or test leads would be most appreciated.

I would like to address the speed issue, convert the machine to hardware RAID, and generally make things better. I just need to know how to go about it!

I'll assign top points and difficulty to this set of problems, and hope a speedy answer can be found for one or more of my problems.

Cheers,

Simon Kelly
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Question by:ThinkandBuild
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Callandor earned 1500 total points
ID: 13909419
1. Software and Hardware RAID are not compatable - they cannot be exchanged and work.  You can use Ghost 9 (which understands RAID arrays) to create an image on a backup drive, reconfigure the two drives into a hardware array, and then restore to the new array.  This can be done from a Ghost floppy, I think.

2. Go to www.crucial.com and look up your motherboard in their memory configurator.  They will tell you what RAM modules are compatable, including capacity, and ECC requirements.  If it requires ECC RAM, don't install non-ECC RAM.  A database server will benefit going from 1GB to 2GB, especially if the server tools indicate that RAM is being all used up.

3. Realtek 8139 NICs are the lowest cost cards you can get, so I'm not surprised you are seeing an improvement.  Perhaps your network switch is the problem also, if you are getting balancing problems.  You could also move up to gigabit NICs and a switch for not too much money these days, especially since you only have three workstations.
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by:J-A-L
ID: 13911007
1) I've heard of some people have trouble with ghost and Raid images... I don't have experience using Ghost and Raid, but another product that works well is Acronis True Image which apparrently is made for raid.   www.acronis.com just in case Ghost doesn't work for you.  Hardware raid will certainly give you some performance back.

As for the SQL database, it may be consuming 800MB of RAM because that's the way it is configured.

2) I personally like OCZ memory, even Samsung is good. Best best is to see what your motherboard has been tested with. That information will be on the website for your motherboard most likely.

3) Realtec cards are cheap and reliable but not the best performing cards.  Maybe your network requires some routing to segment off other hi-traffic areas?  Once your network starts to get larger... a peer-to-peer network will kill you.  3com cards are good.  Intel probably has good cards too.  Gigabit network would be cool ;-)  but sounds like you're having a load problem of some sort... windows traffic, application traffic... maybe the switch isn't doing it's proper job... are these the ONLY computers on this network?

Jeff
at yourtechonline.com
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Expert Comment

by:J-A-L
ID: 13911039
Apparently Acronis True Image does the following... All Levels of IDE and SCSI RAID and is cheaper than Ghost

Backup only the necessary server disk sector contents
 User-defined compression levels
 Multivolume archives
 Password protection
 Reduce your disk backup time and storage by excluding paging and hibernate files from the disk backup image
 Manage a PC performance by changing the disk imaging process priority
 Supports hard disks of all sizes
" All levels of IDE and SCSI RAID controllers support "
 Verify disk backup image before a restore
 Change partition type, file system, size, and disk location during restore*
 Check the file system after a restore
 Acronis Secure Zone
 Acronis Startup Recovery Manager
 
http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/features-imaging.html

Jeff
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Expert Comment

by:Callandor
ID: 13911350
I have both Ghost 9 and Acronis True Image 8.  Previous versions of Ghost could not handle RAID arrays, but this one is easy to use, and can actually backup while in Windows.  I spent $22 for my copy of Ghost 9, and $50 for Acronis True Image 8.  Both will copy RAID arrays, and both will do incremental backups.
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