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Cheap Software RAID-5 with Windows 2003 Server

Posted on 2006-04-12
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I need a cheap but reasonable reliable storage solution for a non-profit institution and thought about building a software RAID 5 with Windows Server 2003. It should have as many space as I can get for the money and performance (esp. write performance) is not the top priority as it will be accessed via WLAN (108 MBit) only which will limit anything to less then 10MB/s anyway.

I plan to use 6 IDE drives (either 300GB Samsung or 320 GB WD) with the onboard IDE controller (SIS 661FX Chipset) and an additional PCI IDE controller (Promise Ultra 133 TX2). The system will get a extra system disk of 30 GB and a CD/DVD-Reader. It will have a 1.7 GHz Willamette P4 and 512MB of RAM. The server also needs to be the network gateway (DHCP/DNS/NAT) of the institution.

I'm neither a admin nor hardware expert and have only limited knowledge about RAIDs and Windows Server. So I have a couple of questions:

1.) Will I be able to transfer the entire disk array to a different hardware some day with a fresh installation of Win2k3?

2.) Can I replace the CD-drive with a spare disk that will be used automatically if a disk of the array fails?

3.) Will it be possible to power down the RAID-drives while the server is running and automatically restart them when somebody accesses files on them? (it is very likely that there will be days without any access although I won't know in advance when this will be the case)

4.) Is it possible to make it send an email whenever a disk fails?

5.) Would you recommend the Samsung 300 GB drives (cheaper, less heat/noise?) or Western Digital 320 GB (larger, more reliable?)?

6.) I am aware that this will not be very fast but I guess the reading speed should be roughly comparable to the speed of a single disk and the writing speed should be at least 10 MB/s. Do you think this is correct?

7.) Do you have any other suggestions what could be optimized with this system (for no or almost no money)?

Thank you for your help.
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Question by:x4u
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jdietrich earned 672 total points
ID: 16439337
1.) Will I be able to transfer the entire disk array to a different hardware some day with a fresh installation of Win2k3?  NO.  It is software raid, not much is stored on the disks.

2.) Can I replace the CD-drive with a spare disk that will be used automatically if a disk of the array fails? Again, NO.  Automatic rebuilds in a RAID 5 array occur by telling the raid controller that you have a hot swap.  It needs to be connected to the array, not on a seperate "regualr" IDE channel.

3.) Will it be possible to power down the RAID-drives while the server is running and automatically restart them when somebody accesses files on them? (it is very likely that there will be days without any access although I won't know in advance when this will be the case) YES.  Power management will allow for the spinnnig down of the drives naturally.

4.) Is it possible to make it send an email whenever a disk fails? Not impossible, but I don't think Server 2003 raid has the ability to do this on it's own.  You might need to schedule repeating jobs to check a log and parse out key works indicating failure.

5.) Would you recommend the Samsung 300 GB drives (cheaper, less heat/noise?) or Western Digital 320 GB (larger, more reliable?)?  Westerns are certainly more noisy, but they DO last longer.  I've used a ton of drives, both raid and non raid, generally westerns and seagates last longer than Maxtors and Samsungs and Hitachis.

6.) I am aware that this will not be very fast but I guess the reading speed should be roughly comparable to the speed of a single disk and the writing speed should be at least 10 MB/s. Do you think this is correct?  In general, writes are slower in Raid V, reading is usually as good if not better than single drives.  You get the speed of having multiple controllers pulling the data on reads, where as writes have the over head of the raid 5 parity.  I would think you'll get better than 10, probably in the 20-25 range.


7.) Do you have any other suggestions what could be optimized with this system (for no or almost no money)?  Yes, I'll add them seperately, so as to not cloud it with your other questions

Jim
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by:jdietrich
ID: 16439602
For number 7:  I SERIOUSLY discourage software raid.  The performance AND recoverabilty is limited in software raid.  OS issues can blow your raid, as can a failed motherboard.  You get a replacement mobo with a different rev and the onboard raid might not be the same firmware rev.  Plus, unlike hardware raid, where you can swap out the controller and be up in minutes (assuming the controller failed), with on board you have to get the new motherboard, remove the old and add the new.  Too much work.

I'm making a few assumptions here:  These are all IDE drives, not SATA, correct?  Get a promise FastTrak controller and do the hardware raid.  Get a second on site in case you have a failure.  It is worth the savings in down time.

Here's a link to read about.  You can probably find better prices, this site just has a real good selection:

http://www.mwave.com/mwave/viewspec.hmx?scriteria=AA25520
http://www.mwave.com/mwave/viewspec.hmx?scriteria=3524678

RAM:  512 is grossly low for server 2003.  I wouldn't do anything less than 1 gig, I'd recommend 2 gigs.

Just how much disk do you really need?  What will it be used for?  Based on the number of disks you listed, you're going to have well over 1 terabyte.  That is a serious amount of disk.  If using the FastTrak Controller:  I'd be tempted to use a 2 channel raid card and put the larger drives on the 2 channel card in a raid 5 array.  You can have 3 drives plus one hot swap that would automatically rebuild.

If using the highpoint, it can use 2 drives and supports multiple raid arrays.  Hence you could have 2 30 gig drives mirrored for the OS, and then have 6 drives configured as 5 in the array (1.2 terabytes) and 1 hot swap for the raid v array.  Also, this controller lists as a capability to e-mail failures.  At less than $100 this is a pretty good thing!

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by:rindi
rindi earned 664 total points
ID: 16439811
Build a server using linux, then you don't need to buy any OS like w2k3 server and the spare money can be used for proper raid 5 using hardware.

Today's linux distro's are easy to setup, you can make a good firewall and gateway with them, and fileserving is no problem either.

If you use SATA disks, you'll probably be able to use the hotswap feature of that technology. You can also get the samsung spinpoint drives as SATA drives. Samsungs are a very good choice.

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by:jdietrich
ID: 16439988
Sorry, typo.  The highpoint raid controller can use 8 drives, not 2.  I was thinkning 2 mirrored and 6 for the raid 5 array (5 + 1 hot swap)
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by:x4u
ID: 16440417
Thanks a lot Jim and rindi for your input.

You are right, I plan to use parallel ATA drives simply because they are a bit cheaper and because I can use the onboard controller for at least 2 of them so I need only one cheap extra controller for the other 4 drives.

I'll look up some information about the suggested hardware controllers. I expected the software RAID to be easier to maintain and to be not dependant on the controller with the only downside of a lower performance. So it seems I'll really have to rethink this.

We actually planned to use Linux at first but now got a Windows 2003 Server licence donated (although I don't know yet which flavor it is). And as I'm more famillar with Windows I'd rather use this.


Here is some more specific information about what we plan to do with the server:

The disk space will be used mainly for a video archive (mpeg2 and mpeg4 encoded) that should allow to play and maybe even postprocess the videos (with Adobe Premiere/VirtualDub) directly from the server. The entire archive currently has a size of about 4-6 TB and grows every month by about 100-200GB. So we would like to get as much space as possible. Currently all video material is stored on DVD-R(W) or CD-R(W) and it's a pain to organize and find the videos when they are needed. So we plan to have as much as possible of the most frequent used and all recent videos availabe on the server. A smaller part of the disk space is inteded to be used as backup storage for the system partitions of the 6 PCs/Laptops in the network. The backup of server's system disk will be stored on one of the PCs.

Reliability is somewhat important as we plan to store recent material only on the server and burn it only if we need to make room every 2 or 3 months. If all the data actually gets damaged we'll loose a lot of work but still have the sources on tape (hopefully). A constant uptime on the other hand is not so important, i.e. a day or two without the disk won't kill us if it happens not so often.

Currently we use a old 650MHz PIII Laptop with 384MB Ram and Windows XP Pro as our network gateway and it's doing this job quite well (all unneeded services are turned off). It even runs without any swap space because for some odd reason turning off the swap file fixed a problem with the PCMCIA WLAN Adapter that was regulary loosing it's connection to the Access Point. This lead me to the assumption that 512 MB would be a sufficient amount of Ram for Windows 2003 too.

There will also not be much to cache for the server in this scenario and I'd like to turn the OS file caching off for the disk array if that's possible. The file sizes of the videos vary between 50MB and 2GB with the majority of them beeing about 300-500MB.

Money is always very scarce in the institution and a very important factor. My budget for this is at maximum 1000 Euro for the array drives, the RAM and the controller and maybe the power supply (the rest of the hardware and the software was donated). The power supply is a 450W Enermax which might turn out too week with all the disks.
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by:Dell100
Dell100 earned 664 total points
ID: 16476034
A couple words of caution, software RAID is a misnommer. I have yet to see a Software RAID 5 be redundant or rebuild from a degraded state without having problems. You will be compunding this fact by spanning the Array across multiple controllers, which will also give you synch problems as well as adding an extra point of failure, as well as affecting computer performance (RAID 5 parity generation) and overall data throughput.. I will highly  advise you look at a single cheap hardware based SATA RAID controllers. For less than $350, you can get a good relaible 6 Port SATA RAID controller (http://www.buylsilogic.com/product.asp?sku=2364873). Add 5 x 300GB HDD's,with a single 300GB HDD running as a Global hotspare, and bob's you uncle, a fully redundant, good preforming RAID 5 with added redundancy of a hotspare which will rebuild in event of HDD failure. Makes alot more sense than going down the Software root.

as for this question

I am aware that this will not be very fast but I guess the reading speed should be roughly comparable to the speed of a single disk and the writing speed should be at least 10 MB/s. Do you think this is correct?

No. The Array will run at the lowest common denomiator, so if one the HDD's are slightly slow, the array will run at that speed. As well as the extra overhead of generationing Parity, you have added the 2 controllers communicating as an extra complication. I will reckon if you get 60-70% of the writing speed you predicted, you will be lucky.

My 2 cents
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by:Dell100
ID: 16476065
Sorry, just read your reply about the budget. Look for some smaller HDD's and a raid controller. Some companies do deals for Non Profit organisations. I am sure if you contact the likes of dell, they might be able to help out with a cheaper price.  
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by:jdietrich
ID: 16487781
Well, I certainly understand budget limitations.  I believe 1000 euro's is roughly $1230 in US funds.  I've taken the liberty to go shopping for you.  You might find better prices, but again, I like one stop shopping, the place I looked at is reasonable and has a good selection.


Here's a link to find your wattage for the power supply, buy bigger than you need.
Wattage Calculator
http://www.jscustompcs.com/power_supply/


Power Supply (550 W)  ($65)

http://www.mwave.com/mwave/viewspec.hmx?scriteria=BA21108

Controller ($89)
http://www.mwave.com/mwave/viewspec.hmx?scriteria=AA25520

RAM ($80)  Start with 1 Gig, you can scrape up $80 more later if necessary
http://www.mwave.com/mwave/viewspec.hmx?scriteria=BA20668

Disk QTY 5 400 Gig Seagates ($189.50 each) = $947.50
http://www.mwave.com/mwave/viewspec.hmx?scriteria=AA32380


So you are at About $1182 + Shipping.  If you can find a few cheap drives I would still recommend mirroring them as the OS.  You'll see Western Digital 40's  for $42 on the site, so adding 2 of these would bring you to $1264 + shipping, still not too far beyond your budget.

Then, your setup would be:
2 - 40 gig Drives Mirrored for OS protection.  That way a boot drive goes and you are just a reboot from being back up.
4 - 400 Gig drives (Roughly 1.2 Terrabytes of Raid V) plus a hot spare so that if a drive does you can rebuild.  You'll be down more than a day or two if you have no spare and have to order one or get it replaced by warranty.

The controller can handle multiple raid arrays, and 8 srives, so you can get this to all work on 1 controller.  Buying another as a spare is a GOOD idea, especially at $89 bucks.

Hope some of this helps you!
jim

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by:jdietrich
ID: 16524503
Curious X4u, what did you decide to do?
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by:jdietrich
ID: 16845374
Unfortunately, looking at X4u's history of questions, he quite often abandons.  Shame since I did everything but pay for his parts and put it together for him.  I'll be more careful in answering his questions and taking so much time next time....
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