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Need RAID system recommendation

rlburris asked
I have a Windows XP Pentium 4 desktop system which is critical for my business. I am not good at backing up my system as I should. So I want to have a RAID 1 system (prefer external) that has two hard drives that will be mirrored and bootable.
So my goal is... if my primary drive goes down, I will not miss a beat and the secondary drive will take over.
My budget cannot go over $1000.

Please recommend only systems that you know that work well.

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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

That's great... what happens when you accidentally delete something or the file system corrupts?
Technology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013
RAID is NOT backup.  It's redundancy to guard against hard disk failure.  If the place burns down, where's your backup?

Further, booting off a USB drive with Windows may seem like a good idea, but it can be tricky to impossible to get working and you'll have problems attaching it to other systems and booting from it.  

With RAID 1 there really isn't a primary drive - both drives work at the same time and write data at the same time.

I would suggest you look into some internet based backup that can be automated (especially if you don't have all that much IMPORTANT data to backup).  Then you can periodically backup your other files to DVD or CD or an external drive.

I'd also suggest you read over my backup comment - it started out as a comment and grew and grew and grew so I made it into a web page - see:
Gary CaseRetired
Most Valuable Expert 2013
Top Expert 2009
"... which is critical for my business ..."  ==> In other words, it is even more critical than "normal" that everything should be backed up

... and "... I am not good at backing up my system as I should ..." ==> SO the critical thing that is missing here is NOT that you need a RAID system; but that you need to change this behavior.

A RAID system is NOT a backup !!   As leew alluded to, if the system becomes corrupted (bad update; virus; spyware; or just an accidental deletion) the RAID system does NOTHING => it simply mirrors that problem.   What you need is not an automatic RAID mirror => you need an automatic backup strategy.   A RAID gives you some layer of protection against a drive failure;  but NO protection against anything else.   What if your system was destroyed in a major electrical storm; fire; flood; etc. ??   ... if it's truly "critical for my business"  then you NEED to have a backup strategy that provides some level of protection.

As a MINIMUM ... at least get an external drive and implement an automated backup task that backs all of your data up at least daily.   If you want a RAID system in addition to that, fine; but a good backup is FAR more important than a RAID mirror !!
A good option is using tape backup as well as a good backup strategy (Eg. taking the tapes home at the end of the day and then archieve it into a safety deposit box or something at the end of every month).

Maybe you might want to look into getting another PC/Laptop and using a program such as rsync to back it up.
More info - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rsync
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

tape tends to be overly expensive compared to other methods unless there are regulatory requirements that force you to keep old backups for years OR unless you are backing up 300-500 GB or more.
You can get a computer with an external eSata connector, that will allow you to do a raid1 mirror to an external drive.
However, as stated by most, this is not a "backup".

For backup, you can get an extra eSata, or USB, or Firewire harddisk that you can use for proper backups.
Something like Acronis trueimage can create a backup image of your system, so that you can quickly recover it in case "something goes wrong".
In most cases, you can get several daily or weekly "images" in a single harddisk, ensuring you can revert to a previous state in case you need it.


Points well taken regarding "Backup" versus "RAID". Ok, I want both!
I don't want to backup to tape and it must be automated (otherwise it won't get done).
I want disk mirroring.
With that being said... give me some solutions that you are actually using instead of "suggestions".
In my case, I have 2 raid 0 arrays for speed - so, more need to have a proper backup (if a disk fails, it's all gone)

But the backup scenario is similar to what you should need:
Having raid 1, to prevent the "disk failure" problem, with 2 HDs inside your PC in hot swappable cases.

And then having and external USB2.0 or firewire HD to make backups.
In my case, I have 2 different USB backup disks, that I rotate weekly (i can live with a "week old" restore point). You could make the rotation daily if you need more up-to-date backups.
My data usually fits under 80Gb, so, the 250Gb external backups allow for several disk images.


Carlos... How do you automate your backups?
Acronis True Image.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

What we do for ourselves is not necessarily what you should do - we don't know your systems and you have NOT brought us into your environment to evaulate everything.

What I do is SCRIPT my to an external hard drive using the built in NTBackup tool.  Works great.  For me.

Acronis can have a nice solution (I've seen it demo'd but never actually used it).  You can also script things
Gary CaseRetired
Most Valuable Expert 2013
Top Expert 2009

"... solutions that you are actually using ..." =>  At 5:00 every morning the following sequence of events happens on my home network:  (1)  all of my data is copied to a 2nd hard disk on my system;  (2)  all of my wife's data is copied to a 2nd hard disk on her system;  (3)  all of my data is copied to the 2nd hard disk on my wife's system;  (4) all of my wife's data is copied to the 2nd hard disk on my system;  (5) all of my data is copied to an external USB disk;  (6) all of my wife's data is copied to an external USB hard disk;  (7) all of my data is copied to an extra hard disk on my video server PC, which is in another room at the far end of the house (80 feet away from my study); and (8) all of my wife's data is coped to that same video server.

... that all happens automatically; and takes just a few minutes (< 10).   I use SyncBack to do all of the backups => a free download from http://www.2brightsparks.com/syncback/syncback-hub.html.   You have to set up the "profiles" (backup/synchronization jobs) => but once that's done it's very easy to automate (and it's not difficult to set them up).

Yes, every one of us has his own "solution", and you should take it all as suggestions.
You should evaluate the ones you like better, and come up with the one that suits you best.

Gary, you sure have a lot of extra disks! ;)
Gary CaseRetired
Most Valuable Expert 2013
Top Expert 2009

You can't have too much storage :-)   (My home network currently has roughly 6TB of disk space; and my "sometime soon" plan is to add 2TB to the video server, which already has 3.5TB)
Gary CaseRetired
Most Valuable Expert 2013
Top Expert 2009

... by the way ==> ALL of my systems have UPS's.   So to lose any data, I'd have to have 5 different disks on 3 separate UPS-protected systems located at opposite ends of the house all fail simultaneously !!  [and, by the way, I burn a complete set of DVD backups every couple of months]
Gary CaseRetired
Most Valuable Expert 2013
Top Expert 2009

... AND this is for a home network with just our personal "stuff" => if I had a business with "critical business data" on the systems, I'd do even better :-)   Actually, I don't think you could really do better; but I would have a true "off-site" backup instead of simply an "other end of the building" backup.
Yeah, triple redundancy is more than enough... I THINK! :)

the off-site backup can be achieved with the 2 sets of external HDs, you take one home (or some other place) and leave the other one to make the backup, and then switch it every couple of day or weekly, etc.

Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

At one of my clients I have backups scripted to copy to another desktop, to actually backup to an external disk which is then rotated off site, and that automatically transfers the accounting (Quickbooks) and an important Access Database off site every night.  
Hey RLBurris
I personally dont "like" RAID 1 on a workstation unless it is SATA or SCSI hardware raid and the PC has plenty of ram and CPU
and with your budget - I doubt you could pay for the tech time needed to setup a system like that

I tend to agree with Carlos
I have been using Acronis True Image and it works great
I have used it to restore systems back to original load, as well as back to a certain date and time
And I reccomend this to all of my corporate and SOHO customers
If they suffer a hard drive crash or major system corruption, I can run to BestBuy or Circuit City, get a new disk, restore the image prior to the problem

Heres how I do it
I get 2 external hard drives of capacity greater than all of the disks I need to image

I then install Acronis and setup 2 scheduled tasks
1 - A complete backup to run sunday night
2 - An append mode backup to run the rest of the week that only copies changed files since the last full backup

Then I show the user how to switch out the drive correctly - which they do on Monday Morning
After swapping out the drives - all files on the newly installed drives are deleted
(depends on space - some clients only have to delete files once every three months)
example - with 3 hard drives in the rotation, you will up to 2 weeks of backups at a time, with 4 hard drives, 3 weeks, etc..

For instance, this week accounting found out that last week they made a mistake in quickbooks, and unless they could go back to where they were that day before it happended, we would have to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars to fix the mistake
Presto - I went to the bank, pulled out the disk for that week, and restored just those files back to the day before

With that rotation in place, the Acronis software to backup/restore hard drives back to a date and time, and the easy availability of hard drives from local retail outlets, i don't really see the need for a RAID 1 - unless you dont have the budget constraints (which you do) and then I wouldnt reccomend a RAID 1 in that case - I'd go with a raid 5 with 2 hot spares for performance and reliablity
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

Just to clarify - with Windows, you can't do a software RAID 1 unless you're running a Windows Server.  XP doesn't support it.
agreed - software raid is for the birds anyhow IMHO
consider  an  ARECA controller it's  fast ....


350€  for a 4 port
 4 disk  at  105€ 320Gb  disk  WD   in RAID5    almost 1Terra

total  +-  700 €  

but as stated above the more is better ....

A 8 port controller 540€ + 8*105€  320GB HD WD  in RIAD5

it's a bit higher price   +- 1380 €    but   2.2 terra   total

hope this helps ....


If you have $1000 to spend and want to get a very reliable system then here is what I have built for my small office clients over and over.

First let me say you can build it cheaper, you can reuse parts from existing computers, you can try upgrading your existing computer. At the end of the day it just depends on how you factor in your time, and what it is worth.

Here is what I would do. Build a new computer with the following. Note that this is not meant to be a general use workstation, it is your server and should be left to do its job. It is no nonsense, and simple to configure and set up.  You do not state what kind of data requirements you have or what OS you need. I will assume that you can live with XP Pro and have small business data backup needs of perhaps 5 to 20 GB. (here are the exact specs for a system I have sitting right here ready for install at the client next week)

Antec ATX Mini-Tower  NSK4400                        $  68.99
Intel Desktop Board LGA   D945GTPLKR                  112.00
Pentium D 915 LGA775 Dual-Core CPU                   149.00
Kingston 1GB(2x512MB) DDR2 533 KVR533D2E4K2  119.00
XFX GeForce 6200 TC PCI -E                                  39.99
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 80GB  ST380811AS        46.99 3x
Microsoft Black Keyboard Mouse Combo                  14.99
Black Lite-On 52x32x52x  CD-RW & 16X DVD           23.99
Black Sony 1.44MB Floppy                                       7.99
Black ViewSonic VA503B  15: LCD                         166.00
Microsoft Windows XP                                         136.99

Total                                                                 ~$980 + tax & shipping

These prices are from Directron.com and Newegg.com is likely to be very similar.

you could go with Pentium D 805 Dual core for about $40 less
you could omit the video card as there is on board video (I just don't like sharing motherboard RAM with video)
you could go with 512 MB ram for about ~$50 less
you could reuse your existing monitor and eliminate the $166 LCD
you can eliminate the floppy but you need one to at least load the RAID driver for the XP install.

For setup you attach all 3 disks to the SATA bus and configure drives 1 and 2 as RAID1. Leave the 3rd disk as stand alone.
Install your Windows XP and your applications.

Backup can be scheduled and done nightly to the 3rd drive. The advantage here is that there is no external anything. For a reliable backup you want to eliminate complexity, everything is in one box.

Backup options are many.  Not knowing your particular applications I will relate my small business experience. You probalby have some application that has a database or data files. perhaps some "office" documents and shared files. Backup can be done by a simple copy of data from one location to another. The tools I emply the most are the following:

Backup Platinum - http://www.backup-platinum.com/
Unison - http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~bcpierce/unison/

Backup Platinum is simple point and click and I have found it to be very reliable, except don't bother with trying offsite FTP. It can backup, synch, do incremental, zip, encrypt and burn to CD/DVD.

Unison is based on the Unix rsync and requires CYGWIN as well. Being open source it is free, bonus.

If you want easy, the $67 for Backup Platinum is a good purchase.
If you want a bit more sophistication and might do offsite backup in the future then learn about Unison. It will work for both local and offsite.

Extra protection can be acheived by using a Drive imaging program, I use Ghost on all new builds. Should there be a component failure you restore the ghost image and then latest backup and you are back in business. There are other options but Ghost has served me well for years.

      If you have a computer at home just setup an FTP server or at least acquire a static IP address from your internet service provider.  You then can use a raid system at home or Buffalo offers an external system with RAID as well as SATA capabilites.  I have used similar setups and it works great.  You can pick up the system from anywhere, they are around $500 loaded with a couple drives usually around 500 Gigs.  The static IP would cost about $10 extra a month. Or you could also just add RAID drives to your computer at home.  
Hope this helps.


Hi Guys... Been busy lately, let me review everyone's comments and I will reward points soon.

Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013


You make MANY assumptions (and misdirected the response to me, which is ok, just saying).

Internet Service Providers do not always provide a static IP.  Cablevision - a major broadband ISP in the New York (Long Island), New Jersey, and Connecticut area doesn't even give them to businesses.  And the charge of $10 is really dependant upon who your ISP is.

Further, I would not recommend a NAS system as they tend to be expensive compared to just installing a disk in a computer.  The primary reason for using one is in larger (but still small) networks with NO domain present because they don't have client access limits like Windows workstations do.  But in general, NAS is NOT worth the investment unless you are getting an EXPENSIVE, multi-TB capable system with high-end features.  Then NAS - EXPENSIVE NAS - can make sense.
... just to add that even if you have dynamic IPs, there are a lot of free services out there: dyndns, noip, etc.
Most routers even have options to handle that automatically. allowing you to find your machines easily on the internet. :)
You’re right on by those responses.  Expensive NAS (you get what you pay for).  However these are still possibilities that are within the budget of $1000.  If you wanted to get into higher end you could use VM client with a full array that would create local and remote backups.  I still think this is a good possibility even though it seems expensive it will be a much better investment than a whole new computer that will depreciate by 1/2 in the first year alone.  Also there are some real good deals on hard drives at the moment and not so good ones on MB's and CPU's.  Lastly there is the ease of setup, mobility, cool factor and lots of storage.


Thanks guys for the input... I guess I need to do some research!