Moving SBS 2008 from SW RAID to HW RAID

Brief background: I have an Intel S5500HCVR mainboard with 5 Western Digital Enterprise class SATA drives in a software RAID 5 array (4 disks, one hot spare).  The software RAID (Intel Embedded) has failed multiple times on this PRODUCTION system over the past 3 months.  Sometimes marking all the drives as failed, or losing all the data, etc (every time it's a different issue).  Luckily I have a nightly backup and SBS 2008 has a pretty slick bare metal restore.  

My question:  Intel technical support is stumpted.  They cannot understand why all these components (I've replaced all the HW and reloaded the OS) keeps failing.  SO, to rule out the SW RAID, they are sending me an SRCSATAWB hardware device.  I need to do a full system backup, power off the server, add the RAID card, and boot it back up.  Can I:
1.  Have the HW RAID card read the metadata from the drives and see the RAID5 array as it is and just boot?
2.  How will Windows SBS 2008 see the new controller?  Can I inject the drivers for the new controller into Windows so it see's them ahead of time?

Is there a BKM for moving from SW to HW RAID?  I'm not changing RAID level (staying at 5), not changing volume's at all.  I simply want to go to HW RAID.  Sounds simple.


Joe ThompsonPrincipal ManagerAsked:
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Root case first ... SPECIFICALLY what is make/model/firmware of your drives?

The SRCSATAWB could very well make things worse, by the way, did they do their homework and make sure your disks are qualified for that controller?

To answer your questions
1. It has different metadata, or at least it did years ago. The data structures also vary depending on firmware.  The best, SAFEST answer is to ask the intel tech support, who can verify because they know what you have.  It is highly probable that answer is still no.

2. Add the drivers and reboot BEFORE performing the backup.  Make sure that you install the latest drivers, and that before you fire up the restore, that the firmware on the card is compatible with the drivers you loaded.  Sometimes that is not always the case.

0.  You did not ask this ... best practice is to do a data consistency check before you back up in the RAID & to do the chkdsk and select the option to check/repair bad blocks.  This will actually look for and repair parity errors in the RAID. In unlikely event you have a drive failure in the middle of all of this, then you'll be covered.    It wont get bad blocks in swap space, but you have a $2.00 controller chip, so that is just the nature of the beast.  Feel lucky it is still working.

Joe ThompsonPrincipal ManagerAuthor Commented:
Drives are Western Digital RE4 WD1003FBYX.  The compatibility guide shows server 2008 x64 and the previous generation RE3 WD1002FBYS as compatible, so I would assume this card would be OK.

From your responses:

1.  I like to think the Intel tech folks know what they are talking about, but when I asked them this specific question (move the cables and boot) they said, and I quote, "we don't know, we've never tried doing that.  It might work for you".  Didn't leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling at all.  :-)

2.  I'm going to power down the server, add the card with the latest FW, and leaving the current RAID5 setup intact.  Then, boot into Windows, add the new RAID card drivers and make sure the system can see the HW device.  From there, I will do a full system backup, shutdown, move cables, etc.

0.  I'm weary of a consistency check on the RAID array as it is because it keeps failing.  Plus, that process takes a long time (30+ hours) so I'd need to start it before the weekend and if it crashes the server then the office is down again.  Trust me, I'm feeling lucky and very UNlucky at this whole fiasco.  You probably saw my other post that I just closed on this same topic from a while ago.  This is a nightmare.

Thoughts on the above?
Well then answer to #1 is no, as it has always been no, and I see no engineering reason why they would have changed it to yes in last 2 years when I looked at it last .. no business reason to merge the metadata format anyway.

If you don't do the consistency check then you may get a read error on the backup, then have to start all over, but I see your point, if it is that bad, best to hope for the best.  Just in case, make 2 copies as the system is so unstable then you never know, it might result in a bad backup that doesn't get detected.  

An alternative ...
If you goto & get their  RAID reconstructor, and attach the disks to a non-RAID controller (which will be painful since you have so many drives, so will need to buy 2 x 2TB scratch disks, if you don't already have some.

 * Then image all the 1TB disks into the compressed file format and save them on the 2 disks.  It will require use of a NON-RAID SATA  controller and will take 2 passes, & external power & cabling headaches.
 * You will then end-up with 2 disks that have all 4 images, and original disks are safe in case all of this blows up...
 * Plug in the new RAID controller, leaving the non-RAID in there, build and initialize the RAID, then use runtime to take the backup from the 2 SATA drives, and reconstruct into the logical RAID device presented by the new controller.  So you are effectively imaging the RAID to the other RAID via 2 scratch drives, and if it blows up you still have an image that you can try again with.

But above is a whole different kind of risk, as you need to make sure that the total number of usable blocks on new raid >= the old raid.  It may not be. But it is a path to go down if you can't take a tape backup, and all this is done while system booted to another windows instance on a scratch drive, or windowsPE on a USB stick. ( has instructions how to do that)

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Joe ThompsonPrincipal ManagerAuthor Commented:
You are a huge help.  I really appreciate your responses.  I wanted to say THANK YOU first!

I figured the answer to #1 was a no but hoped the controller technology had gotten smart enough to import an other configuration.  I'm starting to think that RAID5 isn't worth the hassle!  Perhaps I should have just done a standard install then just do a mirror from within Windows.  

I'll seriously consider the consistency check.  Esp on the boot volume (only 500GB).  I have the server backing up 2x a day right now, so I will only lose a little data should this not work at all.  This server has been restored from backup now 5 times.  Crazy, huh?  I don't think imaging to 2x2TB drives is an option I want to go with.  It adds redundancy, but I assume the backups do too.  I also have the data backed up via online (Mozy business class) so that part is covered too.  

Thanks again,

noxchoProduct ManagerCommented:
You need simply backup all partitions on this SW RAID, then configure HW RAID in RAID configuration utility of your new controller.
After that boot the server from Recovery CD for Backup tool and restore the backup to new configuration. Recovery CD will see the HW RAID as single HDD.
When done you need to adjust the OS to new hardware and install RAID controller drivers. After that boot into Windows and install other drivers if needed.
Joe ThompsonPrincipal ManagerAuthor Commented:
This process is complete.  As it turned out the SRCSATAWB card read the configuration properly from the drives (even saw the hotspare!) and the volumes were intact without having to do any restore.  Windows 2008 SBS handled the conversion easily as well.

I did run a consistency check like you suggested as well as chkdsk.

Thanks again,

well. I was wrong that they merged the metadata, but nice to be wrong in this case.  Glad you are running OK!
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