RAID for Small Business

by on December 27th, 2010 0 comments

Last week, the website manager at Tech King, Andy Crofford and I were discussing about technology that could help self-employed professionals or owners of small businesses — in case you haven’t noticed it before, that’s usually what my blog posts are about — and the topic of RAID came up.

Of course, most big business owners would probably want to just get it implemented and not worry about how it works, but for small entrepreneurs, this information is important. What it does is provide you with the power to understand what someone is charging you for and whether you’re better or worse off without that investment. Simply put, it helps you make a wise choice about whether or not to invest your money into something for your business. So here’s what the fuss is all about:

In my days of engineering, I learned about the value of parity in error correction in digital communication, and this is similar to how it works in RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Discs) controllers. In simple language, most RAID arrays consist of data storage disks connected together and managed by means of a controller. This controller distributes your data across the drives and creates error correction information for everything so that if one of your disks fails, the lost data can be reconstructed. This sort of a mechanism offers a few advantages over the regular single disk-based storage methods. They are:

  • Much faster read/write speeds — this may not be true for all types of RAID implementations though
  • Extra protection for your data in case of disk failure. This is perhaps the most important function of RAID implementations
    • There are systems that use double parity, which means that even when two of the discs in the array fail, you can retrieve all your data without any problem
A Two-Disc RAID System

An enclosure that supports two SATA disc drives and can arrange them in a RAID 1 or a RAID 0 configuration

Depending on the way the data is distributed across the discs and the type of correction mechanisms used, RAID systems are classified as belonging to type 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. There are other hybrid systems as well that, for example, use a combination of type 1 and 0, which is termed as RAID 10 and so on.

If you wish to get even geekier about it, these systems are also classified as the following two types:

  • A software-based RAID system in which your server has software that actually creates the arrangement and manages the disks
  • A hardware-based RAID system which comes with its own controller that doesn’t require your server to do parity checks or manage the drives in the array

Based on the level of protection provided by these systems, they are also classified in the following three categories:

  • Failure-Resistant Disk Systems
  • Failure-Tolerant Disk Systems
  • Disaster-Tolerant Disk Systems

It’s anyone’s guess that these are mentioned in the increasing degree of sophistication. Anyway, coming back to the type of businesses these systems can help, there’s one basic criteria:

You have data that needs to stay on a server for a group of people or applications to access; and that it is very important for your business to function smoothly and therefore needs 24×7 protection

I know there can be a whole bunch of requirements and scenarios here that you could go into, but it doesn’t get more basic than that. In my business, for example, all my data stays on cloud-based systems such as Dropbox and Ubuntu One, and my own personal 1 TB backup drive. It hasn’t got big enough to warrant our own server, but if the business grows to the point where I need a dedicated server, I’m definitely going for one of the popular types of RAID systems available that’s both economical as well as suits my requirements at the time.

There are a number of top vendors such as IBM, Dell, and others that provide these systems for different types of business requirements. However, if you’d like to see how you can create a good system at a lower cost, here is an article that might offer some tips:

The best way to use a RAID system is in conjunction with a regular backup system. There are a few advantages to this method:

  • RAID is not really a replacement for backup. It’s a system that makes your data storage faster and more reliable. Therefore, having a regular backup along with a very reliable method for storage such as RAID will really make your data protection system very robust
  • When you’ve used RAID or any other system for a long time, some parts of the hard drives that haven’t been accessed in a while tend to deteriorate. Having a complete backup of your hard drives regularly will cause those sectors to remain active and avoid their deterioration from disuse

There is, however, one word of caution before you choose a fancy system for your business: the investment is never just for the technology itself. And with complicated setups such as a RAID configuration, you’d be smart to also hire a full-time system administrator who knows how to work with them; or at the very least, you should look for a good vendor and sign up for their support services so you can count on them to help you out whenever things go bad.