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post #1 of 52 Old 10-24-2009, 07:03 PM - Thread Starter
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I am building a storage server and looking for software RAID solution with following features:

Ability to spin down drives when not needed
Expandable array with different size drives
Parity protection

I tried to install Unraid but I am a linux novice and I can't seem to get the LAN card working. I have also heard of flexRaid but some threads suggested that it wasn't really ready for primetime.

Maybe you knowledgeable guys out there can help me with list of possible solutions and pros/cons?

Thanks!!!
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post #2 of 52 Old 10-24-2009, 07:18 PM
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look into unraid again; it shouldn't be any harder to setup than anything else.

did you verify compatibility of your lan card? did you check the lime-tech forums for help?

once setup unraid is exactly what you want...
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post #3 of 52 Old 10-25-2009, 04:57 AM
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The only options for what you want are unRAID, FlexRAID-View + FlexRAID, or WHS + FlexRAID.

FlexRAID-View (the part that combines drives in a virtual RAID) and FlexRAID (the part that gives you parity-based backup) are both free, but View is still very new and not quite finished. I tried for several days to get View running on my server, and even replaced some hardware that I suspected to be causing problems, but even with help from the developer it just did weird stuff. I decided I didn't want to trust several TB worth of data to unreliable software.

I went back to WHS, but now I also use FlexRAID for parity-based backup. This part of the FlexRAID suite has been around for a few years, and works great. It saves me a ton of space compared to the default WHS mirroring backup. You should know, however, that FlexRAID is not real-time redundancy. It's a backup process that you schedule to run at certain intervals. Daily is probably fine for post people, but you could do it hourly if you wanted. For a media server, this is more than adequate.

If you only have a few drives, and if your hardware is compatible, unRAID works nicely. However, if your hardware doesn't work out of the box, you're pretty much screwed. unRAID is also more expensive than WHS for more than 6 drives, is hard-limited to a maximum of 16 drives, and doesn't work with external USB drives at all. unRAID also limits your file server to only serving files. If you want to transcode video with software like Playon or Tversity, you can't. Well, technically you still can, but you need to do it with a different PC.
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post #4 of 52 Old 10-25-2009, 06:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chiyosuke View Post

I have also heard of flexRaid but some threads suggested that it wasn't really ready for primetime.

My understanding of it pretty much mirrors candre23's post: The "RAID" portion of FlexRAID works fine, but he recently added an option called "FlexRAID View" which is essentially an interface that does what Windows Home Server's drive extender does: it makes the fact that your data is spanned across multiple drives invisible. You access a "movies" folder, and they're all there in the one folder even though the data may actually be spread across multiple drives. THIS is the part that seems to have issues. I use WHS, so I don't need this part. I haven't followed it very closely to know the details of what the bugs are.

If you are using WHS, FlexRAID View is irrelevant. If not, you can always use the base "RAID" feature, and hold off on FlexRAID view until the bugs are worked out. As long as you don't mind accessing the data based on which drive the data is actually on in the mean time. You can use the RAID protection, then add the view interface when it's good.

With either FlexRAID or unRAID, you can try them with little risk to your data... unlike conventional RAID, they don't sit in between you and the data. The data still gets stored directly on individual hard drives, as opposed to being intercepted and striped among multiple drives. With FlexRAID, you can uninstall it, and the data is there exactly like it was before. It's a little trickier with unRAID, because unRAID is the essentially the OS your server runs on, and it uses a non-windows file system. But you can still pull the drives and have direct access to your data on any machine that can read that file system, and I think there may be some utility to convert it to a file system Windows can read.

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post #5 of 52 Old 10-25-2009, 08:47 AM
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I'm planning on using FlexRAID with WHS as well, after much research I've yet to find the detractors of FlexRAID offer anything except opinion as to why it's "not ready" for use. I've looked pretty hard for actual poor experiences with FlexRAID and I've mostly only found satisfied users - so it would appear those stating it's not for primetime have never tried it.

unRAID also is a good solution from everything I've researched - it just doesn't support the hardware I want to use.
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post #6 of 52 Old 10-25-2009, 04:00 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks, everyone!

Since I have a copy of Win server 2003 (college gave it to me) lying around, I think I will try the flexraid and see how it works out.
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post #7 of 52 Old 10-25-2009, 04:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mnn1265 View Post

I've yet to find the detractors of FlexRAID offer anything except opinion as to why it's "not ready" for use.

If it would help, I can share my less-than-positive experiences with FlexRAID-View.

I tried setting up FRV on a machine with a fresh XP installation. Currently the only setup method is manually editing a config file. After several failed attempts to create a config file that allows the service to start (even the main dev of FRV said the config looked fine), another user suggested I check each line for trailing spaces, which turned out to be the issue. Technically my fault, but manually editing text files that are so finicky that they are rendered unusable by a single trailing space is not exactly a user-friendly experience.

Once the service was actually running, I decided to test it out a bit before copying several TB worth of media to the system. There were weird issues from the get-go. I was unable to copy files to or create folders in the root directory of the FRV drive. Files copied to the FRV drive would occasionally be copied to the wrong directory on the actual drives. On more than one occasion, files were copied to nowhere - windows went through the motions of copying the file with the progress bar and all, but the copied files didn't exist anywhere on the virtual FRV drive or on the actual drives. After a new build (which was intended to fix my problem specifically) caused the service to crash repeatedly, I gave up. This all took place less than a month ago.

To the credit of the FRV dev, he was very responsive to my questions - even when his responses were "Your computer may be haunted". During the week and a half I messed around with the software, there were 3 new builds released. While it's good to see he's keeping on top of the bugs, any software that still has that many bugs to be squashed in such a short period is clearly nowhere near ready for prime time. On the one hand, it's not fair to complain about the quality of free software. But on the other hand, had I rushed in and moved all my data to FRV, I'd have lost most of it. The lack of a GUI, current instability, and proliferation of bugs lead me to believe the software should bear a "pre-alpha" label instead of it's current "release candidate" label.


Just to clarify - everything I just said only applies to FlexRAID-View. The original FlexRAID parity-backup service has been out for a few years, and it works fine. I use it on my WHS server now. I have every expectation that, given some more in development, FRV will be every bit as useful and stable as FlexRAID. But take it from someone with first-hand experience - it isn't there yet.
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post #8 of 52 Old 10-25-2009, 09:34 PM
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candre23, thanks for that outline of your experience with FRV. Your experience seems to be shared by quite a few people that have tried it - and as you mentioned it is in beta. For that reason I'm not messing with FRV until perhaps it is in final release... for all intents and purposes WHS/FlexRAID offers much the same benefits I'd get with FRV.
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post #9 of 52 Old 10-26-2009, 11:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mnn1265 View Post

I'm planning on using FlexRAID with WHS as well, after much research I've yet to find the detractors of FlexRAID offer anything except opinion as to why it's "not ready" for use. I've looked pretty hard for actual poor experiences with FlexRAID and I've mostly only found satisfied users - so it would appear those stating it's not for primetime have never tried it.

It seems to be well accepted. I have not read of any cases of real-world failures and successful data recovery and more importantly, I haven't read of anyone having a failure where the recovery attempts went bad before finally being successful.

I went with unRAID - at the time, Flexraid was fairly new and not proven. The thing that convinced me about unRAID was reading a few threads on the unRAID forum where people did very bad things or had very bad things go wrong during a drive failure and still recoved either most or all of their data. Recoving from the failure step by step on the forum saved data that likely would have been lost using another method.

Peter
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post #10 of 52 Old 10-26-2009, 02:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JoshDorhyke View Post

It seems to be well accepted. I have not read of any cases of real-world failures and successful data recovery and more importantly, I haven't read of anyone having a failure where the recovery attempts went bad before finally being successful.

I went with unRAID - at the time, Flexraid was fairly new and not proven. The thing that convinced me about unRAID was reading a few threads on the unRAID forum where people did very bad things or had very bad things go wrong during a drive failure and still recoved either most or all of their data. Recoving from the failure step by step on the forum saved data that likely would have been lost using another method.

Peter

I'm still a little nervous about FlexRAID/WHS since the current version doesn't officially support it... but from what I've read there haven't been major issues. I'll be looking forward to v1.3 with tombstone support.

I'd like to use unRAID but for the lack of driver support. I'm hoping they can improve that support for newer hardware so I can try it out.
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post #11 of 52 Old 10-26-2009, 04:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mnn1265 View Post

I'd like to use unRAID but for the lack of driver support. I'm hoping they can improve that support for newer hardware so I can try it out.

What type of newer hardware? The only thing I've seen lacking is support for a cheap PCIe 8-port SATA card. It seems fine with any typical mid level type motherboard and CPU.

Peter
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post #12 of 52 Old 10-26-2009, 04:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JoshDorhyke View Post

What type of newer hardware? The only thing I've seen lacking is support for a cheap PCIe 8-port SATA card. It seems fine with any typical mid level type motherboard and CPU.

Peter

I think the cheap PCIe SATA card you're talking about is the one I have... the AOC-SASLP-MV8 which is very popular.

Take a look yourself at the supported motherboard list and you'll see most are TBD or in various stages of testing. Very few are officially supported. I don't really want to pay for a product I have to beta test. I know I could buy a new controller, remove all but a few disks and test it with the limited free version but that's not a very appealing proposition. I'm assuming they will add support for the Supermicro SASLP-MV8 at some point and then I'll try it out - it does seem like a nice solution if you have older hardware.
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post #13 of 52 Old 10-26-2009, 04:39 PM - Thread Starter
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I got a free copy of Window 2003 enterprise server and Windows 2008 enterprise + standard server from my college - but not the WHS.

Does either 03 or 08 server support the expandable pool of JBOD drives like WHS? Also, is the hardware requirement higher for enterprise version than WHS - my set up had old AMD Athlong 64 3500+ CPU with 2 GB of RAM.
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post #14 of 52 Old 10-27-2009, 07:03 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mnn1265 View Post

I think the cheap PCIe SATA card you're talking about is the one I have... the AOC-SASLP-MV8 which is very popular.

Take a look yourself at the supported motherboard list and you'll see most are TBD or in various stages of testing. Very few are officially supported. I don't really want to pay for a product I have to beta test. I know I could buy a new controller, remove all but a few disks and test it with the limited free version but that's not a very appealing proposition. I'm assuming they will add support for the Supermicro SASLP-MV8 at some point and then I'll try it out - it does seem like a nice solution if you have older hardware.

Yes, that's the card that could really use support. I think there are still some minor underlying Linux issues.

I know that the hardware list shows most as TBD but people are running on most of the newer chipsets (such as 785G boards which have lots of PCIe slots) just fine. I have not read of many cases where motherboards did not work except for some older Nforce stuff having corruption issues which is an underlying hardware issue, not an unRAID problem.

How many drives do you want to support?

Peter
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post #15 of 52 Old 10-27-2009, 10:32 AM
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I currently use Symantec Storage Foundations Basic which is free. I used the full version for years when I used to be a UNIX administrator. It's totally rock solid and does not rely on the underlying hardware. You can import the RAID set into a new system as long as you are running a supported OS and the system can see the drives.
Since you have windows server 2003 you are set, since it does not support non - server OS's.
It does OCE, RAID and automatic sparing. Not sure about the drive spindown. I tried the LINUX and Solaris versions but for a system that runs 24 x 7 there were too many other issues with supporting some of old hardware.
this is my media server and it also runs my skype box, Home Control and my Alarm Software.
You just can't do this unless you run windows and I don't have the time to "re-invent the wheel" here, I chose this setup since it required no learning curve and it works famously well.

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post #16 of 52 Old 10-27-2009, 10:38 AM
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You may also want to look at disParity. It is a simple command line snapshot parity app much like FlexRAID but without all the extra fluff.

Works great for me and I have tested it recovering a full 1.5TB drive and it recovered it perfectly.
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post #17 of 52 Old 10-27-2009, 11:09 AM
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I have been thinking about a media server and I have not seen anyone talk about using a hardware raid. Are they too expensive, inflexible or what?
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post #18 of 52 Old 10-27-2009, 11:12 AM
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The "Guide to building a media storage server" thread has tons and tons of info on hardware RAID.
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post #19 of 52 Old 10-27-2009, 11:22 AM
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True, but you'd be crazy to shackle yourself with the limitations of hardware RAID with all the pseudo-RAID options available.
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post #20 of 52 Old 10-27-2009, 12:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sfoster4 View Post

I have been thinking about a media server and I have not seen anyone talk about using a hardware raid. Are they too expensive, inflexible or what?

Many people still use hardware RAID, and many consider it to be a superior solution. My personal opinion is that the "pseudo-RAID" solutions like FlexRAID, unRAID, and similar solutions are much better suited for home use for several reasons:
  • The RAID engine is not in between the host OS and the disk like conventional hardware RAID. Data is access directly to/from the disk, and separate parity is written based on that data. You can therefore even apply it in situations where RAID is not recommended (like WHS)
  • The data is not dependent on the array. Unlike most applicable hardware solutions (which are typically RAID5 or RAID6), these are more like RAID4. The parity is separate, so the data can be read straight off of the drive it's on, even if removed and attached to another machine.
  • They don't use striping. That makes the data much less susceptible to errors that could break the array (and make your data inaccessible). Some people recommend more expensive enterprise class drives for hardware RAID to reduce the chance of errors which could break the array. That's not an issue with pseudo-RAID.
  • They don't require special controllers which add cost and complexity.
  • They are simple to expand. Just add more drives when you run out of space.
  • It is easy to migrate to them, and away from them to other solutions, since the data and parity aren't "married". If something better comes along, you can just "turn off" the old solution, and implement the new one with little fuss.
  • They don't require all the disks to be up for data access. If you are only access data on one drive, only that drive needs to be up. With striping, ALL the drives need to be spinning even if you're only accessing one file. Pseudo-RAID is therefore a "greener" solution.

For enterprise solutions, where constant uptime is critical and there can be tens, hundreds, or thousands of simultaneous users, the performance advantages of striping and the availability of hot spares make hardware RAID the right choice for that application. But for a home application, I just think pseudo-RAID makes more sense. But everyone is going to have their own opinion.

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post #21 of 52 Old 10-27-2009, 01:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JoshDorhyke View Post

Yes, that's the card that could really use support. I think there are still some minor underlying Linux issues.

I know that the hardware list shows most as TBD but people are running on most of the newer chipsets (such as 785G boards which have lots of PCIe slots) just fine. I have not read of many cases where motherboards did not work except for some older Nforce stuff having corruption issues which is an underlying hardware issue, not an unRAID problem.

How many drives do you want to support?

Peter

I've read in the unRAID forum that my series board will most likely work fine - but not officially. The sticking point for me is the controller card. Especially considering unRAID's low write speed (a result of writing parity on the fly) I think a PCIe controller is important. I also like the remote desktop features I get with WHS/FlexRAID. I'd still like to try unRAID and I expect them to get the PCIe SASLP controller working at some point. I currently have 13 drives in my NAS (11x1.5TB drives and 2x360GB drives).
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post #22 of 52 Old 10-27-2009, 01:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darin View Post

For enterprise solutions, where constant uptime is critical and there can be tens, hundreds, or thousands of simultaneous users, the performance advantages of striping and the availability of hot spares make hardware RAID the right choice for that application. But for a home application, I just think pseudo-RAID makes more sense. But everyone is going to have their own opinion.

I agree, after giving this considerable thought with no bias up front I just don't see any reason to go with hardware RAID in the home, but as you say it's a matter of opinion.

For the reasons you listed, and stressing the co$t of hardware RAID, hardware RAID really isn't a tool suited to the job of media storage/serving. As you mentioned hardware RAID is really designed to ensure uptime in a high-performance commercial environment and not well suited for archiving large mostly static files/data. Personally I think RAID 5 is a bad idea for a media server (and not a backup solution), RAID 6 is much better but even more expensive to implement than RAID 5.
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post #23 of 52 Old 10-28-2009, 07:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Killroyâ„¢ View Post

You may also want to look at disParity. It is a simple command line snapshot parity app much like FlexRAID but without all the extra fluff.

Works great for me and I have tested it recovering a full 1.5TB drive and it recovered it perfectly.

+1

Disparity is a great, no-frills file/folder backup/parity generator that is very simple, but flexible:

http://www.vilett.com/disParity/
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post #24 of 52 Old 10-28-2009, 01:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mnn1265 View Post

I'm planning on using FlexRAID with WHS as well, after much research I've yet to find the detractors of FlexRAID offer anything except opinion as to why it's "not ready" for use. I've looked pretty hard for actual poor experiences with FlexRAID and I've mostly only found satisfied users - so it would appear those stating it's not for primetime have never tried it.

The burden of proof is not on the skeptics to show it is buggy, but rather on the developer and beta testers to prove it's reliability across multiple different hardware and OS configurations.

Try it out and tell us how it goes. Until then, I think it is perfectly reasonable to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism. What software have you ever used that was not buggy at first release?

You may note that unRAID, with a better-proven track record, does not get the same amount of skepticism as to it's reliablity.

Lifespeed
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post #25 of 52 Old 10-28-2009, 03:59 PM
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Originally Posted by lifespeed View Post

The burden of proof is not on the skeptics to show it is buggy, but rather on the developer and beta testers to prove it's reliability across multiple different hardware and OS configurations.

I think you're confusing two different products. FlexRAID (the parity-backup system) has been around for a couple years, and works great. I don't think anybody is suggesting that FlexRAID is "not ready".

FlexRAID-View (the drive pooling utility, which really should have a different name for the sake of clarity), is what most people are skeptical about. To be fair, it is labeled as "still in development". Obviously it's not ready yet, that's what "still in development" means.

Using WHS to do drive pooling and PC backups, along with FlexRAID (the original, not View) for parity-based server backup is a solid, proven-reliable setup.
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post #26 of 52 Old 10-28-2009, 03:59 PM
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Ok, I guess I have decided on a software raid instead of hardware. I am choosing software because it appears to be more flexible and power efficient for large media files. I am willing to pay for the hardware raid, but I believe that the raid is limited to the number of ports on the card. So if you need more drives you need to add another controller which is another raid. Maybe the OS can make it look like one raid, I am not sure. But if I only need one drive spinning up I guess that is what I prefer. I am going to try WHS and FlexRaid.

On order so far:

Case: NORCO RPC-4220 4U EATX/ATX
PSU: Corsair TX750W CMPSU-750TX 750W
Motherboard: ASRock M3A785GXH/128M AM3 AMD 785G HDMI ATX
Processor: AMD Athlon II X2 245 Regor 2.9GHz Socket AM3
Memory: OCZ Obsidian 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600

Not yet ordered:
HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4

I do have a concern about the HBA which is in the recommended list, but the Supermicro home page does not list Windows Home Server as a supported OS however it is listed here on this site as supported. Anyone know for sure if it is supported?
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post #27 of 52 Old 10-29-2009, 05:31 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sfoster4 View Post

I do have a concern about the HBA which is in the recommended list, but the Supermicro home page does not list Windows Home Server as a supported OS however it is listed here on this site as supported. Anyone know for sure if it is supported?

I don't have any specific knowledge of that card, but what you want to be looking for is Windows Server 2003 support. WHS is really just Windows Server 2003 with some extra functionality layered on top of it, and a 10 user limit. I've even used some XP drivers on it.

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post #28 of 52 Old 10-29-2009, 06:44 AM
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[*]They don't require all the disks to be up for data access. If you are only access data on one drive, only that drive needs to be up. With striping, ALL the drives need to be spinning even if you're only accessing one file. Pseudo-RAID is therefore a "greener" solution.

So in the Pseudo-RAID does the system rely upon the power management function of windows to regulate when disks spin down, even in the RAID?
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post #29 of 52 Old 10-29-2009, 08:40 AM
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So in the Pseudo-RAID does the system rely upon the power management function of windows to regulate when disks spin down, even in the RAID?

Yes, because it's not really RAID.

With proper RAID, any given file is spread across all the disks. To read that file, all drives have to spin up.

With pseudo-RAID, files are kept whole. Any file you access (say, a movie you want to watch) only resides on one drive. That drive spins up, while the other drives stay spun down.

If you use FlexRAID for parity backup, your parity drive will only spin up when it's performing a parity sync. This could be as infrequently as once per day, depending on your settings.
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post #30 of 52 Old 10-29-2009, 08:58 AM
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unRAID is probably a more proven solution than FlexRAID. But it's Linux limited. And honestly the idea of facing heavy learning to be able to install a simple Squeezebox Server on it makes me stay with FlexRAID.

Ditto for whatever other application.

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