I recently built my first RAID server. I’ve been the victim of 2 hard drive crashes where I lost data. I have a large media collection that includes tons of digital pictures, family videos of over 30 DV tapes I’ve captured, and countless other irreplaceable data. Concerned with the possibility of losing all of this I finally decided to dive into the world of data redundancy. I wrote “Guide to Protect Your Digital Camera Photos with Automated Backups” if you’re interested in protecting your digital media as well with Offsite backups being a very important part of the equation which I will write about soon.

Since basically all I needed was a file server that also offered redundancy I opted for going with RAID 5. I didn’t need huge performance and in a RAID 5 configuration you only have to sacrifice 1 hard drive for redundancy as opposed sacrificing equal numbers for mirroring. This seemed like a good comrpomise to me.

After making that decision I had to find a controller. I ended up going with the Promise Technology FastTrak S150 SX4 SATA controller card (no longer available. The FastTrak TX4310 seems like a good alternative). I mainly chose it due to the affordability and good reviews. Be careful of some cheaper cards that only offer RAID 5 in software. Another major consideration was the fact that I only had a standard PCI slot available in the Dell 400SC server I was using. That limited my choices quite a bit since most of the other contenders only worked on a PCI-X bus which requires a much pricier server motherboard.

The next choice was which hard drives to go with. I was looking to get at least 500Gb of available storage so after a little research I found that the best bang for the buck was getting 3 x 320Gb drives. I went with the Western Digital WD3200JD SATA drives. I like Western Digital and have had good experience using them.

So my build went smooth and I am extremely happy with what I now have. Here’s another good bit of advice that a friend passed on. Make sure to test your array after you are done building it by forcing a failure to understand how your hardware / software deals with it and you are aware of what to expect. I did this by starting to copy a 4GB file to the array and during the copy I unplugged the SATA cable from a drive. The software quickly alerted me of the failure. Shortly after I plugged the SATA cable back in and rebooted. The RAID bios also identified the failure. I then booted into Windows, launched the RAID utility and watched as it rebuilt the array. Everything went smooth and I now feel very confident about my server.

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