RAID it or Loose it!

Are you backed up? RAID is the only real answer. For those of you who might be new to the digital media scene, a RAID setup ( Redundant Arrays of Independent Disks ) is an absolute must have. In simple terms, it is a collection of hard drives connected together to form one large storage drive. The number of drives that you can connect together is only limited by the case they are mounted in. The most common external (meaning that the hard drives are not stored inside your computer) RAID setups are cases that house, 2, 4, 5, 8, and 10 disks. You can then connect multiple cases to your system.

The thing that is important to understand is that a RAID setup can be configured to provide either performance (for example, every drive you add to a RAID 0 setup increases the speed of all the drives connected), or redundant backup reliability. As photographers, most of you should be opting for the configuration that gives secure backup reliability, but there are plenty of ways to configure a setup that works for you. Let me explain how I came to know all of this, and then I’ll give a few suggested setups for those of you that are interested.

The day before we left for china, one of our Mac Pro’s was chuggin along and it’s main working 1TB drive suddenly crashed. Not a thing I could do to recover the data. The drive was done. Trust me when I say, I understand the importance of digital media backup, and for those of you who might have said that 3 different forms of backup was a bit excessive, allow me to politely disagree. Our studio uses a nightly backup system, that copies everything from that main working drive over to a secondary drive, and we also burn DVD copies of all of our raw files the minute we drop them onto the system. However, at this point, I knew I needed something that went a step further. Lucky for me, I didn’t need to recover the data, I just need to make sure I was properly backed up again. Had I absolutely needed what was on that drive, the quotes I received estimate that it would have cost between $5000-$12000 to recover.

It is really important to know why hard drives fail in order to decrease the likelihood that they will fail on you. Two of the most common reason are overheating and reaching capacity. In our case, the drive most likely failed because it reached it’s capacity. There is a simple solution to both of those problems, and it comes in the form of a RAID setup.

Not all RAID systems work the same, as it depends on the RAID controller card that you purchase, and the limitations of the case, but I’ll give you some of the key features to ask about when purchasing your setup.

- Email Notification : This feature is really important. It allows that RAID unit to email you all important warning, errors, and notifications about the disks 24-7, this includes hard drive capacity warnings (which you can set), drive failure notices, backup errors, disk health updates and warnings, and drive temperature warnings.
- S.M.A.R.T monitoring : This allows the system to monitor the health of the hard drive, including drive temperature, which can then be emailed to you. ( You can set the not-to-exceed temperature, and then tell the system to either shut down or email you.)
- Automatic Drive Rebuild : This means that the system will take any available spare hard drives in the Array, and rebuild (thats right, that means get back, re-create ) the lost information automatically onto the spare. (This is of course, assuming that you are using RAID 5 or 6 setup, with a spare drive available)
- Hot Swap/Hot Spare : This allows you simply pull out a failed hard drive, and slide a new one back in, without even turning off the system. No down time, no loss of productivity.
- RAID 5 Support : This is really important, as many systems only support RAID 0, and 1, which do not offer the data redundancy that is required for a secure backup system

So after much research we have a brand new backup system in the studio that is nearly failsafe. In an effort to save money, I bought our 5 bay Sonnet Technologies case (below) separately, and then manually installed and setup all of the drives. If you buy a RAID array already populated (with disks) the cost is much higher than buying them separately.

The last thing to understand is the different RAID setups, which are indicated as either RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, (there are others, but they are not applicable for use as photo backups )

RAID 0 - Is the fastest, and uses full drive capacity. Meaning if you have 2 – 1TB drives in a RAID 0 Setup, you’ll have access to 2TB of drive space. This is great for gaining maximum speed from a system, but it provides no safety in the event of a disk failure. If one of the disks fails, all of the data is lost.

- This is a simple mirror. Meaning if you have 2 – 1TB drives in a RAID 1 setup, you’ll have access to 1TB of drive space. Everything you have on one of the drives will be mirrored exactly on the other drive. This setup is really only good for a 2 disk setup, any more disks and you’d be paying too much for redundancy.

RAID 5 – This is the best solution for backup, but can only be used with 3 disks or more. If you have 5 – 1TB disks in an array, you’ll have access to 3.5TB of data, and the remaining space will be used to duplicate information so that the system can recover it if any one disk fails. This setup can survive 1 disk failing.

RAID 6 – Same as RAID 5, except with better redundancy. This setup can survive 2 disks failing, however you have less working space.

Ok, so here is all that condensed into what matters. Here is the system I am running.

We have a 2TB internal RAID 0 (for speed) working drive running on a Mac Pro. (For those of you have a Mac Pro, your system already has RAID support, all you need is to install the drives, and set them up. I use software called SoftRAID for that. ) I then use another piece of software called Chronosync to backup every night to a 5 bay external Sonnet D500P, with 5- 1TB drives installed. ( you can install 5 -750GB, or 5 – 500GB, whatever works for you). I have 4 of the drives in a RAID 5 array, giving me 3TB of backup space, and the fifth is a HOT swap spare. One of the nice things about Chronosync is that you can set it up to Archive files that change, for example, Lets say you design and album and then change the design, Chronosync will automatically save the first edition of those files for a set period of time (lets say one week) during which you can go back and retrieve them.

Some of the RAID systems out there can start to get pretty pricey, but if you’re a decent size studio (more than 20 weddings a year) I would recommend getting at least a 5 bay system. If you need more space later on, you can simply get an identical setup, and connect that to your RAID card as well. The RocketRaid 2314 HighPoint RAID card that I have will support up to 20 external devices.

For the hard drives, I would recommend getting the Hitachi CinemaStar 7K1000 1TB drives. These are the same enterprise class drives that major studios like NBC and FOX use. They are rated extremely high for reliability.

RAID Cards – This is one of the few companies that makes a RAID card for the new Mac Pro’s.

Cases, and complete systems – Here the companies that I would recommend. Make sure you explain what you will be using the RAID setup for, as there are many different setup options and a lot of them would be overkill on both product and cost.

Expect to spend at least $3000 for a complete solution. If anyone has any questions about what to purchase, let me know. Keeping your studio secure is a must, and there’s no better way to do it than with RAID!

About michael

evoke photography is about sharing something lasting, not just through our images, but through our lives as well, our hearts, and our character.

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