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I've been running a freenas box for a few months as a proof of concept and all seems to be well now reliability wise. So it's time to up the storage capacity and build it into production mode.

I was planning on spending £150-£200 on hard drives, which should have got me about 3x 1TB drives which would give me a good balance of capacity and redundancy.

My question, is this: What storage regime should I configure the drives in to give me redundancy that will tolerate a drive failure. Currently I'm using FreeNas' built in ZFS support with no redundancy (striped) but it offers "mirrored" as an option.

My other option (as FreeBSD/FreeNAS seems to be picky about what hardware it supports) is to use the built-in Software RAID-5 to give me redundancy.

Not being fully conversant with storage regimes, I then considered the option of having two disks, one primary which then did a day-to-day Rsync between discs so there was always a redundant copy, though I realise this could be upto a day out of date at any time. Not sure what the implications of this are, though.

Thanks for your input. Dan.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's been mentioned that RAID is not a backup. VERY TRUE. Keep that in mind.

You're using terabyte sized disks, which increases the chances of an unrecoverable read error, which is a MAJOR PAIN IN THE @#$. Raid 5 is almost unusable as disks get larger; you could have one of the three disks fail completely, you replace it, and that's when you discover that one of the "good" disks has a spot that can't be read from, so you end up having to completely rebuild from backup. We had that happen with a hardware-based RAID (PERC controller).

Your RAID level depends on how you're using the server. I like 1 for most of my purposes (mirroring). It has very good read times because it can spread read commands across drives, but writes can suffer somewhat. How affected it is depends on what you're using for the controller and drive speed. Go to Wikipedia and search for RAID to get a rundown of RAID levels; no one can really tell you what to definitively use without knowing your workload, the server's usage, etc.

Do not use rsync for a backup on the same computer. If your controller is fried or something goes weird on the computer itself (or the machine is damaged in flooding, fire, electrical surge) you risk the backup getting toasted too. Backup means being able to rebuild your data on new hardware if need be after a catastrophic failure.

If you're referring to a hardware RAID controller built into the motherboard-don't. don't don't don't. Motherboard RAID is cheap, crappy, and cheap, and worse than any software-implemented RAID. If you want to go through the trouble of building a production system with RAID, use either the built-in Linux/BSD software RAID or get a good RAID card like one from 3Ware. Personally for a server, I'd get a hardware card and search the specs for features like hot swap capability and lighted alarms to indicate WHICH DRIVES have failed. There's nothing wrong with performance or ability of software RAID, and it's very reliable, but there are many questions about "I have a drive that failed and don't know which one it is", and if you screw it up you can break your data set or erase the wrong data. System administration is supposed to have some element of making your life easier (hee hee!) and puzzling which drive is which cable is which mountpoint is not fun. The hardware cards are $$ but often save you much frustration when trying to puzzle out which is in need of replacement.

Don't skimp on hard drive speed. Faster, the better, especially if this is a heavy usage server. Today's gig lans can easily make the hard disk a bottleneck now for big transfers or heavy sharing.

Make sure you have a way to monitor the RAID, and make it a point to periodically check the status of your drives.

Get a good backup system in. Any fileserver should have a good second-machine backup, whether to tape or disk. If your server blows up tomorrow you should be able to get parts in and start restoring everything from scratch if need be, unless the business issuing the paychecks can survive without their server, in which case I don't know why you'd be worried about RAID.

Hope this helps!

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Very helpful, lots of food for thought there, though I still don't know to go RAID or ZFS! –  Dan Feb 9 '10 at 21:33
    
ZFS is a filesystem with a lot of features, RAID is a redundancy strategy to keep from losing data if a drive fails. ZFS has some support for creating a RAID (raid-z) across volumes. See the wikipedia article (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZFS) –  Bart Silverstrim Feb 9 '10 at 22:11
    
In other words, it's like asking if you should wear a jacket or take an umbrella...you can do both :-) –  Bart Silverstrim Feb 9 '10 at 22:24
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First, remember that RAID is not backup. What you are planning with rsync is a simple form of backup. However I would suggest ZFS raid-z. Or if the machine doesn't have a fast enough processor or if the data is very important, use mirroring with a hot spare. Remember to get another backup solution if you end up using RAID. Actually do it anyway, since a once per day overwritten backup on the same machine is quite poor.

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