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I'm looking for the most cost effective approach to minimizing downtime and data loss for a web server. I was planning on implementing Hardware raid but from my research good RAID controllers are expensive and cheap ones should be avoided. For the cost, I'm not sure it's worth it. We want to keep downtime and data loss to a minimum but a few hours of either isn't huge. We're running regular backups but I want the protection of RAID as well.

Setup: -Windows Server 2008 32-bit -VMWare ESXi -SQL Server 2008 -1 - 1 TB drive. -Space for 3 additional drives

I've just started reading about the Software RAID capabilities of Windows Server 2008. Would that be the best solution? Is it compatible with VMWare? Are there better software raid solutions? Are there other non-RAID mirroring options?

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It's probably an obvious comment but be sure and periodically restore backups (from tape or other storage media) and test to see that those backed files are not corrupt. This can help satify audit requirements for system recoverability. –  jl. Oct 2 '10 at 12:04
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You are pretty much down to raid. Software mirror is ok - your main problem is that on a failure the server will not boot. Nothing WINDOWS can do here - it will likely stop with not finding a bootable hard disc in the bios level / boot loader.

Which requires someone to redirect the boot loader to use the laternative disc. Windows codes which disc to boot from and will have 2 entries with mirror, you just need to manually start the server using the backup disc ;) Depending on your requirementsthis is perfectly fine.

Performance impacts on a mirror are neglegible - a RAID 5 requires work to write (load data, checksum etc.), a mirroris ssimply sending the write to two discs. I ran that for year in a setup like tha. THese days I am off to hardware raid on a selected number of servers whichthen are powerfull and have lots of RAM and use virtualization ;)

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Are the any issues with using "Dynamic" drives when sitting on top of VMWare –  EfficionDave Oct 4 '10 at 4:46
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You can't beat good hardware RAID. I can't tell you how much I've come to appreciate our HP (and previously Compaq) SmartArray RAID controllers. They have probably prevented more downtime than just about anything else in our network, and IMO are worth every penny.

Having said that, RAID alone is not enough for preventing data loss. As you mentioned, a good backup system is crucial, and an off-site storage strategy is advisable as well.

VMs afford you other opportunities for backup and data protection too -- snapshots and image backups can greatly decrease the amount of time spent recovering from things going haywire.

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If you're looking to save some money and aren't looking for enterprise-level protection, you can just plug in another disk and use Windows to mirror your current disk. As long as you are keeping regular backups, this will (most of the time) keep you running should a disk fail.

If you can afford a third disk and a decent RAID card (3ware, adaptec), RAID 5 would be nice for a web server. Provides more resiliency and greater read speeds. It will write a little slower, so be aware of that if you are hosting your database on the same machine.

If you can afford a fourth disk, it would be worth it to have a hot spare ready. Nothing like a disk dying and you rebuilding the array immediately. Same-day recovery is awesome.

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