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The Truth About RAID And Data Loss

I want to take just a moment to talk about RAID and backups.

First off, what is RAID?  RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent/Inexpensive Disks, and was conceived to create larger storage systems out of smaller and cheaper disks (versus buying single expensive disks).  In addition to just expanding space, most RAID levels also provide for the failure of one or more disks without losing data (disks fail often).  In more recent times RAID can be quite complex and used for a variety of reasons including the creation of large storage systems, increased performance, and increased reliability.

To state it simply, RAID is just a fancy way to get a lot of storage on a given computer system.

RAID is a great technology, and has been around over two decades, but it is not the panacea of data protection like many may have thought.  The problem with RAID is that things can certainly still go wrong.  RAID systems can be complex and it creates more opportunity for human error while maintaining the system, and there is a decent chance of firmware (software) issues to crop up as well.

Thus, RAID is not good for backups.  RAID systems fail.  Two drives can fail, operators can make mistakes when replacing bad drives, and of course power surges, water damage, and fire will destroy all disks in a RAID system.  Also, RAID does not protect you from users removing important files, nor from applications corrupting important documents and rendering them useless.

If a RAID system stores any important business data, make sure it is backed up.  Furthermore, make sure your applications are backed up as well, which can mean the difference between recovery in hours versus weeks.

I once visited a business whose 10 employee company all ran on one large server, with a large RAID array (array just means a collection of disks).  The array was showing signs of failing, and they called me in with some haste to resolve the errors.  It turned out one drive had failed, but the array refused to rebuild onto a replaced drive.  Luckily this business had diligently backed up their critical business data on a daily basis, but they neglected to backup the operating system and applications they needed to run their business.

We tried several options to backup the applications and operating system, and worked with the RAID vendor to get the array rebuilt.  Unfortunately we were never able to access the application data, and were forced to rebuild the server from scratch.  The rebuild took two 60 hour weeks and a team of IT consultants to finish, costing the company tens of thousands of dollars not including the days of productivity lost by employees.  A data protection system to avoid that incident would have cost just a few hundred dollars a month.

Another small business I spoke with, a photography studio, had their entire body of work on one RAID system.  One day a disk failed and they mistakenly replaced the wrong drive, corrupting the system and prevented them from accessing their entire body of work.  Luckily, they were able to have the system painstakingly put back together by a data recovery expert for a fee likely equal to one quarter of their yearly revenue and a week without access to the data — ouch.  The cost to protect that data?  About $350/mo.

If you are interested in the nitty-gritty, check out the Wikipedia article on RAID.

If you are using RAID and are not sure it is adequately protected, give us a call.

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