In the last few years we have made some changes to the server configurations that we either build and deploy or Tier 1 provides:
- We install SAS 10K or SAS 15K drives over SATA.
- Performance for one is vastly superior on the SAS drives.
- SAS drives are a lot more sensitive to bad sector behaviour and are better able to recover from bad data being tossed up.
- SAS drives use many forms of ECC which protects the integrity of the data.
- We install a hardware RAID controller with battery backup or SSD Cache over using the on board software RAID.
- The on board “RAID” is software driven. All RAID calculations are completed by the server’s CPU and in many cases require the software driver to rebuild or function properly – meaning we need to boot into the OS.
- We have had difficulties with on board software RAID recoveries and ShadowProtect due to driver issues.
- Hardware RAID on Chip with the battery backup or SSD Cache virtually eliminates the parity write cost of RAID 5 and greatly reduces that cost for RAID 6. SSD Cache almost renders the whole discussion moot as the most frequently requested data sits on the SSD.
- Hardware RAID controllers have the ability to mitigate the failure of a drive by keeping the server up. In our experience software RAID tends to freeze the box if a drive fails.
- Hardware RAID controllers tied to SAS drives have a much better chance of mitigating or eliminating the possibility of data corruption if sectors on an array member are dying.
Intel has a couple of resources for the above discussion as do many other RAID related vendors.
One Intel resource is the following Intel support page: Intel Server Products: Choosing between SAS vs. SATA Hard Disk for your Server RAID System.
There we find this grid that gives us a pretty good idea of some of the significant differences between SAS and SATA drives:
We are given an extensive explanation in the following document which is linked to below the above table: Intel – Enterprise-class versus Desktop-class Hard Drives (Link to PDF document download).
We put our server configurations through a lot of testing before we deploy them to client sites or within our own organization. We do this because we want to make absolutely sure that the server configuration we are going to deploy will meet the needs of our client over the life of the box which is about 36 months.
The extra cost for the hardware RAID controller, battery backup, and 15K SAS drives (not much of a cost difference between 300GB 15K SAS and Seagate Enterprise SATA these days) when taken over the life of the box (divide that cost by 36) is actually quite small relative to the performance, data protection, and overall storage stability benefits.
Tier 1 Caveat
Keep in mind that cost inferences mentioned here are for our in-house Intel server solution components. When it comes to Tier 1 the costs of some server components and server storage can be extremely high relative to components supplied in our solutions.
Microsoft Small Business Specialists
Co-Author: SBS 2008 Blueprint Book