Friday, February 29, 2008

Operating System & Hard Drive Configuration

This tutorial starts where the hardware installation leaves off...

Connect the hard drive that will contain the Operating System (and make sure the hard drives that will be in RAID are disconnected to simplify things).

Boot the system with the Ubuntu Live CD and follow the instructions to install Ubuntu.

After installing the Operating System and optionally installing any suggested updates, turn the computer off.

Connect the hard drives that will be setup in the RAID array. You have some choices at this point. You first need to decide whether to do a hardware or a software RAID. I chose software because it is easier to setup with Ubuntu and if I want to migrate the RAID array to another machine later, I just need to install the same software (as opposed to a hardware RAID where you would need the exact same motherboard). There are benefits to both types. Once you've made that decision, you should decide what RAID level you want to use.

In general, RAID-1+0 (or RAID-10) is accepted as the best RAID level available. This type of array offers exceptional failure-recovery while still maintaining a high level of performance. The only downside of RAID-10 is that it requires at least 4 drives and requires that half of them are used for parity. So in my case, using four, 500gb hard drives for the array, only two of them would be usable space, leaving me with around 900 gb's of usable space.

If you're like me and don't really like the idea of buying almost 2 TB's worth of space to only get 900 gb's out of it, I would suggest using RAID-5. There are some disadvantages to this RAID level. For one, array recovery is a little more challenging in RAID-5 compared to RAID-10 should you experience a failure. Also, small disk-writes will be faster in RAID-10 compared to RAID-5 (as you're writing to 3 disks for every write in RAID-5 compared to 2 in RAID-10). However, since I'm essentially just going to be downloading and playing media, I'm not overly concerned with these small performance differences. If you were using the array for more heavy-computing, I would suggest RAID-10.

So in summary, I chose a software, RAID-5 array. Moving on...

You may have to modify your hard drive boot order settings in the BIOS at this point to ensure your hard drive with the Operating System will try to boot first. Generally the hard drive boot order settings are in the Advanced Options in the BIOS. Move the hard drive with Ubuntu loaded on it to the top of the list, save and exit.

Boot up and log into Ubuntu.

Continued: Setting up the RAID Array

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