Getting Started: Creating your first FlexRAID configuration

 
This tutorial will guide you through your first use of FlexRAID 2.0, from installation to having your Storage Pool ready and protected by the Snapshot RAID feature.

 

Introduction: the Cruise Control mode

FlexRAID 2.0 contains a new operation mode code “Cruise Control”. This mode is the simplest to use, and is a complete data management solution: it will pool all your data drives into 1 massive storage pool, and at the same time protect your data thanks to its RAID technology. Those 2 features from FlexRAID (pooling and RAID) are coupled in the Cruise Control mode, and as a result the pool service will not start until you have correctly created the RAID.

 

Important note:
In this mode, FlexRAID will take ownership of the drives you’re adding to the pool. In particular, it will mount them as folders in a hidden and protected path, and dismount them from their original letters. As a result, you will no longer see those drives in the “My Computer” window. Do not worry about this: this operation is safe, does not touch a single bit of your data, and is perfectly reversible – you can remount them as letters should you want to stop using FlexRAID. See this article for more info.

If you do not want FlexRAID this to happen, and still want to keep control of your drives, you can use the Expert mode – refer to corresponding guides for storage pool management, and Snapshot RAID creation.

 

For this tutorial, we’ve used a PC with 4 data drives of various sizes (I:\, J:\, K:\, L:\) and 1 parity drive (P:\).

 

Installation

Refer to this guide to download and install the latest version of FlexRAID. Note that if you were using previous version of FlexRAID, such as the famous Preview XII (a version without the Cruise Control feature), you will need to delete your configuration and start from scratch.

 


 

Part 1: Creating your Cruise Control configuration

Open FlexRAID Web Interface from the shortcut on your desktop or in the Start menu.
Click on the “Add New Configuration” icon, a new window will appear.

 

In this window, type the name of your configuration, and select the mode: Cruise Control, and Snapshot. Click on the Create button, a progress window will appear for a few seconds.

Upon completion, a new icon will appear on FlexRAID’s desktop.

 

Click on this icon, it will open the management window of your Cruise Control configuration.

 

Right now, there are only 2 options that can be selected: Drive Manager, which allows you to manage the drives in your configuration, and Preferences and Settings. For this tutorial, we’ll leave all Preferences and Settings as their default values.

 

Let’s go to the Drive Manager – click on it. The Drive Manager dashboard appears, listing all drives discovered in your system.

 

This window lists the available drives in 4 categories:
Drive State: Pooled (drives that are already in the pool, here: none yet)
Drive State: Not Pooled (drives that are not yet in the pool, here: I, J, K, L, P)
And the 2 other categories containing the drives that cannot be added to the configuration.

Select your first data drive, I:\ here, and click on Add to Storage Pool.

It will open a new window where you will be able to select a name for your drive (you can let the default name), and select whether it’s a DRU (Data Risk Unit, containing Data Drive(s)) or a PPU (Parity Risk Unit, containing Parity Drive(s)).

Here it’s a DRU, select DRU in the drop down.

 

Back to the Drive Manager window, the first drive is now in the Pooled drives category.

 

Continue this process with all the data drives.

In our case, there are 4 data drives, 2 of approximately 500GB, and 2 smaller drives, of 230GB and 110GB. For this configuration, the best is to assemble the 2 smaller drives into one spanned DRU of 230+110GB, which is still smaller than 500GB. It brings more balance. See this article for more information about DRU or PPU spanning.

In order to do this, K:\ was added as a new DRU (DRU3), and L:\ was added with Span into DRU3 selected in the drop down.

 

Now it’s time to configure the PPU. The process is the same than for DRUs: click on the last drive, and on Add to Storage Pool.
In the drop down, select PPU instead of DRU.

 

All drives are now configured.

 

You can now see that the drives, which were visible in “My Computer”, now are not visible anymore – FlexRAID has taken them into control.

 


 

Part 2: Initialize your RAID

In this section, the RAID will be initialized. That means that the parity data will be computed from the source data in all DRUs. Note that this step can take quite some time, several hours depending on the amount of data your system contains (almost an hour by TB of data), as the entirety of your data will be read and computed to generate the parity.

If closed, open your Cruise Control configuration, and go back to the Drive Manager. Click on the Initialize RAID button.


 

You will get 2 confirmation windows, as it will wipe out your parity drive(s) to create the new parity. Click Yes.

 

The parity creation process will then start. You can let the process run alone and get a coffee, lunch, of night of sleep, depending on the amount of data, as it can take a while…

It eventually reaches completion.

 

Back to the Cruise Control main page, more options are now available:

 

Start the Storage Pool: this enables to publish the drives which represent the pool made of all your data drives.
Server Shares: enables to share subfolders from your pool, and to make sure that those shares are re-created after reboot of your server
Info and Stats: displays information on the pool and its drives
Preferences and Settings: allows to tweek some of the parameters of FlexRAID
Toolbox: allows to perform maintenance on your Snapshot RAID (updating the parity, validating the health of the RAID, etc.)

 


 

Part 3: Start the pool

The next step is to start the pool. This will happen in 2 steps: the first time you start the pool, FlexRAID will actually only install the Storage Pool driver, and ask you to reboot. After the reboot, you’ll be able to actually start the pool.

Click on Start the Storage Pool link. A progress bar will appear, after which FlexRAID will ask you to reboot your machine.

 

Reboot your PC, and get back to the Cruise Control configuration. Click again on the Start the Storage Pool link. The progress bar will appear again, and after a few seconds, you should see the success message.

 

You can now open an explorer window and go to “My Computer”, you’ll see a new drive “V:\”, which size should be the sum of the size of all your data drives. And by browsing its content, you’ll see that it is actually a merge of the content of all your drives.

 


 

Part 4: Pool auto-start and various other things

To make sure that FlexRAID will automatically republish your pool at each system boot, you need to go back to the Cruise Control main screen, and open the Preferences and Settings window.
In this window, click on Storage Pool Preferences.

 

In this section, tick the box, and configure the auto-start delay – this delay is the time that FlexRAID will wait before remounting the pool. This delay is important, and is there to make sure that all system services are up before FlexRAID starts the pool. Note that it’s expressed in ms – a value around 15000 fits most needs, meaning 15 seconds.

Before leaving this window, you can also look to the Storage Pool Merge Configuration, which allows to change the letter that the pool is mounted to, and change the merge mode, see this article for explanation about the merge modes. Note that the mode set by default in the Cruise Control configuration fits most needs.

 

You can also go into “Info and Stats” to see your drives status, and their amount of free space.

 

You’re Done!

You’re done – your drives are now pools, and more importantly, your data is protected!

Bear in mind, however, that the Snapshot RAID mode is a manual RAID, for which the updates on the parity are done on demand only (either manually, or nightly thanks to the FlexRAID’s scheduller). Therefore do not forget to maintain your RAID when modifying your data, to make sure your data is protected.

What’s next?

You can now:
- Share subfolders from your pool, in case FlexRAID runs into a server, see here
- Go through the page explaining the maintenance of your Snapshot RAID here
- Or you could simulate a drive failure and test FlexRAID’s ability to restore your data (guide will come soon)

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7 Responses to “Getting Started: Creating your first FlexRAID configuration”

  1. curious January 29, 2012 at 12:03 AM #

    If your OS drive dies, do you lose the FlexRAID configuration?

    • xliv January 30, 2012 at 6:00 AM #

      The configuration being located on the OS drive will die with the drive itself. However, you can easily re-create it by importing the configuration file(s) which are co-located with your parity, which will enable to re-create your RAID without having to re-calculate the entire parity.

  2. Gareth September 25, 2012 at 11:16 PM #

    If I have configured drives in to a Cruise Control config I have an issue accessing the Storage Pool when a drive fails. Is this by design?

    I simulated this by adding 3 x DRU’s and 1 x PPU
    Shutdown the machine
    Disconnect the drive and start up again
    Windows displays the drive as Removable Storage but is then inaccessible.
    Log in to the FlexRaid console to see it is marked as MISSING

    There are no options to mark the volume as FAILED and still have the ability to access the data on the other drives without having to remove the configuration?

    All I can do is to replace the drive and then perform a restore.

    I assume that this is down to the Storage Pooling feature?

  3. Patrick November 3, 2012 at 12:20 PM #

    I’m a little confused as to how parity and spanning work in unison. In the example above, you have a storage pool of about 1.5tb and a 500gb parity drive. As the 1.5tb pool starts to fill up with data, wouldn’t it eventually exceed the ability of the 500gb parity drive to ‘cover’ it?

  4. Jeff February 6, 2013 at 9:54 PM #

    I like the Cruise Control mode very much; it just makes everything so easy to configure, however…

    I noticed over several months of usage, my drives were going to sleep. It would take a very long time for them to wake on my first access of my drive pool in the morning…

    Then I started reading about Windows 7 performance tuning and power settings. I have never done it before, but a desktop machine first installed with the OS will have a setting to turn off drives after 20 minutes. This can cause FlexRaid to be very slow until all the drives in your pool wake from sleep settings. I would sometimes experience several minutes of delays when I would first try to access the drive pool; completely unacceptable performance no matter what the energy savings, for a server storage array.

    It was as easy as going into the control panel, Hardware and Sound, Power Settings, choosing High Performace Settings option, and then Change Plan Settings for that selection, and go to Advanced Settings, Hard Disk and setting Turn Off Hard Disk to NEVER.

    Now I experience ENTIRELY DIFFERENT PERFORMANCE from FlexRaid and I would never have known this from the FlexRaid documentation. I assume the developer is not entirely involved with Windows and has not experienced this complaint. Either way, make sure you understand this if you host FlexRaid on Windows.

  5. Jeff February 6, 2013 at 10:10 PM #

    FYI, I have a very large array, with about 15 drives, and 1 parity drive. With the settings set above, I am now very happy with FlexRaid, even when pushing it much harder than it was intended. I simply do not want to lose another hard drive, and I am willing to sacrifice access time, performance, in the cost of protecting my data.

    I have now resolved that I will slowly replace aging 1, 1.5 and 2TB drives with new 3TB drives from Seagate. I am happy with the 3TB Seagate drives and have 4 of them currently, 1 of which has been my parity drive for the last 6 months. Used daily, it is quiet, fast and very dependable. If I have same luck with my 3 other drives, I will be very happy to replace aging WD green 2TB drives, etc.

    If we could start a thread on anecdotes of drives used for FRaid, I would be interested to participate. It would be an interesting conversation to see what drives people are getting best bang for buck from. And what drives are best to retire early..

  6. DavidR January 29, 2014 at 3:24 PM #

    Hi Jeff and all, like you Jeff, I retired a fleet of 1,1.5,2tb drives with (over a year) 14 new 4tb Seagate 7200rpm drives. Although I mentioned a brand, this is not a seagate bash, I think all drives are equal, just some batches or models are bad. My 4tb drives, 5 have failed already.
    In researching this I found, that the manufactures warranty had dropped from 3 years to 2. And that warning has started appearing on normal drives, NOT for raid, not for arrays and not for large media files (volumes).
    Looking at the WD range, they say the green two years warranty and use in normal systems. WD red, 3 years warranty and use in arrays up to 5 drives and WD SE 3 years warranty and use in arrays up to 8 and more.
    I am lead to believe that normal drives DO NOT last like they use to. That large often writes / reads kill them and also heat of enclosures and esp VIBRATION of enclosures kill them.
    So…. consider the type of drive you get.
    kind regards
    DavidR

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