Update on My RAID Failure

Believe me, a RAID failure is a frustrating thing.  I've been without access to my photos and most of my data for over a week. Now it's almost over.

If you didn't know about my RAID failure, here's my first post talking about the problem due to a single point of failure. The problem centered around the failure of my Oyen Digital DataTale 4-Bay RAID enclosure just two months after the warranty period ended.

Repairing my RAID enclosure was relatively inexpensive at only $50. I spent more on shipping it back and forth than the repair. Even so, it takes time for this process to happen.  Overnight shipping was $111, so I ended up with 2-day shipping each way. The folks at Oyen Digital gave me an expedited service so it was out the day after they received it.  Still, it left me without my main system while the enclosure was away.

Once it returns early this week, I should just be able to place my drives back inside and all will be right. For now. It's clear to me that not only do hard drives fail, but so does every other component in the storage system. I had to revamp my data protection plan.

After the RAID Failure

Here's the plan that I've put together to protect my information.  It isn't perfect or cheap, but it's the best I can do right now.

  • Improve my backup capacity & frequency.  My old backup plan involved a few hard drives connected by USB or FireWire. More than a few of these were consumer devices, such as the WD MyBook drives, that bit the dust after about a year of use. No more Best Buy level consumer crap. I moved one step up to a solution from Other World Computering (OWC). They have a bundle that includes a LaCie Thunderbolt to eSATA adapter and an OWC Mercury Elite Pro. I bought a 6 TB unit, configured it as a pair of Striped 3TB drives using Mac OS X Disk Utility and then turned it on as a Time Machine backup. Each drive in the unit plugs an eSATA cable to the LaCie adapter, which in turn connects to my iMac by Thunderbolt.  I haven't benchmarked the performance, but it seems faster than a USB 2.o drive.
  • Once my RAID enclosure returns, I ought to be able to put my drives back in order and then let Time Machine do its thing.  I'll still keep my Aperture Vaults updated, too. This enclosure is an end of life product, though. When (not if) it breaks in the future, the manufacturer may not be able to repair it because the controller chip isn't available anymore. I have a limited period of time to use this thing.
  • Time to buy a new RAID enclosure. Of course, they all have the same problem. Use their RAID chip and you're stuck in a proprietary product that may not survive. I could get an enclosure that supports JBOD (which stands for “just a bunch of disks”) and let Mac OS X take care of the RAID for me.  Not quite as efficient, but it moves the proprietary problem from the enclosure to the operating system.
  • Archival cloud storage. Amazon Glacier is a service that lets you store archival data for a penny per gigabyte each month. It isn't meant to be interactive – that's why I have the Time Machine unit. If my home gets hit by a major disaster, though, I'd still have my most important data available to me. Those Aperture Vaults I mentioned would be fairly easy to upload quarterly.

Where Are the Thunderbolt Enclosures?

Since I had to buy new drives and enclosures, I really wanted to take advantage of Thunderbolt. I'm astonished that Thunderbolt RAID enclosures are still limited to a sole vendor – the very overpriced Pegasus RAID products. Other manufacturers, like QNAP, announced products in this space and then vanished. Even OWC has to jury-rig its products to an adapter to provide a partial Thunderbolt solution.

This doesn't pass the smell test.  Thunderbolt has been out for a couple of years now.  It's long past time that a competitor would show up with a Thunderbolt RAID enclosure.  I'd love to know why the other announced products never saw the light of day.

It's Almost Over

This was a pretty big wake-up call for me. It's not that I never planned to upgrade my data protection plan. The problem is that I didn't take action before I needed it. To be honest, I got pretty lucky here and dodged a big bullet. So I hope you learn from my misery and go spend the money now. Make sure your backup is equivalent to all your data, not just your most important data. Yes, I would have saved my photos, but I also would have lost a lot of other stuff that probably wouldn't have been replaced.

Storage systems fail. Consider them temporary. The trick is to have multiple copies and keep shuffling the systems before they fail – not to mention having an ace in the hole, like an online backup service.  Just don't rely upon any single one of them.  It's the system that works, not a component.

6 thoughts on “Update on My RAID Failure”

    1. Oh, you’re absolutely right. I got home today to find my RAID enclosure waiting for me and I quite carefully inserted the disks, tripped the switch and it worked. They forgot to include the top part of the enclosure, but that’s already on its way back to me. I hope I don’t trip and spill a Dr. Pepper into it while I’m waiting for it to arrive.

      1. It’s a very good thing a new device works “right out of the box”. My problem is 250,000 images spread over 6 external drives + 6 matching backup drives. Yikes! A couple of days ago, my 2TB backup drive filled up.

        It would be nice to have all images on ONE device. I think you mentioned upgrading to an enclosure, but was it the one-vendor Thunderbolt or something else?

        Oh, I recently started shooting 100% RAW, TIFF saves of 32-bit edits, panoramas. Explains the quick filling of the 2TB backup drive of current image files.

        1. There is a new model of this enclosure, but I’m not going to buy it. The reason is due to the problems associated with RAID 5 rebuilds. If you look at the Unrecoverable Read Errors (URE) on most drives, you find that you can basically expect a failure after three writes to the disk.

          That may not seem like much, but keep in mind that most users never see this failure rate because they don’t write over the entire drive. Doing a RAID rebuild does go over the entire drive, though. That process greatly increases the probability of a URE which could corrupt your data or cause the entire rebuild process to fail.

          One way to get around this is to buy more expensive drives with a higher URE factor. Another way is to just avoid RAID 5 completely and ensure you have good backups to restore when a drive fails. That’s why I included Amazon Glacier as part of my backup strategy.

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