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1. Introduction

This HOWTO is deprecated; the Linux RAID HOWTO is maintained as a wiki by the linux-raid community at http://raid.wiki.kernel.org/

This HOWTO describes the "new-style" RAID present in the 2.4 and 2.6 kernel series only. It does not describe the "old-style" RAID functionality present in 2.0 and 2.2 kernels.

The home site for this HOWTO is http://unthought.net/Software-RAID.HOWTO/, where updated versions appear first. The howto was originally written by Jakob Østergaard based on a large number of emails between the author and Ingo Molnar (mingo@chiara.csoma.elte.hu) -- one of the RAID developers --, the linux-raid mailing list (linux-raid@vger.kernel.org) and various other people. Emilio Bueso (bueso@vives.org) co-wrote the 1.0 version.

If you want to use the new-style RAID with 2.0 or 2.2 kernels, you should get a patch for your kernel, from http://people.redhat.com/mingo/ The standard 2.2 kernels does not have direct support for the new-style RAID described in this HOWTO. Therefore these patches are needed. The old-style RAID support in standard 2.0 and 2.2 kernels is buggy and lacks several important features present in the new-style RAID software.

Some of the information in this HOWTO may seem trivial, if you know RAID all ready. Just skip those parts.

1.1 Disclaimer

The mandatory disclaimer:

All information herein is presented "as-is", with no warranties expressed nor implied. If you lose all your data, your job, get hit by a truck, whatever, it's not my fault, nor the developers'. Be aware, that you use the RAID software and this information at your own risk! There is no guarantee whatsoever, that any of the software, or this information, is in any way correct, nor suited for any use whatsoever. Back up all your data before experimenting with this. Better safe than sorry.

1.2 What is RAID?

In 1987, the University of California Berkeley, published an article entitled A Case for Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID). This article described various types of disk arrays, referred to by the acronym RAID. The basic idea of RAID was to combine multiple small, independent disk drives into an array of disk drives which yields performance exceeding that of a Single Large Expensive Drive (SLED). Additionally, this array of drives appears to the computer as a single logical storage unit or drive.

The Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) of the array will be equal to the MTBF of an individual drive, divided by the number of drives in the array. Because of this, the MTBF of an array of drives would be too low for many application requirements. However, disk arrays can be made fault-tolerant by redundantly storing information in various ways.

Five types of array architectures, RAID-1 through RAID-5, were defined by the Berkeley paper, each providing disk fault-tolerance and each offering different trade-offs in features and performance. In addition to these five redundant array architectures, it has become popular to refer to a non-redundant array of disk drives as a RAID-0 array.

Today some of the original RAID levels (namely level 2 and 3) are only used in very specialized systems (and in fact not even supported by the Linux Software RAID drivers). Another level, "linear" has emerged, and especially RAID level 0 is often combined with RAID level 1.

1.3 Terms

In this HOWTO the word "RAID" means "Linux Software RAID". This HOWTO does not treat any aspects of Hardware RAID. Furthermore, it does not treat any aspects of Software RAID in other operating system kernels.

When describing RAID setups, it is useful to refer to the number of disks and their sizes. At all times the letter N is used to denote the number of active disks in the array (not counting spare-disks). The letter S is the size of the smallest drive in the array, unless otherwise mentioned. The letter P is used as the performance of one disk in the array, in MB/s. When used, we assume that the disks are equally fast, which may not always be true in real-world scenarios.

Note that the words "device" and "disk" are supposed to mean about the same thing. Usually the devices that are used to build a RAID device are partitions on disks, not necessarily entire disks. But combining several partitions on one disk usually does not make sense, so the words devices and disks just mean "partitions on different disks".

1.4 The RAID levels

Here's a short description of what is supported in the Linux RAID drivers. Some of this information is absolutely basic RAID info, but I've added a few notices about what's special in the Linux implementation of the levels. You can safely skip this section if you know RAID already.

The current RAID drivers in Linux supports the following levels:

1.5 Requirements

This HOWTO assumes you are using Linux 2.4 or later. However, it is possible to use Software RAID in late 2.2.x or 2.0.x Linux kernels with a matching RAID patch and the 0.90 version of the raidtools. Both the patches and the tools can be found at http://people.redhat.com/mingo/. The RAID patch, the raidtools package, and the kernel should all match as close as possible. At times it can be necessary to use older kernels if raid patches are not available for the latest kernel.

If you use and recent GNU/Linux distribution based on the 2.4 kernel or later, your system most likely already has a matching version of the raidtools for your kernel.


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