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Performance Management Guide

Using RAID

Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) is a term used to describe the technique of improving data availability through the use of arrays of disks and various data-striping methodologies. Disk arrays are groups of disk drives that work together to achieve higher data-transfer and I/O rates than those provided by single large drives. An array is a set of multiple disk drives plus a specialized controller (an array controller) that keeps track of how data is distributed across the drives. Data for a particular file is written in segments to the different drives in the array rather than being written to a single drive.

Arrays can also provide data redundancy so that no data is lost if a single drive (physical disk) in the array should fail. Depending on the RAID level, data is either mirrored or striped.

Subarrays are contained within an array subsystem. Depending on how you configure it, an array subsystem can contain one or more sub-arrays, also referred to as Logical Units (LUN). Each LUN has its own characteristics (RAID level, logical block size and logical unit size, for example). From the operating system, each subarray is seen as a single hdisk with its own unique name.

RAID algorithms can be implemented as part of the operating system's file system software, or as part of a disk device driver (common for RAID 0 and RAID 1). These algorithms can be performed by a locally embedded processor on a hardware RAID adapter. Hardware RAID adapters generally provide better performance than software RAID because embedded processors offload the main system processor by performing the complex algorithms, sometimes employing specialized circuitry for data transfer and manipulation.

RAID Levels and Their Performance Implications

Each of the RAID levels supported by disk arrays uses a different method of writing data and hence provides different benefits.

RAID 0 - For Performance

RAID 0 is also known as data striping. It is well-suited for program libraries requiring rapid loading of large tables, or more generally, applications requiring fast access to read-only data, or fast writing. RAID 0 is only designed to increase performance; there is no redundancy, so any disk failures require reloading from backups. Select RAID Level 0 for applications that would benefit from the increased performance capabilities of this RAID Level. Never use this level for critical applications that require high availability.

RAID 1 - For Availability/Good Read Response Time

RAID 1 is also known as disk mirroring. It is most suited to applications that require high data availability, good read response times, and where cost is a secondary issue. The response time for writes can be somewhat slower than for a single disk, depending on the write policy; the writes can either be executed in parallel for speed or serially for safety. Select RAID Level 1 for applications with a high percentage of read operations and where the cost is not the major concern.

RAID 2 - Rarely Used

RAID 2 is rarely used. It implements the same process as RAID 3, but can utilize multiple disk drives for parity, while RAID 3 can use only one.

RAID 3 - For CAD/CAM, Sequential Access to Large Files

RAID 3 and RAID 2 are parallel process array mechanisms, where all drives in the array operate in unison. Similar to data striping, information to be written to disk is split into chunks (a fixed amount of data), and each chunk is written out to the same physical position on separate disks (in parallel). More advanced versions of RAID 2 and 3 synchronize the disk spindles so that the reads and writes can truly occur simultaneously (minimizing rotational latency buildups between disks). This architecture requires parity information to be written for each stripe of data; the difference between RAID 2 and RAID 3 is that RAID 2 can utilize multiple disk drives for parity, while RAID 3 can use only one. The LVM does not support Raid 3; therefore, a RAID 3 array must be used as a raw device from the host system.

Performance is very good for large amounts of data but poor for small requests because every drive is always involved, and there can be no overlapped or independent operation. It is well-suited for large data objects such as CAD/CAM or image files, or applications requiring sequential access to large data files. Select RAID 3 for applications that process large blocks of data. RAID 3 provides redundancy without the high overhead incurred by mirroring in RAID 1.

RAID 4 - Less Used (Parity Volume Bottleneck)

RAID 4 addresses some of the disadvantages of RAID 3 by using larger chunks of data and striping the data across all of the drives except the one reserved for parity. Write requests require a read/modify/update cycle that creates a bottleneck at the single parity drive. Therefore, RAID 4 is not used as often as RAID 5, which implements the same process, but without the parity volume bottleneck.

RAID 5 - High Availability and Fewer Writes Than Reads

RAID 5, as has been mentioned, is very similar to RAID 4. The difference is that the parity information is distributed across the same disks used for the data, thereby eliminating the bottleneck. Parity data is never stored on the same drive as the chunks that it protects. This means that concurrent read and write operations can now be performed, and there are performance increases due to the availability of an extra disk (the disk previously used for parity). There are other enhancements possible to further increase data transfer rates, such as caching simultaneous reads from the disks and transferring that information while reading the next blocks. This can generate data transfer rates at up to the adapter speed.

RAID 5 is best used in environments requiring high availability and fewer writes than reads. Select RAID level 5 for applications that manipulate small amounts of data, such as transaction processing applications.

RAID 6 - Seldom Used

RAID 6 is similar to RAID 5, but with additional parity information written that permits data recovery if two disk drives fail. Extra parity disk drives are required, and write performance is slower than a similar implementation of RAID 5.

RAID 7 - A Definition of 3rd Parties

The RAID 7 architecture gives data and parity the same privileges. The level 7 implementation allows each individual drive to access data as fast as possible. This is achieved by three features:

RAID 10 - RAID-0+1

RAID-0+1, also known in the industry as RAID 10, implements block interleave data striping and mirroring. RAID 10 is not formally recognized by the RAID Advisory Board (RAB), but, it is an industry standard term. In RAID 10, data is striped across multiple disk drives, and then those drives are mirrored to another set of drives.

The performance of RAID 10 is approximately the same as RAID 0 for sequential I/Os. RAID 10 provides an enhanced feature for disk mirroring that stripes data and copies the data across all the drives of the array. The first stripe is the data stripe; the second stripe is the mirror (copy) of the first data stripe, but it is shifted over one drive. Because the data is mirrored, the capacity of the logical drive is 50 percent of the physical capacity of the hard disk drives in the array.

Summary of RAID Levels

The advantages and disadvantages of the different RAID levels are summarized in the following table:

RAID Level Availability Capacity Performance Cost
0 none 100 percent high medium
1 mirroring 50 percent medium/high high
2/3 parity 80 percent medium medium
4/5/6/7 parity 80 percent medium medium
10 mirroring 50 percent high high

RAID Performance Summary

The most common RAID implementations are: 0, 1, 3 and 5. Levels 2, 4 and 6 have problems with performance and are functionally not better than the other ones. In most cases, RAID 5 is used instead of RAID 3 because of the bottleneck when using only one disk for parity.

RAID 0 and RAID 1 can be implemented with software support only. RAID 3, 5 and 7 require both hardware and software support (special RAID adapters or RAID array controllers).

For further information, see Configuring and Implementing the IBM Fibre Channel RAID Storage Server.

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