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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Performance, Quality and Reliability | Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) | RAID Configuration and Implementation | RAID Management ]

Management Software

All RAID controllers come with some sort of software that lets you manage the controller and its connected arrays and drives. This software can range from very simple to very complex, depending on the type of controller and the number of features it supports. Most hardware controllers come with two different software components:

  • Controller BIOS Setup Program: This is a hardware-based program that can be run at boot time in exactly the same way that a motherboard's BIOS setup program operates. By pressing the appropriate key(s) at the appropriate time during the boot sequence, a special program contained in a ROM chip on the controller appears on the screen (usually in a text-only mode) and allows various functions to be performed. This program manages a set of data contained on the controller that is used by the controller's onboard BIOS. This type of program is essential for hardware RAID since you need to be able to set up and configure arrays before any operating system is loaded.
  • Operating System Management Utility: This is a straight software utility that runs after the operating system is loaded and running on the array. It allows many of the same features as the setup program, except it is designed more towards checking the status of the array and changing various parameters that control how it operates. It typically also will allow operations that continue while an array is operating normally, such as a rebuild on a fault-tolerant array. It works in conjunction with the setup program.

I couldn't even begin to describe in detail all the features and options found in the software utilities that come with high-end RAID controllers--they often come with manuals that approach 200 pages in length. Of course, the software also varies significantly from one manufacturer to another, and one product to another. Regardless of how it is set up, the functionality of RAID management software allows you to perform the following basic categories of functions:

  • Controller Configuration: Configuring the controller and its features at a hardware level. For example, setting how the internal cache, if any will work; controlling alarms; selecting manual vs. automatic rebuild for failed drives, disabling the BIOS if necessary, and so on.
  • Array Configuration: Defining and configuring RAID arrays, setting up which drives are in which arrays, and more.
  • Physical Drive Management: Checking the status of drives connected to the controller, formatting drives, designating drives as hot spares, and so on.
  • Logical Drive Management: Creating logical drive volumes from an array, formatting a logical volume, etc.
  • SCSI Channel Management: For SCSI cards, controls various settings and parameters related to setting up and managing the SCSI channels on the RAID controller. Many of these are related to managing SCSI bus termination.

Tip: As I mentioned above, RAID controllers normally come with extensive documentation. You can usually find the manuals for most RAID products in downloadable form on the web site of their manufacturer. Reading through the software manual for a controller you are considering buying can give you a much clearer picture of the controller's capabilities and limitations than you will get from glossy marketing blurbs.

How about software RAID? Well, there's no surprises here: a management program is required to manage all RAID features. There is obviously no BIOS setup program because there is no controller BIOS, so everything is done at the operating system level. RAID management functionality for Windows NT and 2000 is integrated into the Disk Administrator tool that is used for managing disk volumes.

Next: Remote Management

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