Friday, October 21, 2011

. . . Fearful Computing Events

Most of the time computers are something that we use for work and entertainment, find fun, and explore the vast world of online media and social networking... When everything is going right, we rarely even think about the inner workings of our computer, but when things start to go wrong, we have no choice but to think upon it and worry.

The worse thing that can happen is for your PC to die...

Conventional wisdom suggests that as long as you have a recent backup, having your PC die is no big deal. Yeah, right... No big deal? You still have to replace it or have it fixed (or if you are me, fix it yourself), and then there is the dreaded process of first installing the OS and then every... Single... App... and... Game... again. Gah.


Which is why when I replaced my main PC last year I constructed what I considered to be the best high-end system that I could manage, starting with spending a bit extra on an ASUS motherboard with robust RAID support. I then bought a matched set of 2TB hard drives and used them to create a single 1TB mirrored array.

If you are not up on the tech -- RAID means Redundant Array of Inexpensive Devices -- which basically means you take two or more hard drives and install them into a system that has a RAID controller in it, then create a system with built-in data backup because it maintains a copy of the entire contents of the main drive in live mode. If that drive fails, the second drive in the array automatically becomes the boot drive, and you lose nothing.

Knowing that you have that sort of protection means that you can reduce your backups to once a week instead of daily. Considering that the hard drive is the most common failure point in a system, it also means you have insurance mates!

Once the system was built, all the apps were installed, and it took its place as my main work machine for graphics and video production -- two critical resources that are important to my work -- I had nothing to worry about. Until...


On Monday when I booted my system to shoot some game videos for a guide I was working on, I saw something that I had never seen before -- a warning screen during the boot told me that my RAID Array has degraded. The system booted and as soon as I logged into Win 7 I got another warning -- the RAID is Degraded!

What does that mean? It means one of the drives failed. Yeah, that is not good. But thanks to the magic of RAID I still had a fully-functioning system and was able to work. But now I had no insurance -- and I did not have a backup drive ready to go into the system. Jumping instantly into action, I checked the model number for my drives and ordered two replacements, with overnight shipping -- two because one needed to go right into the array, and the second, so that I had a drive on-hand in case I get another failure.

So I had two forms of insurance on the way. As expected, on Tuesday afternoon the drives arrived, but I couldn't actually do the repair until last night because of the video shoots I needed to do. Time is the enemy, and missing a few hours of sleep to fix this problem is worth it.

So how hard is it to replace a failed drive in your RAID mirror?

Easier than you might think -- as all that was required was to remove the bad drive, replace it with a good drive, go into the RAID Controller Boot Menu and tell it to add the new drive to the array and rebuild it, and then boot Win 7, at which point the system automagically detected the rebuild order and commenced to do it!

Well, not instantly... Initially the status message said it would take 25 hours to rebuild the array, but once it actually started doing it, the timer corrected down to 7 hours. Hey, 7 hours is not bad compared to 25!

So as I write this, the array is rebuilding, there is a spare drive in my closet, and all is right with the world. How was your week?

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