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RAID is not Redundant.

My year at Rocket Fuel has seen many unique system failures. One specific kind of failure I want to highlight is those of full RAID failures. I've talked before about how RAID is not a backup technology.

Tonight, we rebooted a machine that hung (presumably due to OOM or other funkiness) and it came back in the bios saying:

Foreign configuration(s) found on adapter
Our managed hosting support weren't sure what to make of this, so we decided to make a new home (from backups) for the services on this now-dead machine. Dell won't helping debug on this until tomorrow.

This is one of many total data losses I've observed on RAID sets in recent months - all due to RAID failures. Thankfully, We have backups that get shipped to HDFS. We monitor those backups. We also have puppet and other automation to help move and rebuild services on a new host. We're equipped to handle this kind of failure.

This leads me to a new conclusion: The 'R' in RAID is a lie. It is not redundant. Treating it that way can lead you to the raid-is-backup fallacy.

Wikipedia has this to say about Redundancy (engineering): "In engineering, redundancy is the duplication of critical components of a system with the intention of increasing reliability of the system, usually in the case of a backup or fail-safe."

Adding more parts (complexity) to a system doesn't often increase its reliability. Even taking into account the disk redundancy you might get with mirror or parity, you're still hedging that the RAID card doesn't die, which it will. Everything will fail (see MTBF) eventually, and MTTR on RAID failures is usually quite high, so weigh your risk.

Back to my conclusion that RAID is not redundant. RAID is not dead, I'm just done viewing RAID as a continuity-through-drive-failure technology. RAID has other benefits, though. It achieves more than just redundancy (when your card doesn't die).

RAID makes multiple drives present as a single drive device to the OS, right? Right. RAID allows you to aggregate disk IO performance to achive higher read/write rates than with a single disk alone. You can also aggregate disk space this way, too, if you didn't know.

It's almost 0100 now, I'd much rather be sleeping or playing TF2 than helping rebuild from backups.