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Welcome to SoftRAID's News and Views page where we feature interesting articles about things that interest and excite us at SoftRAID, along with contributions from SoftRAID customers and guests.


DriveSavers Utilizes SoftRAID for Data Storage

by Jarrod Rice, Content Marketing Manager, OWC

February 28 2017

For industry-leading data recovery specialists DriveSavers, the recovery process is a numbers game of zeros and ones.

Image of DriveSavers at work

When a customer sends in a drive that is physically damaged, the company’s recovery engineers make an image of the binary code—the fundamental zeros and ones—that makes up the drive’s data. From there, DriveSavers Director of Engineering Mike Cobb says the team turns these raw numbers back into customer files. “It’s kind of like a photocopy,” Cobb explains. “That way, whatever happens down the line, we don’t have to go back to the original damaged drive and try to retrieve it again.”

RAID 5 is incredibly vital to us because hard drives can and will fail. We want to have the best chance of getting around a failure if there is one. SoftRAID gives us that necessary assurance.—Mike Cobb, Drivesavers

Those “photocopies” are crucial to the process of safely recovering lost data. Alongside those fundamental zeros and ones, a third number features heavily in the workflow at DriveSavers too—5. As in RAID 5. Like countless other professionals, DriveSavers relies on SoftRAID’s unmatched RAID 5 capabilities.

RAID 5 for Peace of Mind, Performance, and Protection

DriveSavers works with the digital “photocopies” and recovered data on their active servers. It’s here where extreme data safety without sacrificing performance is paramount, so DriveSavers turns to SoftRAID. Because even the masters of data recovery have a backup plan.

Right now we have over a petabyte of active storage, but that space is not unlimited for customer data. With SoftRAID, we can offload…that data into a fairly large data set that’s redundant and put it into a cold storage, …freeing up our servers, which saves costs.—Mike Cobb, Drivesavers
Image of DriveSavers at work

“Our servers are temporary storage, so if there are circumstances where the data is held here internally for an extended period of time, that’s where SoftRAID comes in,” Cobb says. “We use SoftRAID because of its implementation of RAID 5 and because redundancy is built in.”

Image of DriveSavers at work

DriveSavers, along with countless other pros, relies on RAID 5 because it provides professional level performance along with data protection through parity. For each block of data in a RAID 5 configuration, a parity code is calculated and then stored across the other drives. If one drive fails, it can be replaced and its content can be restored, rebuilding the data from the parity information.

SoftRAID delivers the most advanced and configurable software RAID 5, ideal for the kind of mission critical data protection that DriveSavers needs on a day-to-day basis. “RAID 5 is incredibly vital to us because hard drives can and will fail. We want to have the best chance of getting around a failure if there is one. SoftRAID gives us that necessary assurance” Cobb added. Offloading data to a long-term, cold storage solution powered by SoftRAID also saves precious server space, which makes fiscal sense for DriveSavers.

DriveSavers relies on SoftRAID’s Drive Certification feature to do the testing manufacturers don’t. Quickly and efficiently certifying every sector on every drive they use gives DriveSavers added confidence and prevents potential disaster.

“Right now we have over a petabyte of active storage, but that space is not unlimited for customer data” Cobb said. “With SoftRAID, we can offload and consolidate that data into a fairly large data set that’s redundant and put it into a cold storage. It’s really about freeing up our servers, which saves costs.”

Certification Means Even More Data Safety

Because HDD manufacturers don’t test every sector on a disk before shipping, DriveSavers relies on SoftRAID’s Drive Certification feature to do the testing manufacturers don’t.

SoftRAID writes a random pattern out to every sector and then verifies the pattern to make sure every sector on the disk is working reliably. Quickly and efficiently certifying every sector on every drive they use gives DriveSavers added confidence and prevents potential disaster.

“For drive certification, we’re verifying that the drives we’re using in SoftRAID are essentially free of sector flaws. We touch every sector and write patterns to all of them. We then read from every one of the sectors and verify that a drive is sound for a RAID environment and able to last a long period of time.”

Image of DriveSavers at work

If drives are flawed, SoftRAID helps DriveSavers find out why. And, SoftRAID Specialist Tech Support is there to help with any issue the DriveSavers team comes across. Detailed private reports are generated easily, so the SoftRAID Tech Support team sees exactly what the user is seeing.

“During drive certification, it’s common to find multiple failures,” Cobb said. “And we’ve worked with the SoftRAID tech support team to find out why these drives fail. SoftRAID makes it very easy to send the actual crash logs to Tech Support so you can diagnose problems very quickly. They’ve always done a great job.”

Second to None Data Loss Prevention

When it comes to data recovery, DriveSavers is second to none. The company’s motto is “We can save it!” and that’s proven every day by the highest data recovery success rate in the industry. And while it’s a comforting thought that DriveSavers is there for the worst case scenario, preventing loss in the first place with the right RAID is the best way to keep your data safe. Because even the top data recovery experts have a backup plan.

What your surge protector isn't doing for you

Protecting your computer from storms

by Tim Standing, VP of Engineering at SoftRAID

February 9 2017

Did you know that storms can break your computer? Most people worry about power spikes caused by lightning. They purchase power strips with surge protectors to prevent power spikes from frying their computers.

A much more likely cause of computer damage is brownouts. A brownout is when the voltage in your electricity lines goes lower than it should. You often see the lights go dim or "brown out" for a few seconds. Brownouts during storms are often caused by tree branches or other objects touching the power lines which bring electricity to your home or business. When the tree branch touches the power line, some of the electricity goes into the branch and the wires no longer have enough power to provide the correct voltage.

Just look at this video clip taken by a member of the SoftRAID team on their way home earlier this winter. There's probably a wet tree branch stuck on the top of the transformer causing all the fireworks.

Most likely, every home and business supplied by that transformer was experiencing a brownout the entire time that tree branch was causing that wonderful light show.

In one year, I lost a computer and 2 monitors during brownouts caused by storms. Then I spoke to an electrician in my town. He explained the difference between voltage spikes and brownouts. While most users purchase power strips with "surge protectors" for their computers, these power strips can only protect against voltage spikes. They are powerless to protect to protect your equipment from brownouts. You need a UPS or power conditioner to protect from brownouts.

I didn't want the expense or maintenance of batteries so I chose to purchase a power conditioner for my computer equipment. Since I first started using power conditioners 20 years ago to protect my equipment, I have not experienced a single failure due to a brownout during a storm.

While a UPS can be quite expensive, a power conditioner is relatively inexpensive. I have been using the power conditioners from APC, their Line-R models in the 1200 VA size which cost about $50.00.

It's not just storms that can cause a brown-out. Any time your circuit is overloaded (a common symptom of which is lights dimming) you could be experiencing a brown-out that could damage your computer or other electronic equipment.

This is really true! A friend of mine in Boston, was never able to have a desktop computer last more than 2–3 years. I figured out the culprit was his attic fan. Each time it started up, all the lights in his house would dim for 2–3 seconds. When I suggested a power conditioner to him, he said he already had one. It turned out he had one which covered his entire house, including the attic fan. It made sure the voltage coming into the house was okay, but did nothing about the huge power draw from the attic fan. So he got a smaller power conditioner for just his computer equipment. That was 4 years ago and he hasn't had a problem since.

Nobody Likes a Kernel Panic!

Just don’t rush to make assumptions about why it’s happening.

by Tim Standing, VP of Engineering at SoftRAID

October 6 2016

A kernel panic is a crash, the type when your computer just freezes—the mouse stops moving and everything on the screen is still. A few seconds later, your computer reboots and you may have lost all the work you had just been doing.

We pride ourselves in fixing 100% of the bugs in SoftRAID which cause kernel panics. We know how disruptive they can be to your everyday life and don't want to be responsible for you losing work.

So I was really troubled 6 months ago when I started getting kernel panics on my development Mac, the one I use to create the SoftRAID product. I had just started using new virtualization software allowing me to run several different versions of Mac OS X on the same Mac at exactly the same time. Since the kernel panics started when I started using the new software, it seemed natural that the software was causing the kernel panics.

At first, I encountered the kernel panics every 2–3 weeks, always after I had run the virtualization software. Then they started happening every week, finally every 2–3 days. It was getting to be a real nuisance.

During this time, Mark James, one of our support engineers, was helping a customer who was also experiencing kernel panics. The customer said they were happening on his 2013 Mac Pro, while using a RAID 4 volume, created using SoftRAID, and made of 4 SSDs. The customer naturally assumed the kernel panics were caused by SoftRAID because they started occurring after he created his SoftRAID volume.
The interesting point was that this customer only encountered the bug when 64 GB of RAM was installed in the Mac Pro.

We tried to reproduce the problem, using the same amount of RAM (64 GB). However, we could not get the kernel panics to happen. A few weeks later, I asked Mark if he had resolved the issue with the customer. "Yes," he said, "it was bad RAM. Once the customer replaced the RAM, the kernel panics disappeared entirely."

The next day, I purchased replacement RAM for my development Mac. Since I installed it, 6 weeks ago, I haven't had a single kernel panic.

So even though we all want to believe that kernel panics are caused by inferior software, sometimes it is actually a hardware problem—like bad RAM!

Why Catastrophic Flash Memory Failure is so Hard to Predict

At August's 2016 Flash Media Summit (in Santa Clara, CA) SoftRAID’s VP of Engineering, Tim Standing, talked about the challenges around SSD failure prediction.

September 9 2016

Tim started off talking about SoftRAID’s efforts to make storage more reliable: “In 2010, we added a feature for predicting disk failure, which used the results from a Google study on 100,000 rotating media disk drives. This feature can warn users weeks or months before a disk fails. The feature predicts about 75% of disk drive failures, the other 25% of the failures happen without any warning.”

SoftRAID’s success in predicting disk failure in rotating media spurred Tim and his team to develop a similar system for SSDs: “After we saw the power of failure prediction, we wanted to develop the same feature for SSDs."

For those of us who don't know why SSDs can't use the same process as rotating media for failure prediction, Tim explains: "When disks with rotating media are about to fail, they start reallocating sectors. We can use the reallocated sector count as an indicator for impending disk failure; the more sectors reallocated, the nearer the disk is to failure. Unfortunately, this technique doesn't work with SSDs because SSDs reallocate sectors during everyday use—every time a flash memory block stops working, the controller reallocates another block of flash memory to replace it. It's not unusual for a healthy SSD to have thousands of reallocated sectors."

So another technique needed to be used for failure prediction in SSDs, and Tim thought his team had found it: "We were excited to discover that SSDs contain a Media Wearout Indicator as one of their SMART parameters."

Tim then described how the Media Wearout Indicator works: "Remember that SSDs have 10 - 20% extra flash memory (a 100 GB SSD actually contains 110–120 GB of flash memory). This extra flash memory is used to replace flash memory blocks that wear out as the SSD is used. The Media Wearout Indicator displays the amount of extra flash memory still available in an SSD. It goes from 100% when the SSD is new down to 0% when all this extra flash memory has been used up.

However, as Tim went on to explain, the Media Wearout Indicator didn’t turn out to be quite as useful as expected: “We had high hopes that this indicator would provide us with a predictive indicator for impending failure. Two years ago, we incorporated a mechanism for monitoring it into SoftRAID. Since then, we have seen no SSDs which have failed because all their extra flash memory has been consumed. All the SSDs we have seen fail have failed with the Media Wearout Indicator well above 80%. We are still trying to develop a reliable mechanism for predicting when SSDs will fail."

After his talk, Tim spoke to Chris Bross of DriveSavers Data Recovery, Inc., who said that their experience was exactly the same. SSDs fail catastrophically and without warning, and the Media Wearout Indicator is not useful in predicting when they will fail.