Why home RAID won't fly

Fellow ZDnet blogger George Ou posted this morning on Why dumb-downed no-RAID storage is bad for consumers. With all due respect, George couldn't be more wrong.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Fellow ZDnet blogger George Ou posted this morning on Why dumb-downed no-RAID storage is bad for consumers. With all due respect, George couldn't be more wrong. RAID doesn't solve the home storage problem and its usability stinks.

The vendors who are backing off from selling or promoting RAID in the home are doing the right thing. Consumers don't want RAID, they want to protect their data.

"Dumbed-downed" vs "it just works" RAID, or any technology, is just a tool. Sometimes it is the right tool, sometimes it isn't. RAID isn't the right tool for consumers because it doesn't meet consumer needs.

Well, RAID meets one consumer requirement: it has a catchy name.

RAID's #1 problem: it doesn't work Consumers don't want to lose their data. RAID doesn't solve that problem: it is easy to lose data on a RAID array. It happens every day. Otherwise perfectly competent sysadmins and techs pull the wrong drive. They copy from the empty disk to the data disk. Silent data corruption hoses files and directories. Data disappears, never to return.

The very best that RAID can promise is that it protects your data better than a single disk. But any RAID system is still logically a disk and physically a group of disks. Therefore it will suffer all the ills of disks. A home environment, with crummy power, old cables and dirty air, is a stress test for disks.

So if you sell home RAID promising to protect people's data, get ready for a world of hurt. "Class-action lawsuit" ring any bells?

RAID's #2 problem: ease of use Is the iPod/iTunes combination "dumbed-down" or "smartened-up?" The latter, of course. Even with five years to copy them, reviewers like Walt Mossberg say that no one else has the ease of use of iTunes.

Ease of use means something a little different in the world of RAID. RAID ease of use has to tackle two problems: setup and break/fix.

Setup is easy if you don't mention RAID Consumers have zero interest in RAID levels, and there is no way anyone can make RAID interesting enough that they'll want to learn. So setting up a consumer RAID box means doing it for them.

Maybe that's "dumbing-down" but I think it's smart. And if you're not going to let people set their RAID level, why mention RAID in the first place? Even smarter.

Break/fix is the hairy part RAID's other usability problem is a little different: it breaks ugly. You have to pull out a disk. You have to pull out the right disk. You have to put in a new disk. You have to wait hours after you replace the disk for the system to get back to normal.

Error-prone and impatient consumers are going to screw these up. Often. When they do the vendor will be blamed. And rightly so.

So what does work in home data protection? I want to say one word to you. Just one word.


Home users want to protect their data. RAID won't do that. Backup will. It is that simple.

Now, there are a lot of possible variations on backup. Backup to disk. Backup to optical. Backup to Carbonite, Mozy or another on-line service.

One of the reasons that iTunes is successful is that backup is the data protection strategy. You store everything on your computer and sync to your iPod. Two copies, all the time.

The Storage Bits take I like what Data Robotics is trying to do with Drobo. As I wrote two months ago:

I’ll be surprised if it isn’t a success, especially as volume ramps and distribution widens. Non-geeks don’t want to manage storage or drives. They just want to store their stuff, safely. Drobo gets that and makes it easy. It is the iPod of mass storage.

It is still an open question whether Drobo actually delivers on the promises. But at least they are making the right promises.

Update: all the good comments helped me sharpen my thinking about home RAID. If you want v2.0 it is over on StorageMojo. Living in a small town in the mountains of northern Arizona, I actually interact daily with the target market for home RAID. That's why I know it won't fly.

Comments welcome.

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