Jul 27, 2009

Fun With Software RAID on Windows Server 2008

At my company we just got a server back from the field. It happened to be our backup server for our Houston office. My project is to re-purpose it and configure it as the backup server for our colocation facility in Denver Colorado. Easy as pie right? Just slap a fresh install of Windows server 2008 on there and call it a day!

Well it turns out this particular server, which is an HP Proliant DL360 G4 only has two SATA hard drives, and the SATA controller doesn’t support hardware RAID. Damn! Who the hell ordered that? I am a big proponent of NOT sending out a production server without some sort of fault tolerance. I mean, what happens if the hard drive fails out in Denver? Now I have to attempt a remote install of Windows, and reconfigure everything from scratch. No thanks!

So what are my options here? I could order a hardware RAID controller, but that costs money, and we have no budget, or I can configure software RAID through disk management. Guess which one I did?

To create a mirror in Disk management is really easy. All you have to do is the following:

  1. In Disk manager, in the lower half of the screen, click the square labeled Disk 0.
  2. Right click on the square and select Convert to dynamic disk
  3. After it is done converting to dynamic disk, make sure your second hard drive is unformatted, and unallocated.
  4. Now right click on your system partition on Disk 0 and select Add Mirror, now select Disk 1 as the destination for the mirror.
  5. Do the same thing with any other partitions you have.
  6. You will now see that the mirrors are syncing.

Windows Server 2008 Standard Hurray! Now we have some fault tolerance! Sure, write operations will be a little slower, but at least your data is safe.

Now if something happens to Disk 1, not biggie, you can break the mirror, slap a new drive in, and recreate the mirror. So what happens if Disk 0 fails? Here is where the ultimate in ass pain is found for Windows software RAID. You now have to create a floppy boot disk so you can boot to your mirrored drive to break the mirror, install a new Disk 0 and recreate the mirror. Yes, I said Floppy! Don’t worry, I said WTF too!

To make your floppy, do the following. I used an external USB floppy drive for this. If your server has a built in floppy drive, well then yours is older than mine, and your in better shape.

  1. Format your floppy using the quick option
  2. Open a command prompt
  3. Run: MKDIR A:\BOOT
  4. Run: XCOPY /H c:\bootmgr A:\
  5. Run: REG SAVE HKLM\BCD00000000 A:\BOOT\BCD

Now if Disk 0 fails, you can boot up with the floppy and select…

Microsoft Windows Server 2008 – Secondary Plex

…and boot up to Disk 1. Now you can break the mirror to Disk 0, replace Disk 0, and recreate the mirror. Awesome! You’re not done yet though. If you reboot, you will still need the boot disk to boot until you fix the boot sector on Disk 0. To do that you can restore the boot sector using a little utility I found called EasyBCD from Neosmart Technologies. They have a boot sector restore. Just point it to A:\boot\BCD and select restore. Bam! Done! Now all is right with the world, and your server is running again!

If any of you have successfully made a boot cd from a 2008 Boot Floppy I am all ears. So far, I have been unsuccessful in making one. I can’t believe that in this day and age we still have to use floppy disks!

Have you had to use any software RAID in your environment? What kind of tools/procedures do you use to recover from a drive failure? Let me know in the comments!

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