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How to: Install and setup FlexRAID on your windows storage system.

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#1 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:27 PM

How to: Install and setup FlexRAID on your windows storage system.

FlexRAID-LOGO.png

The tutorial will be spread over multiple posts so you can use the links below to navigate.
PDF version available >>HERE<<
 
 Disclaimer: I, Koen van der Sanden (looney), am in no way affiliated with FlexRAID, its partners or its competitors. The following tutorial/guide is presented for a educational purpose only, and no warranties are made as to its accuracy or reliability. This tutorial was made for http://www.linustechtips.com (LTT) you may share this tutorial on other websites with my express permission (PM me for this) as long as the tutorial will remain publicly available and you don’t remove the LTT watermarks.
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#2 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:27 PM

What is FlexRAID?
FlexRAID is a paid software RAID solution, it is multiplatform but you will mostly find it on windows systems. it uses “snapshot” RAID opposed to “real-time” RAID, making it suitable for data that does not change very often. In case of a disk failure it will only restore the data that was present during the last snapshot. You can set up your own snapshot schedule.
There are 3 versions of FlexRAID:
1. Data Protection $40 (no storage pooling)
2. Storage pooling $30 (no data protection)
3. Combo $60 (duh, it’s the combo version :P)

This topic is about the Combo version.
NOTE: you can request a 14 day trail version, simply download the installer and follow the tutorial to do so.


FlexRAID Pro’s and Con’s
Before we start with the tutorial it’s probably a good idea to list the pros and cons of FlexRAID.

Pros:
· Existing data on drives stays intact when creating the array/pool.
· You can expand the array without data loss or rebuilds.
· Only active disks will spin up (power efficient)
· Multiplatform
· Uses NTFS, so if the array fails you will still have your data in NTFS on the disk.
· Entire files are always stored on a single disk, not spanned across multiple.*

Cons
· Speed is the same as a single disk.**
· Disk load is not balanced.
· Entire files are always stored on a single disk, not spanned across multiple.*

*As you can see “Entire files are always stored on a single disk, not spanned across multiple” is listed as both a pro and a con, personally I think it’s a pro because there is a smaller chance of corruption.
But others can see it as a con because it may increase the chance of a faulty recovery.

**The speed for transferring a single file is limited to the speed of the single disk that the file is stored on. But the overall data throughput can be larger then a single disk's speed when multiple files on separate disks are in use. So in most cases you will achieve a higher over all data throughput than the single disk speed.


So when should I use FlexRAID and when should I not?
FlexRAID is very well suited for media storage and simple “copy paste” style backups and other data that does not change often.
In that scenario it will be more then fast enough and it will also be very efficient. But as I mentioned before, FlexRAID does not split files, so very large files can cause problems if they are larger than the drives that form the array/pool. It’s also not the fastest RAID solution out there.

So use it for:
· Media storage (photo’s, (HD) movies, audio)
· Copy paste style backups (so not backup images, unless they are small)

And don’t use it for:
· Very large files (iSCSI targets, Large VM’S, Large backup images)
· High I/O (or critical) applications (don’t use snapshot RAID for this)


And one more thing:
RAID IS NOT A BACKUP(@alpenwasser)


If you’re not sure that FlexRAID is the right solution for you then then make a post in the storage subsection and ask for advice there ( type @looney in your post to automatically send me a notification of your topic)
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#3 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:27 PM

FlexRAID tutorial system explained:
This tutorial was made on a Windows 7, SP1, 32bit virtual machine
 
01.02%20vmware.png
 
The virtual machine consists of 8 2TB drives formatted with NTFS like you normally would do.
6 of these drives all have 5 blocks of “data” on them, this data is simulated by a 2GB encrypted files named by drive number and data block, for example the file “DRIVE 1_4” is the 4th file on Drive 1. This way you can see that data remains intact during the setup.
The 2 remaining drives are empty and will be used as parity drives in this Tutorial.
 
01.01%20drive%20setup.png
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#4 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:28 PM

FlexRAID preparing your system
Before we start you will need to prepare your drives.
The only thing you'll need to do is disable the recycle-bin on all drives you want to add to FlexRAID
 
To do this simply right-click on the recycle-bin icon on your desktop and select properties. 
Then one by one select the drives you want to use in FlexRAID and select "Don't move files to recycle bin....." then Apply and press oke, the recycle bin is now disabled on your drives and they are good to go for FlexRAID.
 
01.1%20disable%20recyclebin%20for%20driv
(Disable the recycle bin for your FlexRAID drives)
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#5 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:28 PM

FlexRAID software installation
The installation of the FlexRAID software itself is very straight forward.
Everything is installed with one nice .exe installer. So all you need to do is press next unless you want to change a setting.

02.01%20installer.png
Step 1: welcome screen, press next.

02.02%20installer.png
Step 2: License agreement, accept if you agree and press next.

02.03%20installer.png
Step 3: Install FlexRAID for… (You may change this setting if you deem this necessary)

02.04%20installer.png
Step 4: Installation destination. (You may change this setting if you deem this necessary)

02.05%20installer.png
Step 5: Program folder name. (You may change this setting if you deem this necessary)

02.06%20installer.png
Step 6: Create a desktop shortcut. (Recommended)

02.07%20installer.png
Step 7: Pre install check, clicking next here will install the FlexRAID files on your system using the listed settings.

02.08%20installer.png
Step 8: Yes, you must eat a schnitzel.

02.09%20installer.png
Step 9: Starting the FlexRAID service and finishing the .exe installer.

02.10%20CMD%20en%20Drivers.png
Step 10: Accept and install the driver


The core installation of FlexRAID is now completed.
In the next post we will quickly go over the FlexRAID web UI.
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#6 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:28 PM

FlexRAID Web UI and licensing
Now that you have installed the software you can open the web management user interface.
You can do this by simply opening the FlexRAID.html link on your desktop that was created during the installation or by opening http://localhost:8080 in your web browser.
 
When you open the web UI it will give you a few option, these options are pretty straight forward. But if you need some help here feel free to ask for personal help in this tutorial topic.
I will be using the trail license for this tutorial.
 
03.01%20select%20licens.png
(Web UI registration settings)
 
 
When you’re done filling in your key or requesting your trail license you will be greeted with login screen, this is for local authentication. As we have not configured this yet we can leave it blank and just click “login”.
 
03.02%20login.png
(Login screen)
 
 
After logging in you will see the main screen. (Example below this piece of text)
As you can see it looks a lot like a normal desktop which makes it very easy to navigate.
 
03.03%20main%20screen.png
(Main screen)
 
 
The only thing we will do in this part of the tutorial is changing the login screen settings.
To do this go to “System Control Panel” à “System Toolbox” à “Login” à “ Enable/Disable Login Page” here you can set the username and password for the Web UI or disable the page by deselecting the “Active” box.
 
03.04%20login%20settings.png
(Login screen settings)
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#7 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:28 PM

FlexRAID Array/Pool creation.
Next up in the tutorial is creating the Array/Pool.
To do this you must open “Add New Configuration” in the main screen.
 
There are 2 modes you can select, for 99% of the time “Cruise Control” is the way to go so that’s what we will use in this tutorial. The type of RAID we will use if “Snapshot”
You will also need to give a name for your configuration, press “Create” when your done.
 
04.01%20create%20array.png
(Add new configuration)
 
 
Creating the configuration should add an icon to the main screen much like this one:
 
04.02%20icon%20conf.PNG
 
Open the configuration and then open the “Drive Manager”
Once you’re in the drive manager you can start adding drives by selecting them in the list and then clicking on the “Add to Storage Pool” button. I will start with one of the 6 data drives.
 
04.03%20select%20drives%20and%20add.png
(Select drive and press the “Add to Storage Pool” button)
 
 
To add the drive you will need to tell FlexRAID what kind of drive it is (data or parity)
In this case I started with one of the six drives that have data on them so I will select DRU (Data Risk Unit). All you need to do now is press “add” and it will add the drive to the pool (might take a few seconds)
 
04.04%20add%20DRU.png
(Add DRU to the pool)
 
 
The drive you just added should now show up in a different table in the “Drive Manager”
This means it is successfully added to the configuration.
 
04.05%20manager%20pool%20table.png
(The added drive is now pooled)
 
 
Note: The added drives will no longer show up in the windows explorer.
 
04.06%20drive%20gone.png
(“DATA DRIVE 1” is no longer in the list)
 
 
You will now repeat the process for the remaining data drives (DRU).
So in my case I will end up with 6 drives.
 
04.07%20added%20all%20data%20drives.png
(All the data drives are now added to the pool)
 
 
Next up we will add all the PPU drives (Parity Protection Unit).
The adding of these drives is the same as with the DRU drive except for the fact that you need to select PPU instead of DRU.
WARING: PPU drives will be formatted, watch out for data loss!!
I would recommend 1 PPU for 6 drives or less and 2 PPU’s for more than 6 drives.
Feel free to post in this topic for specific help regarding your hardware setup.
 
04.08%20all%20drives.png
(All data and parity drives are added now)
 
 
Once you’re done adding the PPU drives you can initialize the array (“Initialize RAID” button).
There will be two warning popups to warn you about checking your PPU for data. If you’re certain there is no data on them then you press “yes” on both popups.
The array will now be initialized, the time this takes depends on the amount of data on the drives and the speed of the disks. You can easily eat a few more schnitzels while this is active.
 
04.09%20initialize.png
(Initializing RAID)
 
 
It eventually reaches completion.
You can now go back to the configuration main page and start the pool. (may ask for a reboot)
 
04.10%20start.png
(Start the storage pool)
 
 
 
The array should now show up in your windows explorer (unless you had to reboot in which case you need to start the pool again)
 
04.11%20IT%C2%B4S%20ALIVE%20MWA%20HA%20h
(Array is running and all the original data is intact)
 
There are still some things we might want to change like the fact that the drive is listed as removable, it is not shared on the network, and we still need to schedule the parity updated.
This will be handled in the 3 upcoming posts.
 
But don’t hesitate to take a break and eat yet another schnitzel.
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#8 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:28 PM

FlexRAID Array/Pool settings.
Next up we are going to make a few optional, but recommended, changes to the array:
·         List the drive as a normal drive instead of a removable drive.
·         Automatically start the array at windows startup.
·         Change the way that FlexRAID divides data over the drives.
 
All these settings are in the “Preferences and Settings” page that you will find on the home page of your configuration.
 
05.01%20settings.png
(Select Preferences and Settings)
 
 
The first thing we will do is making the drive look like a normal HDD, you can keep it as a removable if you want but in some cases programs need the drive to be a normal drive.
Changing it is very easy, simply go to the “Run-Time Properties” tab and look for the “Removable” setting (4th from the bottom), and set it to false and then save.
 
05.02%20removable.png
(Set removable to “false”)
 
 
The next thing up on our list is automatically starting the array.
This is set in the “Storage Pool Preferences” tab by simply checking the box.
I also recommend a delay of at least 1000 ms to make sure windows is ready.
Press save when your done.
 
05.03%20auto.png
(set automatic startup and delay)
 
 
The last thing on our list is setting the “merge mode”.
You will find this option in the “Storage Pool Merge Configuration” tab.
The default setting (Auto folder Priority) will not evenly spread files across drives, this means some drives will have more wear then others so we are going to set the merge mode to “Auto-Space-Priority” this way the drives will fill up as evenly as possible. (You can also change the arrays drive letter here)
 
05.04%20merge.png
(set the merge mode to “Auto-Space-Priority”)
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#9 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:28 PM

FlexRAID schedule setup.
Like I said before, FlexRAID is a snapshot RAID, so you will need to schedule the snapshots.
This is done with the scheduler you will find on the main page of the Web UI.
The settings are very easy, simply select the task you with to schedule and set when it should execute the task.
 
The most important task is the update task.
Update will update the parity data, all the data you add after updating is not protected until you update again. (It also incorporates the quick-validate task)
 
 In the example below it will update the array every day at 01:00 until the rapture.
Simply press “add schedule” and you’re done.
 
06.01%20schedule.png
(Example schedule settings
 
 
You can check your schedule in the “Schedule Jobs Manager”, a refresh might be required.
 
06.02%20schedule%20check.png
(Schedule jobs)
 
I will add more information on the other tasks at a later date or when there is a special request for the information.
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#10 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:28 PM

FlexRAID Folder sharing.
FlexRAID comes with a build in sharing solution, you can in theory use the standard windows share tool but in practice this is not ideal as it will try to start sharing before the array is initialized.
And the build in FlexRAID solution also simply uses the standard windows sharing tool anyway :P
 
Now, its very easy to set this up, simply go to the “Server Shares” page that you will find on the home page of your configuration.
Once your in there click "select" and then right click on the drive or folder you wish to share in the selection list.
You can also set the share name on this screen and set the permission, these are set the same way as you would set them when using windows sharing.
When your done simply press the add/save button.
 
07.01%20select%20drive.png
(Share the folder by selecting it and saving it.)
 
 
Now all you need to do to access your files is go to the PC on your network and its there!
 
07.02%20done.png
(FlexRAID array being accessed over the network)
 
This kind of share should suffice for most users, but if you need more info, or something doesn't work then feel free to post it in this topic.


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#11 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:28 PM

FlexRAID FAQ
 
Q: What is a “Unit of Risk” (UoR)?
A: In a traditional RAID sense, a UoR is a physical hard disk. In FlexRAID, a UoR is typically a      physical hard disk, but it can also be other data sources depending on the FlexRAID solution being used.
A Unit of Risk (UoR) is any unit which failure can be recovered from. That unit can be a file, a folder, a partition, a drive, a media disc, a standard RAID volume, a network share, a LUN, or a set or combination of them.
Put another way, a UoR is anything that contains data that one wants failure protection from.

 
 
Q: What is a “Data Risk Unit” (DRU)?
A: A DRU is a UoR that contains user data. It can be a single drive, a partition, a group of drives  or folders, a network share, etc., anything that can contain your data.
It can be of any size. You can have a system made of DRUs of various sizes. In fact, a good RAID-F practice is to assemble your drives into DRUs so that the sizes of your DRUs are consistent.

 
Feel free to make a post for more info on this option (DRU Spanning)
 
 
Q: What is a “Parity Protection Unit” (PPU)?
A: A PPU is a UoR that contains parity data computed from the DRU(s).
You can have one or several, depending on the tolerance level you want to reach (see below).

The PPU size has to be at least as big as your largest DRU.
 
Feel free to make a post for more info on how may PPU’s you need.
 
 
Q: What is a “Undo Recovery Unit” (URU)?
A: A URU is an optional element in Snapshot RAID used to back up the parity data about to be modified prior to executing a RAID update.
The idea here is that if the update fails or a drive dies before the update completes, the URU can be used to revert the operation so that the failed drive can be recovered.
Essentially, with a URU, you are saying that the update must succeed entirely or all changes to the parity data must be reverted.
A URU should be the size of the largest data change you anticipate making times the number of PPUs. If you change about 100GB of data max per update cycle, then your URU should have 100GB of available space for each PPU. The URU can be enable/disabled per update run.

 
Feel free to make a post for more info on this option (URU)
 
 
Q: What is the tolerance level?
A: As you will see, your system will be composed by several DRUs, and 1 or more PPU.
Each PPU will provide you with 1 tolerance level (one UoR can die without you loosing data).

 
 
Q: Do I need to backup RAID?
A: It's Highly recommended, and >here is why<. (@alpenwasser)
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#12 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:28 PM

To Do list:

  • More helpful options and settings that will be added by popular demand
  • Add stuff to the FAQ
  • List of helpful links and credits.
  • Start a schnitzel delivery service.

Change-log:

  • 9-Jul-13, Added links to @alpenwasser's post about Backups in the "what is FlexRAID" part.
  • 9-Jul-13, Added Backup FAQ. (@alpenwasser)
  • 3-aug-13, Added Folder Sharing.
  • 9-aug-13, Added Preparing your system.

     


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#13 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 12:29 PM

Reserved!
For now I'll just leave a schnitzel, Hmmmm, schnitzel...  :wub:  :wub:  :wub:
schnitzel.jpg
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#14 MG2R

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 03:13 PM

02.08%20installer.png
Step 8: Yes, you must eat a schnitzel.
 

You really like schnitzels, don't you? :P


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#15 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 03:22 PM

You really like schnitzels, don't you? :P

I only mentioned it 4* times in the tutorial (excluding tag) :D

And actually, no, not that much, its oke but not my fav food or anything like that, I just like saying it.
Plus, it works well to add a little weird humor in a serious topic like this :)


*EDIT: At one point I said "a few more schnitzels" so the 4 time mentioning thing is up for debate I guess :P.
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#16 MG2R

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 03:37 PM

On a more serious note: nice job on the tutorial. I like very in-depth tutorials, because they make beginners feel more comfortable.

 

I especially appreciate the post about "what is flexRAID?". Things like that are often forgotten.


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#17 Bengali

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 08:22 PM

@looney Excellent guide! Can't wait to see what more you are planning to add to it.

 

I wanted to suggest a couple pointers for your consideration.

- Make a section explaining how to prepare a drive before adding it to the pool. Delete/turn off the recycle bin folder for example.

- You said the speed of the pool is limited to the speed of a single drive. That is not true, because if you are accessing files from different drives in the pool simultaneously, you get the speed of both those drives, not just one. Hope I am making sense.

 

And I think this thread should be moved to the Storage section. People will benefit from it more there. 



#18 looney

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 09:06 PM

@looney Excellent guide! Can't wait to see what more you are planning to add to it.
 
I wanted to suggest a couple pointers for your consideration.
- Make a section explaining how to prepare a drive before adding it to the pool. Delete/turn off the recycle bin folder for example.
- You said the speed of the pool is limited to the speed of a single drive. That is not true, because if you are accessing files from different drives in the pool simultaneously, you get the speed of both those drives, not just one. Hope I am making sense.
 
And I think this thread should be moved to the Storage section. People will benefit from it more there.

thank you,
 
both points are 100% correct and i shall add them tonight.

EDIT: added this: 

 

**The speed for transferring a single file is limited to the speed of the single disk that the file is stored on. But the overall data throughput can be larger then a single disk's speed when multiple files on separate disks are in use. So in most cases you will achieve a higher over all data throughput than the single disk speed.

 

 
 
As for the forum section selection, I´ll just mention @Whaler_99 and @Windspeed36 and leave it up to them to move or not to move  :P


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#19 Whaler_99

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 07:17 PM

Moved - and great right up @looney!


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#20 dylandylandylan

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 09:56 PM

Thanks for this man, I have book marked it for when I set up another one of my JBODS


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