If you pick the details carefully, RAID can save your company's bacon. Rather than dumb storage units, RAID is the equivalent of a sophisticated single-purpose computer connected to several disk drives. Don't stint on how much RAM you get or the speed of the RAID controller's processor, because the result could be slower performance, particularly during rebuilding data.
Most products offer the choice of different RAID levels, and the gear generally includes the necessary software. Focus on devices and apps that can grow with your company as it expands in the future.
Once you know the controller and RAID level you'll be using, figure out how much data space you need and calculate how many drives you'll need. Here, an online calculator can help with estimates for the actual storage you'll get from an array.
You're not done yet. Because your company is likely going to grow quickly, add in an element for the future. The extra cost will seem minor in a year when you actually need the space.
Be aware that most RAID systems work best with drives that are matched on latency, disk speed and especially capacity. In fact, if you use drives of different capacities, most RAID systems will treat them all as if they were the smallest drive of the group, potentially leaving storage capacity on the table. This is not the case with BeyondRAID systems, though.
At some point, you'll need to consider the system's ports. Sure, it will have an Ethernet connector for setting the RAID device up on your company's network. Some offer a second LAN port to allow a redundant connection or port aggregation that can yield speeds of up to 2 Gbps. Some also add USB and Thunderbolt for use as local storage devices, as might be the case at a company that does a lot of video editing.
It may seem trivial compared to the other considerations, but the device's interface is one of the most important choices you must make. Think of it as your window on a complicated machine that should tell you not only the array's capacity and how much is being used, but also the temperature and health of the drives.
Below the surface, look for the ability to adjust networking parameters, run diagnostic tests and use third-party software – for things like turning the array into a web server or backing up data – that might streamline your company's operations.
A RAID device that logs its activities is a given. Go a step further and look for one that records who accesses, moves and deletes files. This can be a big help with untangling the facts when a file is missing or corrupted.
While most RAID devices require that you physically replace the bad drive before rebuilding the data on a fresh one, some have space for a standby drive. Called a hot spare, this drive is physically connected to the controller but sits idle most of the time.
In a data emergency, the hot spare is used to rebuild the lost data. In most cases, the changeover can be done from the interface without even touching the array; some manufacturers even make this rollover an automatic event when a drive shows signs of failing. At some point, though, you'll need to remove and replace the dead drive with a good one.
For companies with very sensitive data, encryption is a good way to protect the contents without impeding legitimate uses. It's a good idea to scramble Social Security numbers, customer credit card lists or health insurance information, but it might make sense to encrypt everything that's stored, just in case. Many RAID controllers offer built-in AES 256 encryption, but that can slow down operations.
Each RAID device has its own mix of creature comforts that can make using it easier. These can include LEDs that show activity on each drive or a front-mounted USB port to drive hardware that allows quick swapping of disks. Some even have an LCD screen that shows the system's status, health and temperature.
Finally, while having the physical storage onsite is reassuring, the RAID data can be made accessible to online users, like mobile workers and vendors. Look for a RAID that offers online access so that others can use the data as needed. It can be a slippery slope to a security invasion, so proceed with caution, but today's business demands this type of digital collaboration. Taken a step further, the physical storage and cloud storage can be melded together.