gvinum raid5 vs. ZFS raidz

Scott Bennett bennett at sdf.org
Tue Jul 29 08:27:21 UTC 2014

     I want to set up a couple of software-based RAID devices across
identically sized partitions on several disks.  At first I thought that
gvinum's raid5 would be the way to go, but now that I have finally found
and read some information about raidz, I am unsure which to choose.  My
current, and possibly wrong, understanding about the two methods' most
important features (to me, at least) can be summarized as follows.

		raid5					raidz

Has parity checking, but any parity		Has parity checking *and*
errors identified are assumed to be		frequently spaced checksums
errors in the parity blocks themselves,		that are checked when data
so if errors occur in data blocks, the		blocks are read, so errors are
errors can be detected, but not	unless and	detected relatively quickly.
a "checkparity" operation is done.  Errors	Checksums enable identification
in parity blocks can be	fixed by a		of where the error exists and
"rebuildparity" operation, but a		automatic repair of erroneous
"rebuildparity" will merely cement errors	bytes in either data blocks or
in data blocks by creating parity blocks	parity blocks.
to match/confirm the erroneous data.  (This
also appears to be the case for graid3

Can be expanded by the addition of more		Can only be expanded by
spindles via a "gvinum grow" operation.		replacing all components with
						larger components.  The number
						of component devices cannot be
						changed, so the percentage of
						space tied up in parity cannot
						be changed.

Does not support migration to any other		Does not support migration
RAID levels or their equivalents.		between raidz levels, even by
(N.B.  The exception to this limitation		adding drives to support the
seems to be to create a mirror of a raid5	increased space required for
device, effectively migrating to a RAID5+1	parity blocks.

Does not support additional parity		Supports one (raidz2) or two
dimensions a la RAID6.				(raidz3) additional parity
						dimensions if one or two extra
						components is designated for
						such purpose when the raidz
						device is created.

Fast performance because each block		Slower performance because each
is on a separate spindle from the		block is spread across all
from the previous and next blocks.		spindles a la RAID3, so many
						simultaneous I/O operations are
						required for each block.
     I hoped to start with a minimal number of components and eventually
add more components to increase the space available in the raid5 or raidz
devices.  Increasing their sizes that way would also increase the total
percentage of space in the devices devoted to data rather than parity, as
well as improving the performance enhancement of the striping.  For various
reasons, having to replace all component spindles with larger-capacity
components is not a viable method of increasing the size of the raid5 or
raidz devices in my case.  That would appear to rule out raidz.
     OTOH, the very large-capacity drives available in the last two or
three years appear not to be very reliable(*) compared to older drives of
1 TB or smaller capacities.  gvinum's raid5 appears not to offer good
protection against, nor any repair of, damaged data blocks.
     Ideally, one ought to be able to create a minimal device with the
space equivalent of one device devoted to parity, whose space and/or
dimensions of parity could be increased later by the addition of more
spindles.  Given that there appears to be no software available under
FreeBSD to support that ideal, I am currently stumped as to which available
way to go.  I would appreciate anyone with actual experience with gvinum's
raid5 or ZFS raidz (preferably with both) correcting any errors in my
understanding as described above and also offering suggestions as to how
best to resolve my quandary.  Thanks to three failed external drives and
apparently not fully reliable replacements, compounded by a bad ports
update two or three months ago, I have no functioning X11 and no space
set up any longer in which to build ports to fix the X11 problem, so I
really want to get the disk situation settled ASAP.  Trying to keep track
of everything using only syscons and window(1) is wearing my patience
awfully thin.

(*) [Last year I got two defective 3 TB drives in a row from Seagate.
I ended up settling for a 2 TB Seagate that is still running fine AFAIK.
While that process was going on, I bought three 2 TB Seagate drives in
external cases with USB 3.0 interfaces, two of which failed outright
after about 12 months and have been replaced with two refurbished drives
under warranty.  While waiting for those replacements to arrive, I bought
a 2 TB Samsung drive in an external case with a USB 3.0 interface.  I
discovered by chance that copying very large files to these drives is an
error-prone process.  A roughly 1.1 TB file on the one surviving external
Seagate drive from last year's purchase of three, when copied to the
Samsung drive, showed no I/O errors during the copy operation.  However,
a comparison check using "cmp -l -z originalfile copyoforiginal" shows
quite a few places where the contents don't match.  The same procedure
applied to one of the refurbished Seagates gives similar results, although
the locations and numbers of differing bytes are different from those on
the Samsung drive.  The same procedure applied to the other refurbished
drive resulted in a good copy the first time, but a later repetition ended
up with a copied file that differed from the original by a single bit in
each of two widely separated places in the files.  These problems have
raised the priority of a self-healing RAID device in my mind.
     I have to say that these are new experiences to me.  The disk drives,
controllers, etc. that I grew up with all had parity checking in the hardware,
including the data encoded on the disks, so single-bit errors anywhere in
the process showed up as hardware I/O errors instantly.  If the errors were
not eliminated during a limited number of retries, they ended up as permanent
I/O errors that a human would have to resolve at some point.
     FWIW, I also discovered that I cannot run two such multi-hour-long
copy operations in parallel using two separate pairs of drives.  Running
them together seems to go okay for a while, but eventually always results
in a panic.  This is on 9.2-STABLE (r264339).  I know that that is not up
to date, but I can't do anything about that until my disk hardware situation
is settled.]

     Thanks in advance for any help, information, advice, etc.  I'm running
out of hair to tear out at this point. :-(

                                  Scott Bennett, Comm. ASMELG, CFIAG
* Internet:   bennett at sdf.org   *xor*   bennett at freeshell.org  *
* "A well regulated and disciplined militia, is at all times a good  *
* objection to the introduction of that bane of all free governments *
* -- a standing army."                                               *
*    -- Gov. John Hancock, New York Journal, 28 January 1790         *

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