What is a good choice of sata-ii raid controller for freebsd?

Jeremy Chadwick koitsu at FreeBSD.org
Thu Feb 8 16:52:28 UTC 2007

On Thu, Feb 08, 2007 at 12:47:10PM +0200, Clayton Milos wrote:
> I can highly recommend the Areca family of SATA-II controllers. I have a
> ARC-1110 (4 poort RAID controller) with 4x 320GB Western Digital
> SATA-II drives attached to it in a RAID5 configuration.

I have questions:

1) Do these controllers, from a BIOS level, permit SMART commands
   to be sent directly to the drives (via pass(4)) so you can
   monitor drives for potential upcoming failures and perform
   drive tests, via smartctl?

2) Regardless of performance, have you actually tried a hard failure
   with these controllers and seen what both the controller and the
   OS do?  A good example is to pull the SATA power plug out of one
   of the drives in the array while it's powered on and see what
   happens, both from a controller perspective and what FreeBSD does.
   The same question applies to hot-swapping.

3) Does Areca provide any form of carriage/enclosure medium, such as
   an enclosure which supports 4 drives, allows hot-swapping, and
   allows you to query the enclosure for statistics (fan RPM, thermals,
   and so on)?

4) string'ing the cli32 binary returns some references to SMART, but
   the monitoring is generally retarded (literally, not slang) -- it
   looks as if it just wants to use SMART to say "drive bad" or "drive
   good".  This is not an effective use of SMART, and does nothing
   for those wanting to monitor drives properly (read: temperature,
   excessive ECC, perform SMART tests for bad blocks, etc.).

5) Is there native FreeBSD 6.x binaries for administrative utilities?
   It doesn't look like it, but maybe I'm looking at the wrong utility:
   ~/V1.5_50930 $ file cli32
   cli32: ELF 32-bit LSB executable, Intel 80386, version 1, for FreeBSD 4.2, statically linked, not stripped

Many controllers (including Adaptec) these days suffer from some or
all of the above issues, too.  Ultimately this turns me off to
using any form of RAID controller; vendors who refuse to give full
documentation for their hardware to engineers who want to write
drivers for it, refuse to implement proper passthrough methods (I'm
looking at you, Adaptec) so that you can talk to the drives directly
if need be, nor provide you with any form of useful FreeBSD support
("here's our old crusty 3.x a.out binaries built by a guy who left
the company 7 years ago! Thanks for buying <company>, bye!")

The best out of the bunch in this regards seems to be Promise, who
despite having "ehhh" controllers, has given Soren lots of documen-
tation and has been helpful in providing him answers to his
questions.  I can't say the same for other controller vendors.

I'm sorry if I sound bitter, but I must have gone through 4 different
brands of SATA RAID controllers before saying "screw this" and going
with non-RAID or using geom.  I don't have anything against Areca
(I've never used their hardware), but I have no desire to use hardware
which does not support the above things -- which in 2007 should be
standard by all means.

| Jeremy Chadwick                                 jdc at parodius.com |
| Parodius Networking                        http://www.parodius.com/ |
| UNIX Systems Administrator                   Mountain View, CA, USA |
| Making life hard for others since 1977.               PGP: 4BD6C0CB |

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