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// Tales from software development

Adaptec RAID 1220SA card

with 2 comments

If the price of an Adaptec RAID 1220SA card seems suspiciously low, you might be right to be wary.

I’m in the process of configuring a server that will be used as a VM host. I thought it’d be a good idea to have a lot of disk to store the Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) files and had chosen a 1Tb Samsung Spinpoint as the second disk. Securing a 1Tb disk might be difficult so I decided that a second 1TB disk and a RAID controller to mirror the disks would be the answer.

I checked a couple of online retailers and bought the Adaptec RAID controller that seemed to be the best fit for my needs. The Adaptec RAID 1220SA is a 2-port SATA PCI-Express adapter. It’s quite cheap at around £40 ($79) but it’s been a long time since I bought an entry level RAID adapter and I assumed that this was the going rate.

I installed the card and setup the two drives in a RAID 1 configuration using the card’s BIOS utilities. The build of the array took 40 hours which was a pain but worse was to come. The array seemed quite fragile and the card reported that the array was in SUBOPTIMAL state several times for no obvious reason. Each time I tried to correct this something else happened that sapped my confidence in the card.

At this point I should mention that I am running Windows Server 2008 on this server and that Adaptec don’t yet have a driver for the 1220SA on this OS. Windows had identfied the card as new hardware and selected and installed the Windows Server 2003 driver on the installation CD.

The first attempt to rebuild the array (another 40 hours) appeared to be successsful but very soon afterwards the card reported the array status as VERIFY. I attempted to Verify the array using the card’s BIOS utilities but this hung after a few hours. I deleted the array and recreated it and this time used the QUICK-INIT option. This creates the array immediately but requires that a Verify operation is then run. I booted into the OS and started Adaptec’s Storage Manager software. I selected the Verify operation against the array and resigned myself to waiting another 40 hours for this to complete. However, when I checked on the status of the Verify 10 minutes later, there was no sign of the array in Storage Manager. The array had just disappeared! Checking back through the application’s event log, there were messages indicating that the two disks had been removed from the system (they hadn’t) and that the array had been deleted. The event log then showed disk defects being discovered and repaired every second or so but the bad block address was always the same. I restarted the machine and started the BIOS utilities again. This time I selected the Disk Verify option and both disks verified successfully (8 hours for each) indicating that there were no disk errors. Things never really got much better than this. The few times the OS started up with the array intact, the disk was often flagged as READ-ONLY by the OS and needed convincing using DISKPART that it was actually writable.

After a week of of these problems I was ready to ditch the card and give up on the RAID idea all together. If an Adaptec card was giving me this much trouble then I didn’t even want to think about what a no-name brand card would be like.

Before I gave up completely I browsed Adaptec’s web site to see what the alternatives were and slowly the truth dawned on me. The 1220SA is not a RAID Controller at all. It’s a RAID Host Adapter. This Adaptec terminology indicates that the 1220SA is little more than a storage controller that ships with an OS driver that implements RAID. In otherwords, this is software RAID not hardware RAID. Adaptec calls this technology HostRAID™.

This terminology is demonstrated clearly if you select the Products drop down menu on the main page of Adaptec’s web site at http://www.adaptec.com. Two thirds of the way down the list, just after Snap Servers, you’ll see RAID Controllers followed by Host Adapters. The RAID 1220SA card is listed under Host Adapters not RAID Controllers.

Now I can see that the lack of a driver for Windows Server 2008 might be a bigger issue than I had previously thought it was. I had assumed that the 1220SA was a hardware RAID card and that the driver was simply to access it as a storage controller. In fact, the driver is actually responsible for the RAID processing. Quite apart from the fact that software RAID is generally slower and places an additional load on the CPU compared to hardware RAID, I’m also concerned that an OS crash with the 1220SA is going to compromise the integrity of the RAID array.

The cheapest RAID Controller option for me, as I need a PCI Express card with at least two SATA ports, is the new Adaptec RAID 2405 Controller. This offers 4 SATA ports on an x8 PCI Express card. The card has only just been announced and the expected UK price is £116 ($230), or nearly three times the cost of the RAID 1220SA. After my experiences with the RAID 1220SA, the RAID 2405 is reassuringly expensive and I’ll be buying one as soon as I can find one.

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Written by Sea Monkey

May 28, 2008 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Hardware

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2 Responses

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  1. […] described in previous posts, Where are we now, or, what can you get for £99 ? and Adaptec RAID 1220SA card, I recently bought a server and wanted to install a RAID Contoller in it. I gave up on the 1220SA […]

  2. 3-1/2 years later, I am following in your footsteps and trying in vain to make a 1220SA work with Windows 2008 Server. I will never learn. I will be assimilated.

    BTW, I have the same plans for this box, namely as a VM server.

    Warren

    February 6, 2012 at 7:03 am


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