What is the best RAID for a home user? There are plenty of options out there and a lot of confusion the way I see it. Most people at home just need to make sure that their precious data is safe. They go online and get bombarded with a lot of marketing fluff from companies who make crazy expensive and quite limiting devices like NAS. Some other look further and get stuck on actual RAID hardware that they install into their computers. But all of this is just a bit too much in my opinion.
Most users don’t need actual hardware RAID, which was designed for completely different purpose than protecting data. It was designed for companies with hundreds or thousands of users who need to access their data even in the case of a storage partial failure. You don’t really need that at home.
So, what are the options out there?
- NAS devices. Expensive, proprietary and inflexible. They will require you to use drives of the same capacity, so if you’ve got 1TB, 500GB and 750GB drives laying around, you won’t be able to utilize all available space on these drives. These NAS devices will cost you an arm and a leg, yet will only allow you to store data on them (with a little exception of running a bit-torrent client or something like that)
- RAID adapters for your computers (either built-in or purchased separately). You need to be really careful with these. If you set up striping RAID (level 0, 5, 10) you may experience a total data loss if one of the drives dies (Level 0 RAID) or second drive fails while the RAID is being reconstructed after the first failure (RAID 5). Also you need to be aware that failure of the actual adapter will result in headaches for you – you will need to find another one exactly like the failed. In addition to that you won’t be able to use your drives assigned to the RAID outside of the array – the drives are ‘formatted’ in the way the adapter needs it. And one more issue – you will need to use drives of similar capacity in this array so if you run out of space and need to expand you are in for a lot of work.
- Cloud storage, which I find to be just a gimmick and a marketing fluff. Not only you surrender your personal data to some entity which for all you know can do anything they want with your data (surprise-surprise – all that hard earned privacy and all those rights are just being thrown out of the window by modern generations that never fought for any rights themselves), but in addition to that – good luck storing few terabytes of data online (especially if you shoot a lot of photos and videos). To me this has never been an option simply due to privacy that I take seriously.
- Software solutions like unRaid or FlexRaid which run on either a specialized computer (and old one would do) or your regular computer.
I have had enough personal experience with different solutions learning along the way. After issues with hardware RAID systems and lots of troubles in that area I spent a lot of time evaluating other approaches and solutions. After a while I settled for software called FlexRaid. It is relatively simple yet very powerful solution. All you need is a computer running Windows or Linux and a number of regular, any size formatted hard drives. FlexRaid will need one or more (depending on the level of protection you want) drives for protection data and will allow you to either control what it does or completely manage your drives and protect data on those automatically. There is much more to FlexRaid, so if you are after protecting your data I would recommend you to take a closer look at this solution.
And last but not least. Anything really important or irreplaceable should be given extra care. Make sure you have at least 2 backups of such data and keep one of those outside of your home in case something happens there. Only doing this you will have good enough chances of keeping your data safe.
With all this said – good luck in your search for a perfect storage and data protection solution. I think I have found something that serves my needs quite well.