Green HDs and RAID Arrays

Some so-called “Green” harddisks don’t like being in a RAID array. These are primarily SATA drives, and they gain their green credentials by being able reduce their RPM when not in use, as well as other aggressive power management trickery. That’s all cool and in a way desirable – we want our hardware to use less power whenever possible! – but the time it takes some drives to “wake up” again is longer than a RAID setup is willing to tolerate.

First of all, you may wonder why I bother with SATA disks at all for RAID. I’ve written about this before, but they simply deliver plenty for much less money. Higher RPM doesn’t necessarily help you for a db-related (random access) workload, and for tasks like backups which do have a lot of speed may not be a primary concern. SATA disks have a shorter command queue than SAS, so that means they might need to seek more – however a smart RAID controller would already arrange its I/O in such a way as to optimise that.

The particular application where I tripped over Green disks was a backup array using software RAID10. Yep, a cheap setup – the objective is to have lots of diskspace with resilience, and access speed is not a requirement.

Not all Green HDs are the same. Western Digital ones allow their settings to be changed, although that does need a DOS tool (just a bit of a pest using a USB stick with FreeDOS and the WD tool, but it’s doable), whereas Seagate has decided to restrict their Green models such that they don’t accept any APM commands and can’t change their configuration.

I’ve now replaced Seagates with (non-Green) Hitachi drives, and I’m told that Samsung disks are also ok.

So this is something to keep in mind when looking at SATA RAID arrays. I also think it might be a topic that the Linux software RAID code could address – if it were “Green HD aware” it could a) make sure that they don’t go to a state that is unacceptable, and b) be tolerant with their response time – this could be configurable. Obviously, some applications of RAID have higher demands than others, not all are the same.

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