Last week I had a hard drive meltdown. For those of you who keep all of your digital pictures, your bank statements, basically your life on your hard drive you can imagine this was a bad thing. But, I am notorious for my anal retentiveness and had plenty of backups. Good thing, because this wasn't any simple desktop computer; it was the file server that runs my house and includes my music for the media room too. It was important to get things running fast.

But, since space on the old drive was at a bit of a premium I decided to splurge. I knew I wanted gobs of space. Something approaching a terabyte should be sufficient for a while. I was plenty tempted to buy LaCie's Bigger Disk but it was a little hard to get a hold of on the spur of the moment. Also, I think I may have mentioned that I'm a little anal and a single terabyte would be silly without an additional one or two drives to mirror / stripe it for backup ability.

Instead, I opted for three 250GB drives and appropriate enclosures, which I bought from CompUSA. By the way, the enclosures I bought, while fully functional, were made cheaper than anything I have ever seen. The enclosure metal is so thin I can only qualify it as heavy duty freezer foil. The circuitry inside the enclosure was mounted to crooked stand-offs. They look like hobby experiments. But, they work.

Why three? The idea here was that I would tie all of these together as a RAID array so I have a great fault tollerant solution. As you'll see, that isn't really going to happen without help.

After installing all the drives in their enclosures and wiring everything up with nice fast firewire cables, I brought up the server's disk manager and was a little unhappy to see that only one of the disks was present. Huh? It turns out there is a bug in Windows 2003 Server and if you plug in more than one Fire Wire drive that looks "similar', it will only recognize the first one. Now my favorite part about this bug is there is a hot fix for it, but I've got to pay: $99.00 to get it over email and $250 to call someone on the phone. I find Microsoft's tech support policies here very frustrating. I can see charging someone for being a dumbass and not reading the manual. I've done my homework, however, and found a bug in Microsoft's software. I shouldn't have to pay to get a fix for it (and I won't, provided I can wait until the next service pack).

And wait I will. I configured the other two drives to use USB 2.0, which will work fine until the firewire fix is available.

Next up: configuring for RAID. Remember before how I said I wasn't a dumbass because I did my homework? Well, I didn't do all of my homework. I forgot the really important part about RAID restrictions with removable drives. RAID is implemented way down at the driver level, and you need to have all the drives permenantly connected to the machine. So my beautiful raid array cannot be created. Sucks.

Luckily, there are other products that can do mirroring automatically. A quick web scan turned up several, but the mirroring software by Techsoft is my favorite. It integrates right in with the Windows shell and has a really simple UI. It can mirror any set of directories to any other set of directories and supports both realtime mirroring (at the driver level) as well as synchronized mirroring. How much does it cost? A damn site less than a Microsoft tech support call: $39.00. Hell, I might buy two copies and use the other in place of IntelliFear on my laptop...