Rapid developments in digital and mobile technologies are making edge computing more prevalent and critical to the success of businesses across a wide range of industries. Organizations that are implementing edge computing technology are commonly faced with deciding which is better suited for their environment – hardware or software RAID. But how do you know what the best choice is for your business? 

What is Edge Computing?

Edge computing takes memory and computing out of the traditional datacenter to bring them as close as possible to the location where they are needed – often distributed across multiple locations. By processing data locally and minimizing the distance between devices and servers, edge computing delivers improved performance, requires less bandwidth, and reduces latency.

Edge applications, which interact the closest with local devices in the field, are becoming more sophisticated and intelligent with every passing quarter. There’s a lot of opportunity and promise in edge computing, for both consumers and businesses. These applications can offer customers a seamless and personalized experience, help improve business processes, and more.

Read more in our beginners guide to edge computing.

The Edge Represents a Unique Computing Challenge 

Many organizations today are creating massive amounts of data, requiring fast transfer rates and response times, which often aren’t feasible when it comes to traditional IT infrastructure. 

Edge environments are often constrained by their technical computing footprint. For example, remote servers, such as the HPE Edgeline 1000 and 4000, cannot accommodate as much hardware as a full-scale datacenter. Reductions in size and cost require server vendors to make sacrifices on traditional datacenter hardware designs to fit the constraints of remote edge locations. Furthermore, there is an ever-expanding set of workloads, which find migrating this data to the datacenter for backup challenging. As a general guide, moving 10 TBs of data in a 24-hour period requires a 10 Gbps network link. Such large network links may not be feasible, depending on the amount of new data being generated per day. 

While planning these data migrations, it’s important to ensure that data is still protected. Redundant Array of Inexpensive/Independent Disks, or RAID, is the cornerstone of fault-tolerant storage for the general-purpose Intel architecture (IA) server market. 

Implementing RAID requires the use of either hardware RAID (special controller) or software RAID (an operating system driver), yet many people are unclear about their differences. 

What is Hardware RAID?

Hardware RAID is a dedicated processing system that can be implemented completely on a separate RAID card/cabinet or the motherboard. With a hardware RAID setup, your hard drive can connect to a RAID controller card that is inserted in a fast PCle slot in a motherboard.

Hardware RAID controllers can help improve performance, since the processing is handled by the RAID card instead of the server. The hardware RAID card can work effectively in larger servers as well as on a desktop computer. In addition, writing backups and restoring data will produce less strain when using the hardware RAID card.

Based on the hardware system, the RAID subsystem can be managed independently from the host and only a single disk is provided for the host per RAID array. For example, a hardware RAID device can connect to a SCSI controller and present the RAID array as a single SCSI drive.

What is Software RAID?

When storage drives are connected directly to the server’s motherboard without a RAID controller, the RAID configuration is managed by the utility software in the operating system. This process is referred to as the software RAID setup.

Software RAID setup is a cheaper choice compared with a hardware RAID controller, but it is restricted to the RAID levels that the OS can support. In other words, software RAID has some limitations, especially configuration options.

Hardware vs. Software RAID

The core of a RAID system is the controller, which plays an important role in distributing data to and from the hard drives that make up the RAID array. There are two types of RAID controllers: hardware-based and software-based.

As such, this analysis of hardware RAID vs software RAID is based on the RAID controllers, in the context of affordability, performance, and flexibility.

Affordability

As mentioned earlier, the basic premise is that the software RAID controller is more affordable than the hardware RAID controller.

The RAID controller uses the computing power of the PC to control the way that the data is read or written to the enclosure. Since the hardware RAID enclosures can make full use of the standard interface chipsets, the manufacturing and design costs are relatively high.

But the software RAID controllers may be as low as zero since most basic RAID levels are included in many operating systems.

Performance

In general, the more complex the RAID configuration, the more likely performance will be affected. Compared with hardware-based RAID systems, software-based RAID systems are more likely to encounter a performance issue.

Software-based RAID systems can usually perform adequately for 3 basic RAID levels: RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 10. However, when using more complex RAID levels, software-based RAID programs may impact the performance of the RAID system and of the computer.

With a software-based RAID controller, one or more CPU cores, as well as RAM could impact other processes that are running on the computer. The extent of the software RAID controller’s impact depends on the RAID level in use and the number of drives that makes up the RAID array.

However, when using an external hardware-based RAID enclosure, it will produce no impact on the processor or RAM on the host computer.

In addition, hardware-based RAID systems will be quicker than software-based systems when rebuilding the mirrored RAID data.

Flexibility

In addition to affordability and performance, flexibility is another aspect to consider when comparing hardware and software RAID. 

Software-based RAID controllers are designed with the most flexibility in configuring the way each drive is used in an enclosure. In an enclosure with 4 drives, 3 drives can be configured as a striped array for performance and one large drive for backup. The 4 drives can also be configured as 2 independent arrays, a mirrored volume for gaming files, and a striped volume for video editing.

In other words, the 4 drives in an enclosure can be configured based on whatever is required. However, the hardware-based RAID systems work a single disk in the host operating system.

StorMagic RAID Support

StorMagic is one of the leading pioneers of edge computing solutions. SvSAN, our virtual SAN, now supports software RAID 10, to ensure uptime for customers using any small form factor edge server that doesn’t have a built-in RAID card. For more information, read the press release or explore SvSAN’s full feature set on the features page.

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