Low-end RAID 5 is now available for less than a $1 a gigabyte, a tremendous deal for small businesses and home offices. Available at Buy.com and at Fry’s Electronics Outpost.com the Buffalo Terastation is a compact and luggable RAID array. What is a RAID array? Glad you asked.

World’s Shortest RAID Guide
For those not familiar with RAID (an acronym which no longer means anything, but everyone likes too much to change) it is a set of techniques for protecting data using multiple disk drives and some form of data redundancy (the R in RAID). The numbers (as in RAID 5) refers to different versions of these techniques. The numbers are not a measure of goodness, i.e. RAID 5 is not “better” than RAID 1. Ignore the RAID levels I don’t mention here.

The RAID levels you (might) want:

  1. RAID 1 creates two copies of your data on two different disk drives. If one fails the other picks up the load with a very small, usually undetectable, loss of performance. Pros: Reliable, predictable performance. Cons: Doubles disk drive cost with no increase in performance.
  2. RAID 5 spreads your data across multiple disk drives and uses a mathematical technique to recreate the data should one of the disks fail. Pros: Cheaper than RAID 1, can be faster. Cons: Performance drops when a disk fails, can be slower than RAID 1, [update] more prone to failure than RAID 1 or 1+0.
  3. RAID 0 spreads your data across multiple disk drives and if one disk fails you lose all your data. Pros: Fast, cheap. Cons: You are many times more likely to lose your data. Typically used only in certain data intensive applications such as video editing where the originals are elsewhere, the data volumes large, and performance important.
  4. RAID 1+0 (also RAID 10) spreads two complete copies of your data across multiple disk drives. Pros: Highest data availability, fast performance, least trauma in case of disk failure, may even withstand multiple disk failures. Cons: Like RAID 1 you buy twice as many disks.

What you need to know is that for for most SMB applications other than databases and email, RAID 5 will give you adequate performance. RAID 1+0 will handle anything you throw at it. Avoid using RAID 5 with more than 8 disks: recovery from disk failures gets painfully long and your data is unprotected during that time.
End of World’s Shortest RAID Guide

The Buffalo Terastation is four disks in a box with a RAID card. Not fancy, but at a fraction of the price of Dell storage, who cares? You can hook it up to an individual PC using USB or to a small office network over Ethernet. The management interface is clunky, so if your office makes frequent changes it is not the product for you. Learn more from this slightly dated Network World review.

Suggested uses:

  • Use with a mirroring product like Mirror Folder which does real-time automatic backups of selected data
  • Use as a simple backup data storage device in a small office. Stick it on the office network and map it’s drive(s) to your PCs to it and you can start backing up data just by dragging and dropping to the network drive.
  • Use as a data vault for video editing with a simple gigabit Ethernet switch and with jumbo frames turned on. Not a speed demon, but if you can afford a speed demon for video editing you probably already own one.

So, to recap, low-cost RAID protects your data at a fraction of the cost your larger competitors are paying. And it comes in a luggable 15 lb. package about the size of two showboxes. The Buffalo Terastation looks to be a good fit for SOHO use where you can set and forget.

FYI: I have no financial relationship with Buffalo. I’ve looked at their product, read the reviews, and like their consumer electronics approach to the market.