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Using High Capacity Drives Singly (non-RAID)

Last updated 2015-11-11 - Send Feedback
Related: how-to, Storage, storage, RAID

Get HGST 8TB Ultrastar He8 Hard Drive at OWC.
Also utilized in the 32TB OWC Thunderbay 4 RAID-5 edition.

See the topology overview which discusses general considerations in using four or five or more large hard drives.

Questions? One-on-one consulting is available with Lloyd.

Single drives (non RAID)

Four drives in an OWC Thunderbay 4.

Making one volume out of one drive is the simplest approach, and recommended for many users because it minimizes complexity and requires no special software (Apple Disk Utility is OK for this non-RAID use case, but SoftRAID can also be used).

Many users do not have high performance or fault tolerance requirements. For example, Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop do not benefit in any meaningful way for storing original image files (such a raw files)—no benefit in workflow terms so long as the volume is reasonably fast (speed sensitive files should go onto a fast SSD, but original raw files are not speed sensitive in workflow terms).

The single-drive-single-volume approach maps to backups in a straightforward way: the backup drives can be matched in capacity (or at least large enough to fit the data).

Downsides of single volumes:

  • No fault tolerance; when a drive fails it’s gone. This can be mitigated by keeping corresponding clone volumes always attached (MainClone, VideoClone, etc) and simply cloning once or twice a day or scheduling it. This implies more drives, presumably in a 2nd OWC Thunderbay 4.
  • No performance gains. For most uses this is immaterial to everyday workflow, since disk-speed sensitive tasks should be done with key files on a fast SSD (Lightroom catalog, Photoshop scratch save/open big PSD/PSB files, etc).
  • Verifying data integrity runs at drive speed, so verifying large folders or the entire volume will be much slower than say, a RAID-4 topology.
  • Making multiple backups of the same volume simultaneously will be throttled by single-drive speed (e.g., two simultaneous backups of Main). For most users that scenario is uncommon and is thus not a primary concern.

Example #1: single drives used as primary and backups

Using one internal volume (typically a flash drive aka SSD) and one primary volume Master for main storage, a Thunderbay 4 with four drives affords a robust working system. Assuming 8TB drives in a 4-drive OWC Thunderbay 4:

Boot        = internal flash drive / SDD (system, applications, high performance needs)
Master      = 8TB primary storage for big files (photos, video, etc)
BootClone   = 1TB partition of hard drive #2
MasterClone = 7TB partition of hard drive #2
TimeMachine = 8TB volume backing up Boot and Master, hard drive #2
Spare       = hard drive #4; use as another clone backup or some other purpose

The idea here is a robust system in which two types of nearline (always attached) backups are made at least daily: Time Machine and clone backups. Time Machine is terrific in some ways, but is a poor solution for general backup (and sometimes crashes when needed!), hence the addition of clone backups as an alternative technology to Time Machine. Time Machine should never be relied upon as the only backup. In backup, redundancy is highly desirable. Offsite backups should also be made.

Boot and Master primary volumes with backups (and Spare)

Example #2: single drives used as main storage

This example is for the case where data storage needs are high. In this case, there are four primary data stores:

Main        = primary storage, hard drive #1
Video       = primary storage for video, hard drive #2
Archive1    = archived originals, older material, hard drive #3
Archive2    = archived originals, older material, hard drive #4

Modify this approach as fits the need, and of course there is a startup drive Boot, and there must be backup drives as well.

Finder Info for 4 volumes, each from a single hard drive
SoftRAID view of 24TB (21.8 TiB) RAID-4 volume,
using 4 HGST Ultrastar He8 8TB hard drives
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