Iteration (Delay)

In the previous article, we examined a number of array configurations for RAID 5. The easiest to understand in probably the left-asymmetrical RAID 5. Again, in the previous article, the example used was a left asymmetrical RAID 5, Parity 5, on 5 disks. In this example, the parity rotated on every stripe, thus it rotation iteration is 1 stripe, then rotate.left asymmetrical RAID 5, Parity 5, on 5 Disks, Iteration 1

However, some manufactures (cough, HP/Compaq, cough) decided this was too simple for their liking, so added a new variable to the game, iteration (delay). In the this configuration, some number of stripes greater than 1 is written/read before the parity rotation occurs. Thus array is somewhat akin to an incestuous relationship between RAID 4 and RAID 5, where the parity remains on the same position (note, that this is not necessarily the same disk as discussed in the previous article) for a number of stripes before rotation. When the previously defined number of iterations has occurred, the parity rotates as normal. The number of iterations of a stripe before rotation is up to you to find out (we will talk about techniques in later articles), but 16 is usually a good place to start.

left asymmetrical RAID 5, Parity 5, on 5 Disks, Iteration 2

Block Size Primer

Up until now, we have ignored block sizes. I am not talking about blocks at the disk level (sectors), but the chunk of data that is written to a disk before moving to the next disk. A "true" RAID five should always use some integer multiple of the sector size of its component disks (usually a 512 byte sector), but I have been surprised before so consider yourself forewarned. If your into guessing, start at 2^3 (8) sectors, moving up by a factor of 2 each time until you get to 512. If you get here, you probably missed something. Of course, if your not into guessing so much, know that the block size is usually some power of 2*sectors_size and read on.
Determining the Parity Level

As I mentioned, though somewhat briefly, in the previous installments of this RAID series, the parity in RAID 5 is a simple XOR of the data blocks within the stripe. The parity is then written to the parity block for the stripe. If one of the disks in the RAID fails, the missing blocks can be recalculated by performing an XOR on the remaining blocks to recover the data. We can use this fact to our advantage in the recovery process. Provided that we are working with a controller failure or other situation that all of the component disks of the RAID are present, we can easily determine the parity level of the RAID. Since the parity block of any particular stripe is equal to the XOR of the remaining data blocks in the stripe AND any value XOR itself is zero, the XOR of an entire stripe, including the parity block will always equal zero. Therefore, if you write a little program that performs XOR on 3, then 4, then 5, etc blocks at a time, the one that consistently results in zero is your parity level! That's it, well not really. There are some other variables we need to talk about for this to work in practice. This first being configuration data at the beginning of the disk that would not play well with such a simple method. That being said, in the next installment we will talk about areas of the component disks where metadata of the RAID itself may be stored, locating the beginning of the data area, locating other common structures that will help you determine some parameters, and finding the parity blocks programmaticly.

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