Difference between revisions of "Software RAID and LVM"

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Revision as of 20:03, 16 September 2011

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The combination of RAID and LVM provides numerous features with few caveats compared to just using RAID.


Although RAID and LVM may seem like analogous technologies they each present unique features.


Template:Wikipedia Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) is designed to prevent data loss in the event of a hard disk failure. There are different levels of RAID. RAID 0 (striping) is not really RAID at all, because it provides no redundancy. It does, however, provide a speed benefit. This example will utilize RAID 0 for swap, on the assumption that a desktop system is being used, where the speed increase is worth the possibility of system crash if one of your drives fails. On a server, a RAID 1 or RAID 5 array is more appropriate. The size of a RAID 0 array block device is the size of the smallest component partition times the number of component partitions.

RAID 1 is the most straightforward RAID level: straight mirroring. As with other RAID levels, it only makes sense if the partitions are on different physical disk drives. If one of those drives fails, the block device provided by the RAID array will continue to function as normal. The example will be using RAID 1 for everything except swap. Note that RAID 1 is the only option for the boot partition, because bootloaders (which read the boot partition) do not understand RAID, but a RAID 1 component partition can be read as a normal partition. The size of a RAID 1 array block device is the size of the smallest component partition.

RAID 5 requires 3 or more physical drives, and provides the redundancy of RAID 1 combined with the speed and size benefits of RAID 0. RAID 5 uses striping, like RAID 0, but also stores parity blocks distributed across each member disk. In the event of a failed disk, these parity blocks are used to reconstruct the data on a replacement disk. RAID 5 can withstand the loss of one member disk.


Warning: Installing a system with RAID is a complex process that may destroy data. Be sure to backup all data before proceeding.

RAID does not provide a guarantee that your data is safe. If there is a fire, if your computer is stolen or if you have multiple hard drive failures, RAID will not protect your data. Therefore it is important to make backups. Whether you use tape drives, DVDs, CDROMs or another computer, keep an current copy of your data out of your computer (and preferably offsite). Get into the habit of making regular backups. You can also divide the data on your computer into current and archived directories. Then back up the current data frequently, and the archived data occasionally.


LVM (Logical Volume Management) makes use of the device-mapper feature of the Linux kernel to provide a system of partitions that is independent of the underlying disk's layout. What this means for you is that you can extend and shrink partitions (subject to the filesystem you use allowing this) and add/remove partitions without worrying about whether you have enough contiguous space on a particular disk, without getting caught up in the problems of fdisking a disk that is in use (and wondering whether the kernel is using the old or new partition table) and without having to move other partition out of the way.

This is strictly an ease-of-management issue: it does not provide any addition security. However, it sits nicely with the other two technologies we are using.

Note that LVM is not used for the boot partition, because of the bootloader problem.


This article uses an example with three similar 1TB SATA hard drives. The article assumes that the drives are accessible as Template:Filename, Template:Filename, and Template:Filename. If you are using IDE drives, for maximum performance make sure that each drive is a master on its own separate channel.

Tip: It is good practice to ensure that only the drives involved in the installation are attached while performing the installation.
LVM Logical Volumes Template:Codeline Template:Codeline Template:Codeline Template:Codeline
LVM Volume Groups Template:Filename
RAID Arrays Template:Filename Template:Filename
Physical Partitions Template:Filename Template:Filename Template:Filename Template:Filename Template:Filename Template:Filename
Hard Drives Template:Filename Template:Filename Template:Filename

Swap space

Note: If you want extra performance, just let the kernel use distinct swap partitions as it does striping by default.

Many tutorials treat the swap space differently, either by creating a separate RAID1 array or a LVM logical volume. Creating the swap space on a separate array is not intended to provide additional redundancy, but instead, to prevent a corrupt swap space from rendering the system inoperable, which is more likely to happen when the swap space is located on the same partition as the root directory.


Template:Wikipedia The widespread Master Boot Record (MBR) partitioning scheme, dating from the early 1980s, imposed limitations which affected the use of modern hardware. GUID Partition Table (GPT) is a new standard for the layout of the partition table based on the UEFI specification derived from Intel. Although GPT provides a significant improvement over a MBR, it does require the additional step of creating an additional partition at the beginning of each disk for GRUB2 (see: GPT specific instructions).

Boot loader

This tutorial will use SYSLINUX instead of GRUB2. GRUB2 when used in conjunction with GPT requires an additional BIOS Boot Partition. Additionally, the 2011.08.19 Arch Linux installer does not support GRUB2.

GRUB2 support the current default style of metadata created by mdadm (i.e. 1.2) when combined with an initramfs, which has replaced in Arch Linux with mkinitcpio. SYSLINUX only supports version 1.0, and therefore requires the Template:Codeline option.

Some boot loaders (e.g. GRUB, LILO) will not support any 1.x metadata versions, and instead require the older version, 0.90. If you would like to use one of those boot loaders make sure to add the option Template:Codeline to the Template:Codeline array during RAID installation.


Obtain the latest installation media and boot the Arch Linux installer as outlined in the Beginners' Guide, or alternatively, in the Official Arch Linux Install Guide. Follow the directions outlined there until you have configured your network.

Load kernel modules

Enter another TTY terminal by typing Template:Keypress+Template:Keypress. Load the appropriate RAID (e.g. Template:Filename, Template:Filename, Template:Filename, Template:Filename, Template:Filename) and LVM (i.e. Template:Filename) modules. The following example makes use of RAID1 and RAID5.

# modprobe raid1
# modprobe raid5
# modprobe dm-mod

Prepare the hard drives

Note: If your hard drives are already prepared and all you want to do is activate RAID and LVM jump to Activate existing RAID devices and LVM volumes. This can be achieved with alternative partitioning software (see: Article).

Each hard drive will have a 100MB Template:Codeline partition, 2048MB Template:Codeline partition, and a Template:Codeline partition that takes up the remainder of the disk.

The boot partition must be RAID1, because GRUB does not have RAID drivers. Any other level will prevent your system from booting. Additionally, if there is a problem with one boot partition, the boot loader can boot normally from the other two partitions in the Template:Codeline array. Finally, the partition you boot from must not be striped (i.e. RAID5, RAID0).

Install gdisk

Since most disk partitioning software does not support GPT (i.e. Template:Package Official, Template:Package Official) you will need to install Template:Package Official to set the partition type of the boot loader partitions.

Update the pacman database:

$ pacman-db-upgrade

Refresh the package list:

$ pacman -Syy

Install Template:Package Official:

$ pacman -S gdisk

Partition hard drives

We will use gdisk to create three partitions on each of the three hard drives (i.e. Template:Filename, Template:Filename, Template:Filename):

   Name        Flags      Part Type  FS Type          [Label]        Size (MB)
   sda1        Boot        Primary   linux_raid_m                       100.00  # /boot
   sda2                    Primary   linux_raid_m                      2000.00  # /swap
   sda3                    Primary   linux_raid_m                     97900.00  # /

Open Template:Codeline with the first hard drive:

$ gdisk /dev/sda

and type the following commands at the prompt:

  1. Add a new partition: Template:Keypress
  2. Select the default partition number: Template:Keypress
  3. Use the default for the first sector: Template:Keypress
  4. For Template:Filename and Template:Filename type the appropriate size in MB (i.e. Template:Codeline and Template:Codeline). For Template:Filename just hit Template:Keypress to select the remainder of the disk.
  5. Select Template:Codeline as the partition type: Template:Codeline
  6. Write the table to disk and exit: Template:Keypress

Repeat this process for Template:Filename and Template:Filename or use the alternate Template:Codeline method below. You may need to reboot to allow the kernel to recognize the new tables.

Note: Make sure to create the same exact partitions on each disk. If a group of partitions of different sizes are assembled to create a RAID partition, it will work, but the redundant partition will be in multiples of the size of the smallest partition, leaving the unallocated space to waste.

Clone partitions with sgdisk

If you are using GPT, then you can use Template:Codeline to clone the partition table from Template:Filename to the other two hard drives:

$ sgdisk --backup=table /dev/sda
$ sgdisk --load-backup=table /dev/sdb
$ sgdisk --load-backup=table /dev/sdc

RAID installation

After creating the physical partitions, you are ready to setup the Template:Codeline, Template:Codeline, and Template:Codeline arrays with Template:Codeline. It is an advanced tool for RAID management that will be used to create a Template:Filename within the installation environment.

Create the Template:Codeline array at Template:Filename:

# mdadm --create /dev/md0 --level=5 --raid-devices=3 /dev/sd[abc]3

Create the Template:Codeline array at Template:Filename:

# mdadm --create /dev/md1 --level=1 --raid-devices=3 /dev/sd[abc]2
Note: If you plan on installing a boot loader that does not support the 1.x version of RAID metadata make sure to add the Template:Codeline option to the following command.

Create the Template:Codeline array at Template:Filename:

# mdadm --create /dev/md2 --level=1 --raid-devices=3 --metadata=1.0 /dev/sd[abc]1


Tip: If you want to avoid the initial resync with new hard drives add the Template:Codeline flag.

After you create a RAID volume, it will synchronize the contents of the physical partitions within the array. You can monitor the progress by refreshing the output of Template:Filename ten times per second with:

# watch -n .1 cat /proc/mdstat
Tip: Follow the synchronization in another TTY terminal by typing Template:Keypress + Template:Keypress and then execute the above command.

Further information about the arrays is accessible with:

# mdadm --misc --detail /dev/md[012] | less

Once synchronization is complete the Template:Codeline line should read Template:Codeline. Each device in the table at the bottom of the output should read Template:Codeline or Template:Codeline in the Template:Codeline column. Template:Codeline means each device is actively in the array.

Note: Since the RAID synchronization is transparent to the file-system you can proceed with the installation and reboot your computer when necessary.

LVM installation

This section will convert the two RAIDs into physical volumes (PVs). Then combine those PVs into a volume group (VG). The VG will then be divided into logical volumes (LVs) that will act like physical partitions (e.g. Template:Codeline, Template:Codeline, Template:Codeline). If you did not understand that make sure you read the LVM Introduction section.

Create physical volumes

Make the RAIDs accessible to LVM by converting them into physical volumes (PVs):

# pvcreate /dev/md0
Note: This might fail if you are creating PVs on an existing Volume Group. If so you might want to add Template:Codeline option.

Confirm that LVM has added the PVs with:

# pvdisplay

Create the volume group

Next step is to create a volume group (VG) on the PVs.

Create a volume group (VG) with the first PV:

# vgcreate VolGroupArray /dev/md0

Confirm that LVM has added the VG with:

# vgdisplay

Create logical volumes

Now we need to create logical volumes (LVs) on the VG, much like we would normally prepare a hard drive. In this example we will create separate Template:Codeline, Template:Codeline, Template:Codeline, Template:Codeline LVs. The LVs will be accessible as Template:Filename or Template:Filename.

Create a Template:Codeline LV:

# lvcreate -L 20G VolGroupArray -n lvroot

Create a Template:Codeline LV:

# lvcreate -L 15G VolGroupArray -n lvvar
Note: If you would like to add the swap space to the LVM create a Template:Codeline LV with the Template:Codeline option, which creates a contiguous partition, so that your swap space does not get partitioned over one or more disks nor over non-contiguous physical extents:
# lvcreate -C y -L 2G VolGroupArray -n lvswap

Create a Template:Codeline LV that takes up the remainder of space in the VG:

# lvcreate -l +100%FREE VolGroupArray -n lvhome

Confirm that LVM has created the LVs with:

# lvdisplay
Tip: You can start out with relatively small logical volumes and expand them later if needed. For simplicity, leave some free space in the volume group so there is room for expansion.

Update RAID configuration

Since the installer builds the initrd using Template:Filename in the target system, you should update that file with your RAID configuration. The original file can simply be deleted because it contains comments on how to fill it correctly, and that is something mdadm can do automatically for you. So let us delete the original and have mdadm create you a new one with the current setup:

# mdadm --examine --scan > /mnt/etc/mdadm.conf

Prepare hard drive

Follow the directions outlined the Installation section until you reach the Prepare Hard Drive section. Skip the first two steps and navigate to the Manually Configure block devices, filesystems and mountpoints page. Remember to only configure the PVs (e.g. Template:Filename) and not the actual disks (e.g. Template:Filename).

Configure system

Warning: Follow the steps in the LVM Important section before proceeding with the installation.


mkinitcpio can use a hook to assemble the arrays on boot. For more information see mkinitpcio Using RAID.

  1. Add the Template:Codeline module to the Template:Codeline list in Template:Filename.
  2. Add the Template:Codeline and Template:Codeline hooks to the Template:Codeline list in Template:Filename after Template:Codeline.


Once it is complete you can safely reboot your machine:

# reboot

Install Grub on the Alternate Boot Drives

Once you have successfully booted your new system for the first time, you will want to install Grub onto the other two disks (or on the other disk if you have only 2 HDDs) so that, in the event of disk failure, the system can be booted from another drive. Log in to your new system as root and do:

# grub
grub> device (hd0) /dev/sdb
grub> root (hd0,0)
grub> setup (hd0)
grub> device (hd0) /dev/sdc
grub> root (hd0,0)
grub> setup (hd0)
grub> quit

Archive your Filesystem Partition Scheme

Now that you are done, it is worth taking a second to archive off the partition state of each of your drives. This guarantees that it will be trivially easy to replace/rebuild a disk in the event that one fails. You do this with the sfdisk tool and the following steps:

# mkdir /etc/partitions
# sfdisk --dump /dev/sda >/etc/partitions/disc0.partitions
# sfdisk --dump /dev/sdb >/etc/partitions/disc1.partitions
# sfdisk --dump /dev/sdc >/etc/partitions/disc2.partitions


For LVM management, please have a look at LVM

Mounting from a Live CD

If you want to mount your RAID partition from a Live CD, use

# mdadm --assemble /dev/md0 /dev/sda3 /dev/sdb3 /dev/sdc3

(or whatever mdX and drives apply to you)

Note: Live CDs like SystemrescueCD assemble the RAID arrays automatically at boot time if you used the partition type fd at the install of the array)

Removing device, stop using the array

You can remove a device from the array after you mark it as faulty.

# mdadm --fail /dev/md0 /dev/sdxx

Then you can remove it from the array.

# mdadm -r /dev/md0 /dev/sdxx

Remove device permanently (for example in the case you want to use it individally from now on). Issue the two commands described above then:

# mdadm --zero-superblock /dev/sdxx

After this you can use the disk as you did before creating the array.

Warning: If you reuse the removed disk without zeroing the superblock you will LOSE all your data next boot. (After mdadm will try to use it as the part of the raid array). DO NOT issue this command on linear or RAID0 arrays or you will LOSE all your data on the raid array.

Stop using an array:

  1. Umount target array
  2. Repeat the three command described in the beginning of this section on each device.
  3. Stop the array with: mdadm --stop /dev/md0
  4. Remove the corresponding line from /etc/mdadm.conf

Adding a device to the array

Adding new devices with mdadm can be done on a running system with the devices mounted. Partition the new device "/dev/sdx" using the same layout as one of those already in the arrays "/dev/sda".

# sfdisk -d /dev/sda > table
# sdfisk /dev/sdx < table

Assemble the RAID arrays if they are not already assembled:

# mdadm --assemble /dev/md1 /dev/sda1 /dev/sdb1 /dev/sdc1
# mdadm --assemble /dev/md2 /dev/sda2 /dev/sdb2 /dev/sdc2
# mdadm --assemble /dev/md0 /dev/sda3 /dev/sdb3 /dev/sdc3

First, add the new device as a Spare Device to all of the arrays. We will assume you have followed the guide and use separate arrays for /boot RAID 1 (/dev/md1), swap RAID 1 (/dev/md2) and root RAID 5 (/dev/md0).

# mdadm --add /dev/md1 /dev/sdx1
# mdadm --add /dev/md2 /dev/sdx2
# mdadm --add /dev/md0 /dev/sdx3

This should not take long for mdadm to do. Check the progress with:

# cat /proc/mdstat

Check that the device has been added with the command:

# mdadm --misc --detail /dev/md0

It should be listed as a Spare Device.

Tell mdadm to grow the arrays from 3 devices to 4 (or however many devices you want to use):

# mdadm --grow -n 4 /dev/md1
# mdadm --grow -n 4 /dev/md2
# mdadm --grow -n 4 /dev/md0

This will probably take several hours. You need to wait for it to finish before you can continue. Check the progress in /proc/mdstat. The RAID 1 arrays should automatically sync /boot and swap but you need to install Grub on the MBR of the new device manually. Installing_with_Software_RAID_or_LVM#Install_Grub_on_the_Alternate_Boot_Drives

The rest of this guide will explain how to resize the underlying LVM and filesystem on the RAID 5 array.

Note: I am not sure if this can be done with the volumes mounted and will assume you are booting from a live-cd/usb

If you are have encrypted your LVM volumes with LUKS, you need resize the LUKS volume first. Otherwise, ignore this step.

# cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/md0 cryptedlvm
# cryptsetup resize cryptedlvm

Activate the LVM volume groups:

# vgscan
# vgchange -ay

Resize the LVM Physical Volume /dev/md0 (or e.g. /dev/mapper/cryptedlvm if using LUKS) to take up all the available space on the array. You can list them with the command "pvdisplay".

# pvresize /dev/md0

Resize the Logical Volume you wish to allocate the new space to. You can list them with "lvdisplay". Assuming you want to put it all to your /home volume:

# lvresize -l +100%FREE /dev/array/home

To resize the filesystem to allocate the new space use the appropriate tool. If using ext2 you can resize a mounted filesystem with ext2online. For ext3 you can use resize2fs or ext2resize but not while mounted.

You should check the filesystem before resizing.

# e2fsck -f /dev/array/home
# resize2fs /dev/array/home

Read the manuals for lvresize and resize2fs if you want to customize the sizes for the volumes.


If you are getting error when you reboot about "invalid raid superblock magic" and you have additional hard drives other than the ones you installed to, check that your hard drive order is correct. During installation, your RAID devices may be hdd, hde and hdf, but during boot they may be hda, hdb and hdc. Adjust your kernel line in /boot/grub/menu.lst accordingly. This is what happened to me anyway.

Recovering from a broken or missing drive in the raid

You might get the above mentioned error also when one of the drives breaks for whatever reason. In that case you will have to fore the raid to still turn on even with one disk short. Type this (change where needed):

# mdadm --manage /dev/md0 --run

Now you should be able to mount it again with something like this (if you had it in fstab):

# mount /dev/md0

Now the raid should be working again and available to use, however with one disk short! So, to add that one disc partition it the way like described above in #Partition_the_Hard_Drives. Once that is done you can add the new disk to the raid by doing:

# mdadm --manage --add /dev/md0 /dev/sdd1

If you type:

# cat /proc/mdstat

you probably see that the raid is now active and rebuilding.

You also might want to update your /etc/mdadm.conf file by typing:

# mdadm --examine --scan > /etc/mdadm.conf

That should be about all steps required to recover your raid. It certainly worked for me when i had lost a dive due to a partition table corruption.


There are several tools for benchmarking a RAID. The most notable improvement is the speed increase when multiple threads are reading from the same RAID volume.

Tiobench specifically benchmarks these performance improvements by measuring fully-threaded I/O on the disk.

Bonnie++ tests database type access to one or more files, and creation, reading, and deleting of small files which can simulate the usage of programs such as Squid, INN, or Maildir format e-mail. The enclosed ZCAV program tests the performance of different zones of a hard drive without writing any data to the disk.

Template:Codeline should NOT be used to benchmark a RAID, because it provides very inconsistent results.

Additional Resources


Software RAID



Forums threads