Installing with Fake RAID

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Provides detailed instructions for installing Parabola on "fake RAID" volumes. This guide is intended to supplement the Installation Guide or the Beginners' Guide.
Installing with Software RAID or LVM
Convert a single drive system to RAID
RAID/Onboard @ Gentoo Linux Wiki
Related forum thread

The purpose of this guide is to enable use of a RAID set created by the on-board BIOS RAID controller and thereby allow dual-booting of GNU/Linux from partitions inside the RAID set using GRUB. When using so-called "fake RAID" or "host RAID", the disc sets are reached from /dev/mapper/chipsetName_randomName and not /dev/sdX.

1 What is "fake RAID"

From Wikipedia:

Operating system-based RAID doesn't always protect the boot process and is generally impractical on desktop versions of Windows. Hardware RAID controllers are expensive and proprietary. To fill this gap, cheap "RAID controllers" were introduced that do not contain a RAID controller chip, but simply a standard disk controller chip with special firmware and drivers. During early stage boot-up, the RAID is implemented by the firmware. When a protected-mode operating system kernel such as GNU/Linux or a modern version of Microsoft Windows is loaded, the drivers take over.
These controllers are described by their manufacturers as RAID controllers, and it is rarely made clear to purchasers that the burden of RAID processing is borne by the host computer's central processing unit -- not the RAID controller itself -- thus introducing the aforementioned CPU overhead which hardware controllers do not suffer from. Firmware controllers often can only use certain types of hard drives in their RAID arrays (e.g. SATA for Intel Matrix RAID, as there is neither SCSI nor PATA support in modern Intel ICH southbridges; however, motherboard makers implement RAID controllers outside of the southbridge on some motherboards). Before their introduction, a "RAID controller" implied that the controller did the processing, and the new type has become known in technically knowledgeable circles as "fake RAID" even though the RAID itself is implemented correctly. Adaptec calls them "host RAID".[1]

See Wikipedia:RAID for more information.

Despite the terminology, "fake RAID" via dmraid is a robust software RAID implementation that offers a solid system to mirror or stripe data across multiple disks with negligible overhead for any modern system. dmraid is comparable to mdraid (pure Linux software RAID) with the added benefit of being able to completely rebuild a drive after a failure before the system is ever booted.

2 History

In Linux 2.4, the ATARAID kernel framework provided support for fake RAID (software RAID assisted by the BIOS). For Linux 2.6 the device-mapper framework can, among other nice things like LVM and EVMS, do the same kind of work as ATARAID in 2.4. Whilst the new code handling the RAID I/O still runs in the kernel, device-mapper is generally configured by a userspace application. It was clear that when using the device-mapper for RAID, detection would go to userspace.

Heinz Maulshagen created the dmraid tool to detect RAID sets and create mappings for them. The controllers supported are (mostly cheap) fake RAID IDE/SATA controllers which contain BIOS functions. Common examples include: Promise FastTrak controllers; HighPoint HPT37x; Intel Matrix RAID; Silicon Image Medley; and NVIDIA nForce.

3 Supported hardware

  • Tested with ICH10R on 2009.08 (x86_64) -- pointone 23:10, 29 November 2009 (EST)
  • Tested with Sil3124 on 2009.02 (i686) -- loosec
  • Tested with nForce4 on Core Dump (i686 and x86_64) -- loosec
  • Tested with Sil3512 on Overlord (x86_64) -- loosec
  • Tested with nForce2 on 2011.05 (i686) -- Jere2001; drankinatty
  • Tested with nVidia MCP78S on 2011.06 (x86_64) -- drankinatty
  • Tested with nVidia CK804 on 2011.06 (x86_64) -- drankinatty
  • Tested with AMD Option ROM Utility using pdc_adma on 2011.12 (x86_64)

For more information on supported hardware, see RAID/Onboard @ Gentoo Linux Wiki

4 Backup

Warning: Backup all data before playing with RAID. What you do with your hardware is only your own fault. Data on RAID stripes is highly vulnerable to disc failures. Create regular backups or consider using mirror sets. Consider yourself warned!

5 Outline

  • Preparation
  • Boot the installer
  • Load dmraid
  • Perform traditional installation
  • Install GRUB

6 Preparation

  • Open up any needed guides (e.g. Beginners' Guide, Install Guide) on another machine. If you do not have access to another machine, print it out.
  • Download the latest Parabola install image.
  • Backup all important files since everything on the target partitions will be destroyed.

6.1 Configure RAID sets

  • Enter your BIOS setup and enable the RAID controller.
    • The BIOS may contain an option to configure SATA drives as "IDE", "AHCI", or "RAID"; ensure "RAID" is selected.
  • Save and exit the BIOS setup. During boot, enter the RAID setup utility.
    • The RAID utility is usually either accessible via the boot menu (often F8, F10 or CTRL+I) or whilst the RAID controller is initializing.
  • Use the RAID setup utility to create preferred stripe/mirror sets.
Tip: See your motherboard documentation for details. The exact procedure may vary.

7 Boot the installer

See Install Guide#Pre-Installation for details.

8 Load dmraid

Load device-mapper and find RAID sets:

# modprobe dm_mod
# dmraid -ay
# ls -la /dev/mapper/
Warning: Command "dmraid -ay" could fail after boot to Parabola GNU/Linux-libre Release: 2011.09.01 as image file with initial ramdisk environment does not support dmraid. You could use an older Release. Note that you must correct your kernel name and initrd name in grubs menu.lst after installing as these releases use different naming

Example output:

/dev/mapper/control            <- Created by device-mapper; if present, device-mapper is likely functioning
/dev/mapper/sil_aiageicechah   <- A RAID set on a Silicon Image SATA RAID controller
/dev/mapper/sil_aiageicechah1  <- First partition on this RAID Set

If there is only one file (/dev/mapper/control), check if your controller chipset module is loaded with lsmod. If it is, then dmraid does not support this controller or there are no RAID sets on the system (check RAID BIOS setup again). If correct, then you may be forced to use software RAID (this means no dual-booted RAID system on this controller).

If your chipset module is NOT loaded, load it now. For example:

# modprobe sata_sil

See /lib/modules/`uname -r`/kernel/drivers/ata/ for available drivers.

To test the RAID sets:

# dmraid -tay

9 Perform traditional installation

Switch to tty2 and start the installer:

# /libre/setup

9.1 Partition the RAID set

  • Under Prepare Hard Drive choose Manually partition hard drives since the Auto-prepare option will not find your RAID sets.
  • Choose OTHER and type in your RAID set's full path (e.g. /dev/mapper/sil_aiageicechah). Switch back to tty1 to check your spelling.
  • Create the proper partitions the normal way.

9.2 Mounting the filesystem

If -- and this is probably the case -- you do not find your newly created partitions under Manually configure block devices, filesystems and mountpoints:

  • Switch back to tty1.
  • Deactivate all device-mapper nodes:
# dmsetup remove_all
  • Reactivate the newly-created RAID nodes:
# dmraid -ay
# ls -la /dev/mapper
  • Switch to tty2, re-enter the Manually configure block devices, filesystems and mountpoints menu and the partitions should be available.
Warning: NEVER delete a partition in cfdisk to create 2 partitions with dmraid after Manually configure block devices, filesystems and mountpoints have been set. (really screws with dmraid metadata and existing partitions are worthless) Solution: delete the array from the bios and re-create to force creation under a new /dev/mapper ID, reinstall/repartition.

9.3 Install and configure Parabola

Tip: Utilize three consoles: the setup GUI to configure the system, a chroot to install GRUB, and finally a cfdisk reference since RAID sets have weird names.
  • tty1: chroot and grub-install
  • tty2: /arch/setup
  • tty3: cfdisk for a reference in spelling, partition table and geometry of the RAID set
Leave programs running and switch to when needed.

Re-activate the installer (tty2) and proceed as normal with the following exceptions:

  • Select Packages
    • Ensure dmraid is marked for installation
  • Configure System
    • Add dm_mod to the MODULES line in mkinitcpio.conf. If using a mirrored (RAID 1) array, additionally add dm_mirror
    • Add chipset_module_driver to the MODULES line if necessary
    • Add dmraid to the HOOKS line in mkinitcpio.conf; preferably after sata but before filesystems

10 Install GRUB

Warning: You can normally specify default saved instead of a number in menu.lst so that the default entry is the entry saved with the command savedefault. If you are using dmraid do not use savedefault or your array will de-sync and will not let you boot your system.

Please read GRUB for more information about configuring GRUB. Installation is begun by selecting Install Bootloader from the Parabola installer.

Note: For an unknown reason, the default menu.lst will likely be incorrectly populated when installing via fake RAID. Double-check the root lines (e.g. root (hd0,0)). Additionally, if you did not create a separate /boot partition, ensure the kernel/initrd paths are correct (e.g. /boot/vmlinuz-linux-libre and /boot/initramfs-linux-libre.img instead of /vmlinuz-linux-libre and /initramfs-linux-libre.img.

For example, if you created logical partitions (creating the equivalent of sda5, sda6, sda7, etc.) that were mapped as:

  /dev/mapper     |    Linux    GRUB Partition
                  |  Partition      Number
nvidia_fffadgic   |
nvidia_fffadgic5  |    /              4
nvidia_fffadgic6  |    /boot          5
nvidia_fffadgic7  |    /home          6

The correct root designation would be (hd0,5) in this example.

Note: If you use more than one set of dmraid arrays or multiple Linux distributions installed on different dmraid arrays (for example 2 disks in nvidia_fdaacfde and 2 disks in nvidia_fffadgic and you are installing to the second dmraid array (nvidia_fffadgic)), you will need designate the second array's /boot partition as the GRUB root. In the example above, if nvidia_fffadgic was the second dmraid array you were installing to, your root designation would be root (hd1,5).

After saving the configuration file, the GRUB installer will FAIL. However it will still copy files to /boot. DO NOT GIVE UP AND REBOOT -- just follow the directions below:

  • Switch to tty1 and chroot into our installed system:
# mount -t proc none /mnt/proc
# mount --rbind /dev /mnt/dev
# mount --rbind /sys /mnt/sys
# chroot /mnt /bin/bash
  • Switch to tty3 and look up the geometry of the RAID set. In order for cfdisk to find the array and provide the proper C H S information, you may need to start cfdisk providing your raid set as the first argument. (i.e. cfdisk /dev/mapper/nvidia_fffadgic):
    • The number of Cylinders, Heads and Sectors on the RAID set should be written at the top of the screen inside cfdisk. Note: cfdisk shows the information in H S C order, but grub requires you to enter the geometry information in C H S order.
Example: 18079 255 63 for a RAID stripe of two 74GB Raptor discs.
Example: 38914 255 63 for a RAID stripe of two 160GB laptop discs.
  • GRUB will fail to properly read the drives; the geometry command must be used to manually direct GRUB:
    • Switch to tty1, the chrooted environment.
    • Install GRUB on /dev/mapper/raidSet:
# dmsetup mknodes
# grub --device-map=/dev/null

grub> device (hd0) /dev/mapper/raidSet
grub> geometry (hd0) C H S

Exchange C H S above with the proper numbers (be aware: they are not entered in the same order as they are read from cfdisk).

If geometry is entered properly, GRUB will list partitions found on this RAID set. You can confirm that grub is using the correct geometry and verify the proper grub root device to boot from by using the grub find command. If you have created a separate boot partition, then search for /grub/stage1 with find. If you have no separate boot partition, then search /boot/grub/stage1 with find. Examples:

grub> find /grub/stage1       # use when you have a separate boot partition
grub> find /boot/grub/stage1  # use when you have no separate boot partition

Grub will report the proper device to designate as the grub root below (i.e. (hd0,0), (hd0,4), etc...) Then, continue to install the bootloader into the Master Boot Record, changing "hd0" to "hd1" if required.

grub> root (hd0,0)
grub> setup (hd0)
grub> quit
Note: With dmraid >= 1.0.0.rc15-8, partitions are labeled "raidSetp1, raidSetp2, etc. instead of raidSet1, raidSet2, etc. If the setup command fails with "error 22: No such partition", temporary symlinks must be created.[2]

The problem is that GRUB still uses an older detection algorithm, and is looking for /dev/mapper/raidSet1 instead of /dev/mapper/raidSetp1.

The solution is to create a symlink from /dev/mapper/raidSetp1 to /dev/mapper/raidSet1 (changing the partition number as needed). The simplest way to accomplish this is to:
# cd /dev/mapper
# for i in raidSetp*; do ln -s $i ${i/p/}; done

Lastly, if you have multiple dmraid devices with multiple sets of arrays set up (say: nvidia_fdaacfde and nvidia_fffadgic), then create the /boot/grub/ file to help GRUB retain its sanity when working with the arrays. All the file does is map the dmraid device to a traditional hd#. Using these dmraid devices, your file will look like this:

(hd0) /dev/mapper/nvidia_fdaacfde
(hd1) /dev/mapper/nvidia_fffadgic

And now you are finished with the installation!

# reboot

11 Troubleshooting

11.1 Booting with degraded array

One drawback of the fake RAID approach on GNU/Linux is that dmraid is currently unable to handle degraded arrays, and will refuse to activate. In this scenario, one must resolve the problem from within another OS or via the BIOS/chipset RAID utility.

Alternatively, if using a mirrored (RAID 1) array, users may temporarily bypass dmraid during the boot process and boot from a single drive:

  1. Edit the kernel line from the GRUB menu
    1. Remove references to dmraid devices (e.g. change /dev/mapper/raidSet1 to /dev/sda1)
    2. Append disablehooks=dmraid to prevent a kernel panic when dmraid discovers the degraded array
  2. Boot the system

11.2 Error: Unable to determine major/minor number of root device

If you experience a boot failure after kernel update where the boot process is unable to determine major/minor number of root device, this might just be a timing problem (i.e. dmraid -ay might be called before /dev/sd* is fully set up and detected). This can effect both the normal and LTS kernel images. Booting the 'Fallback' kernel image should work. The error will look something like this:

Activating dmraid arrays...
no block devices found
Waiting 10 seconds for device /dev/mapper/nvidia_baaccajap5
Root device '/dev/mapper/nvidia_baaccajap5' doesn't exist attempting to create it.
Error: Unable to determine major/minor number of root device '/dev/mapper/nvidia_baaccajap5'

To work around this problem:

  • boot the Fallback kernel
  • insert the 'sleep' hook in the HOOKS line of /etc/mkinitcpio.conf after the 'udev' hook like this:
HOOKS="base udev sleep autodetect pata scsi sata dmraid filesystems"
  • rebuild the kernel image and reboot

11.3 dmraid mirror fails to activate

Does everything above work correctly the first time, but then when you reboot dmraid cannot find the array?

This is because Linux software raid (mdadm) has already attempted to mount the fakeraid array during system init and left it in an umountable state. To prevent mdadm from running, move the udev rule that is responsible out of the way:

# cd /lib/udev/rules.d
# mkdir disabled
# mv 64-md-raid.rules disabled/
# reboot

12 Acknowledgement

This wiki article is based on ArchWiki. We may have removed non-FSDG bits from it.