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SQL Server Storage: Files, Filegroups and RAID

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In this blog I will briefly write about the files and the filegroups of a SQL Server database, followed by describing the most popular data storage technology called RAID – Redundant Array of Independent Disks, along with covering some internals of this technology and its applicability. Having a understanding of the various database files, RAID, RAID levels will be crucial in building a SQL Server that can scale bigger, restore faster and query quicker.

SQL Server Files and Filegroups

SQL Server database stores data and transactions in separate files. Data associated with tables, indexes, and large object data is stored in data files. The transactions are sequentially stored in a log file. The Data and transactions of a databases can be stored in three types of files.

  • Primary data files – Every database has one primary data file. Recommended file name extension is .mdf. This is merely a best practice and your company can have a policy for a unique extension.
  • Secondary data files – Secondary data files make up all the data files, other than the primary data file. This file will exist only when it has been defined in the database setup.  Recommended file name extension is .ndf.
  • Log files – Log files contain the information that is required to recover all transactions in the database. Log files are sequential.  There must be at least one log file for each database, although there can be more than one. Recommended file name extension is “.ldf”. The log files are truncated automatically when using the SIMPLE recovery model, but not when using BULK LOGGED or FULL recovery


The most likely part to fail in a computer or a storage device, because it probably is the only moving part. A hard drive typically is spinning anywhere from 5400 to 15000 rotations per minute (RPM) and stands of chance for failure. RAID is the technology that is the solution to the above problem. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, is a redundant system with multiple hard drive that is used to store your data. Basically it allow you to turn multiple physical hard drives into one logical hard drive. Depending on the type of configuration employed in designing the RAID, failure of one or more drives will not impact your data. This will act as a critical system that can save your data from loss and should be considered for data storage. There are many RAID levels , however three basic types of RAID levels are widely used by companies and they are RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 5. RAID 0 is called as disk striping, RAID 1 is called disk mirroring and RAID 5 is called disk striping with parity.

RAID 0 – Disk Striping

Disk striping in RAID 0 combines physical drives into one large logical drive with the maximum capacity being the sum of individual hard disk sizes. For example if you have 2 disks with individual capacity of 1TB in your RAID, you would effectively have 2 TB of usable disk space to store data. Data is distributed across all the drives and where data stripes are distributes evenly across all the physical disks. The size of the data stripe can vary by the design determined by your DBA or the one demanded by your application. Let us assume that you have a stripe size of 16 bits, when a data block of size 64 bits is written on a RAID 0 with 4 disks, bits 1 – 16 are written on disk 1, bits 16 – 32 are written on disk 2, bits 17 – 48 are written on disk 3 and bits 49 – 64 are written on disk 4. Basically this raid level is striping your data across all the disks evenly, thus making writing and reading you data faster. However one big concern with this design is that if a hard disk were to fail, you will not be able to recover the data because you do not have a redundancy to reconstruct all the data.

RAID 1 – Disk Mirroring

Disk mirroring creates identical copies of your data. There would only be two drives involved in this type of RAID. Disk mirroring would make an identical image of the hard drive. In other words the data on one drive is automatically written on to the other hard drive. The primary advantage of this type configuration is in a scenario when one of the hard  drive fails, your server is still up and running because you have a complete backup all the data on another hard disk in the RAID. At this point while the sever is still running, you can swap the failed disk with a another hard disk and let the RAID rebuild the mirrored disk. RAID 1 is mainly for liability by introducing redundancy of data. Keep in mind that only 50 % of the total disk space can be used for data storage. For example if you have 2 disks with individual capacity of 1TB in your RAID, you would effectively have 1 TB of usable disk space to store data.

RAID 5 – Disk Striping with Parity

Disk striping with parity can be achieved with atleast 3 hard drives for its simplest configuration. In this case, the stripe 1 will be written to dive 1, stripe 2 will be written to drive 2 and the parity for the data written on drive 1 would be written to the drive 3, followed by the parity for the data written on drive 2 written on drive 1 followed by stripe 4 on drive 2 and stripe 5 on drive 3. It is hard to visualize the last sentence, but you have to understand that this allows for a failure of one hard drive. The parity introduced in this type of RAID will be used to rebuild the failed drive, because the other two drive contain all the data. Another advantage it offers is that you have more disk space when compared with RAID 1 and not as much as RAID 0 though. For example if you have 3 disks with individual capacity of 1TB in your RAID, you would effectively have 2 TB of usable disk space to store data and if you were to have 4 disks on your RAID with 1 TB capacity on each of then, the total usable disk space would be 3 TB . Basically you will be using the the size equivalent of one hard disk for redundancy.

RAID Level 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, ……

All the other RAID levels are a combination of a basic levels 0, 1, 5. For example RAID 10 is a combination of RAID 1 and RAID 0, where your data is mirrored in addition to being striped across the disks. RAID 6 is a combination of RAID 5 and RAID 1, where your data is striped with parity along with it being mirrored for additional redundancy.


Redundant array of independent disks is a system that allows for configuring hard disks to store data efficiently and also provide fault tolerance. Raid level 0 can ideally be used for fast read and write capability with the ability to combine several smaller disks into one large logical drive.  Caution should be exercised in maintaining a backup scheme for your data as there is no redundancy provided by this level. RAID level 1 is purely a play on providing redundancy for your data. RAID level 5 provides improved performance with writing and reading data in addition to providing some redundancy. RAID 1 and 5 allows for hot swappable disks, meaning to say, the failed drives can be replaced and rebuild while the server is still running. RAID is the right tool for business because it delivers flexibility and scalability so that you can create and manage enterprise data storage systems in the shortest possible time.

1. Files and Filegroups Architecture
2. RAID Levels and SQL Server


Written by cavemansblog

June 12, 2014 at 9:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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