Are you running Linux on your desktop? Are you using RAID? If you aren't, you should reconsider that decision.

RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) technology, which automatically mirrors data on multiple physical hard disks, has been around for some time. RAID allows your system to survive a hard disk failure without missing a beat. Extra disks cost money, but with hard disk prices dropping like a stone, this is no longer a valid excuse for not using RAID.

The problem is that installing Linux onto a RAID array is non-trivial. None of the major linux distributions include an easy way to install Linux with RAID. It is usually possible using numerous commands to manually partition the drives, and may require an alternate install CD. However, this procedure is far too complex for many casual users, many of whom have never even heard of RAID.

Salamander is the solution. Salamander is a modified version of the default installer for Ubuntu Linux, Ubiquity. This modified installer allows users to easily install Ubuntu Linux onto a Software RAID array. No special hardware is required -- the Salamander installer can be used on any system with multiple hard disks.

Salamanders are the only vertebrates that can regenerate limbs. In the same way, a system installed with Salamander can regenerate after a hard-drive failure.

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March 9th 2010 -- Installing Linux with RAID seemed hard... so I fixed that.
Recently a hard drive died on me, and I decided that it was finally time I got around to configure my Linux system to use software RAID. Even though RAID has been around forever, there seems to be no distro that makes installing software RAID particularly straightforward. Ubuntu, my distro of choice, is especially bad since not only do you have to very carefully manually partition everything, but use an alternate install CD as well. It seemed to me there should be a way to specify only which disks to include in the array, the RAID level, the file system and the size of the swap partition, and have the installer do the rest automatically.

My intention here is not to create something for use in enterprise servers, but something that will allow regular desktop Linux users to easily use RAID to protect themselves from hardware failure. Here is what usually happens: A disk fails, and the user vows to use RAID next time. Yes, the user has backups, but these are just the most important files, not the entire system which must now be reinstalled/reconfigured. Nothing important is lost other than the time it takes to reconfigure everything, but that can still be very annoying. After obtaining the new disk, the user realizes that it's going to take at least a few hours of searching documentation and experimentation to get RAID working the way they want. Since the user wants his main system up and running again ASAP, he says "bah, screw RAID, I'll configure it later," and does an installation without it. Moving an entire system to a RAID array is a real pain, and the system is now working perfectly, so the user eventually forgets about using RAID. A couple of years later, a disk fails... Repeat.

I know this pattern well because this theoretical user is me. I am the idiot that has gone through this cycle a couple of times, and this last time I was determined not to let it happen again. I suspect there are a few other Linux users like me out there that could benefit from a user-friendly RAID installer, and thus I created Salamander.

I should add that I am relatively new to maintaining a RAID system, and it may be that I've done something stupid/inadvisable somewhere in my implementation even though it seems to work perfectly. I'm very open to constructive criticism, and hope to improve as time goes on. I just saw that no tool like this existed, so I built one.

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