Do I need a RAID array?

What is RAID?

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks and refers to a data storage method that combines multiple disk drives into a logical unit. The main purposes of RAID are to improve performance, increase capacity, and enhance reliability of data storage (Starus Recovery, 2023).

The different levels of RAID provide various combinations of increased performance, fault tolerance, and efficient use of drive capacity. Some key RAID levels include:

  • RAID 0: Striping of data across multiple drives with no redundancy. Improves performance but provides no fault tolerance.
  • RAID 1: Mirroring of data across drives. Provides redundancy but halves storage capacity.
  • RAID 5: Striping with distributed parity for redundancy. Good balance of capacity and fault tolerance.
  • RAID 10: Striping and mirroring together. Provides high performance and redundancy but requires at least 4 drives.

RAID combines the disks in the array into one logical storage unit, distributing and repeating data across the drives according to the RAID level. The array is controlled by RAID controller hardware or software. If a disk fails, the RAID system can rebuild the data onto a replacement disk using the distributed redundant information (Analog Devices, 2023).

Benefits of RAID

There are several key benefits that RAID arrays provide compared to single disks:

Increased speed – By spreading data across multiple disks, RAID can increase read and write speeds significantly. This is especially true for RAID 0, which stripes data across disks with no parity or mirroring. The workload is shared across disks, allowing them to operate in parallel for faster performance 1.

Increased capacity – RAID allows multiple disk drives to be combined into one logical unit, greatly expanding storage capacity. For example, four 1 TB drives can create a single 4 TB RAID array 2.

Data redundancy/protection – By duplicating data across drives or calculating and storing parity information, RAID can provide fault tolerance in case of disk failures. RAID 1 mirrors data while RAID levels 5 and above use parity to recover lost data 3.

Drawbacks of RAID

While RAID offers important benefits like redundancy and improved performance, it also comes with some significant drawbacks that should be considered. Some of the main disadvantages of using RAID include:

Complexity – Setting up and managing a RAID array can be complex, especially for larger arrays with more disks. Choosing the right RAID level and properly configuring the array requires advanced technical knowledge. Maintaining and monitoring RAID arrays also adds complexity.

Cost – Implementing RAID requires purchasing additional hard disks, a RAID controller card, and other hardware. This increases the overall storage costs substantially compared to a single disk solution. There are also additional costs for the advanced features included with RAID controllers.

Potential Single Point of Failure – Many RAID levels are susceptible to data loss if the RAID controller fails. This creates a single point of failure. Measures like using a redundant RAID controller can mitigate this risk, but add further cost and complexity.

When to Use RAID

RAID arrays are most commonly used in enterprise and organizational settings where high performance and data redundancy are critical. Some examples of when RAID can be beneficial include:

  • For mission critical data and applications where downtime is unacceptable – Many companies rely on the availability of certain data and systems at all times. A RAID array can prevent data loss and downtime in the event of a disk failure.
  • High bandwidth applications like video editing and data analytics – RAID 0 can provide performance improvements for applications that demand high disk I/O. By striping data across multiple disks, RAID 0 allows for simultaneous disk reads and writes.
  • Companies and organizations that require redundant storage – RAID 1 and RAID 5 provide disk mirroring and parity so data can be recovered if a drive fails. This protects important data like financial records, medical data, etc.

In general, RAID arrays are most applicable for enterprise and organizational use cases where performance, redundancy, and high availability are critical requirements.

When Not to Use RAID

For home users with relatively low bandwidth needs, RAID may not be the best solution due to cost and complexity. Here are some cases when RAID may not make sense:

If you are on a tight budget, the additional cost of multiple hard drives and a RAID controller can add up quickly. For many basic home server needs, a single large hard drive may be sufficient and more affordable.

If you only need to store and access relatively small amounts of data infrequently, the benefits of RAID’s increased throughput may be negligible. The redundancy of RAID comes at the cost of overall storage capacity, so it only makes sense with substantial storage needs.

If you don’t have technical expertise to properly configure and maintain a RAID array, it may not be worth the additional complexity. Mistakes like a faulty RAID configuration or inconsistent drive replacements can lead to total data loss.

If you need off-site backups in case of fire, theft or other disasters, RAID alone is insufficient. No matter how resilient, RAID does not protect against catastrophic events affecting the whole array.1

For critical data, RAID cannot substitute for comprehensive backup solutions like cloud storage and external drives stored off-site. The redundancy of RAID improves uptime and availability, but does not exempt the need for backups.


RAID 0, also known as disk striping, splits data evenly across two or more disks with no parity or redundancy (1). The benefit of RAID 0 is that it provides improved performance and full capacity utilization, since data is written across multiple disks simultaneously (2). However, RAID 0 offers no fault tolerance, so if one drive fails, all data will be lost. RAID 0 requires a minimum of two disks and is best suited for non-critical data where performance is most important (3).




RAID 1: Disk Mirroring

RAID 1, also known as disk mirroring or disk duplexing, is a RAID configuration that provides redundancy by duplicating all data from one drive to a second drive (1). This means that if one drive fails, the data is still accessible from the other mirrored drive.

With RAID 1, data is written to two identical drives simultaneously. If one drive fails, the system can instantly switch to the other drive without any interruption in service. This high level of redundancy makes RAID 1 well-suited for mission-critical systems that require maximum uptime and cannot afford data loss.

The main advantage of RAID 1 is the high level of data protection. The duplicated drives provide fault tolerance in case of a drive failure. The main disadvantage is higher cost, since you need twice the number of hard drives for the same amount of storage space. RAID 1 is commonly used for smaller storage systems that require high availability and cannot tolerate any downtime.


RAID 5 is a RAID level that provides improved performance and storage capacity compared to RAID 1 or RAID 0, while still providing redundancy for data protection. RAID 5 uses a technique called striping with distributed parity. The data is striped across multiple disks like in RAID 0, but parity information is also distributed across the disks. Parity allows for data recovery in case a disk fails.[1]

With RAID 5, data is striped across all the disks in the array except one. The remaining disk holds the parity information that can be used to reconstruct data if one of the other disks fails. For example, in a 5 disk RAID 5 array, 4 disks contain striped data while the 5th disk contains the parity. If any one of the 4 data disks fails, the missing data can be recreated using the parity disk. This provides redundancy and fault tolerance.[2]

A key advantage of RAID 5 is that it provides a good balance between performance, capacity, and redundancy. RAID 5 arrays can tolerate the failure of one disk without losing data. They also provide faster read performance compared to RAID 1. However, write performance may be slower due to the parity calculation overhead. Overall, RAID 5 offers efficient use of storage capacity while still protecting against disk failures.[3]


RAID 10, also known as RAID 1+0, is a RAID configuration that combines disk mirroring and disk striping to protect data. It requires a minimum of four disks and utilizes block-level striping and mirroring for redundancy and speed. RAID 10 provides fault tolerance and high performance, making it ideal for applications that demand high throughput and maximum uptime.

The mirroring in RAID 10 provides redundancy by duplicating all data across disk pairs. The striping increases performance by distributing data across multiple disks that can be read and written to in parallel. Combining mirroring and striping results in high fault tolerance due to the redundancy and fast throughput from the parallelization.

RAID 10 can withstand multiple disk failures as long as no more than one disk fails per mirrored pair. This provides good protection despite having relatively low overhead compared to other redundant RAID levels. The tradeoff is RAID 10 requires more disks than other levels. Still, the greatly improved performance and ability to survive concurrent drive failures makes RAID 10 a popular choice for critical systems.

Alternatives to RAID

There are a few alternatives to traditional RAID arrays that provide other options for data redundancy and protection. Some popular alternatives include:

Cloud Storage: Services like Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud and OneDrive allow users to store files and folders in the cloud. Data is replicated across multiple servers and locations for redundancy. This protects against drive failures and allows access from multiple devices. However, cloud storage requires an internet connection.

Backups: Regular backups to an external drive provide protection against data loss. While backups don’t provide the real-time redundancy of RAID, they allow users to restore previous versions of files and folders. Backups are also offline, so they protect against internet or cloud outages.

Single Drives: For some home users, a single external USB hard drive may provide enough data protection. While the drive could fail, important files can be regularly backed up to a second external drive. This is a cost-effective option for users with fewer critical files to protect.

SnapRAID is a popular open source alternative that provides parity-based redundancy like RAID 5 across single drives. It does not stripe data across disks like traditional RAID which provides flexibility for upgrading drives. Unraid is a NAS operating system that utilizes parity protection and storage pooling across mismatched disks.