Should I use a RAID array?

What is RAID?

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. It is a data storage technology that combines multiple disk drives into one logical unit. Data is distributed across the drives in one of several ways called RAID levels, depending on the required level of redundancy and performance.

The main goals of RAID are to provide increased data reliability through redundancy and improved performance. RAID achieves this by distributing and replicating data across multiple drives. If one drive fails, the data can still be accessed from the remaining drives. The different RAID levels provide different balances of speed, redundancy, and storage efficiency.

Benefits of RAID

There are several key benefits that make RAID arrays attractive for many use cases:

  • Increased redundancy – RAID safeguards data by duplicating it across drives. If one drive fails, data can still be accessed from the remaining drives.
  • Improved performance – Data can be read and written in parallel across multiple drives, increasing speed.
  • Higher storage capacity – Multiple drives can be combined into a larger logical volume.
  • Data protection – RAID can prevent data loss from drive failures and recover data if needed.

By leveraging multiple drives, RAID aims to provide greater storage reliability, capacity, and performance than single drives can offer.

Types of RAID

There are several standard RAID levels, each optimizing for different factors:

  • RAID 0 – Data is striped across drives for high performance, but provides no redundancy. If any drive fails, all data will be lost.
  • RAID 1 – Drives are mirrored, creating full redundancy but doubling required capacity. Very robust but higher cost.
  • RAID 5 – Data is striped across drives with distributed parity information that can handle one drive failure without data loss.
  • RAID 6 – Similar to RAID 5 but can endure two drive failures. Requires at least four drives.
  • RAID 10 – Combination of mirroring and striping for both performance and redundancy. Minimum four drives.

There are also nested RAID levels (like RAID 50 and 60) that combine attributes of the standard levels. The RAID level determines the performance, capacity, and fault tolerance tradeoffs.

Should I use RAID for my storage needs?

Whether you should implement a RAID array depends on your specific storage requirements, budget, and willingness to manage a more complex setup. Key factors to consider are:

Storage capacity needs

RAID requires using multiple drives, so you need adequate storage needs to justify the extra costs. For systems that need only single drive capacity, RAID may be unnecessary.

Performance requirements

RAID 0 and 10 provide significant performance benefits from drive striping. If your applications demand high disk speeds, RAID could help. Weigh speed needs vs. increased complexity.

Importance of redundancy

If your data is critical, RAID 1, 5, or 6 provide drive failure protection. Evaluate whether downtime from drive failures is acceptable or not.


RAID systems require multiple drives, a RAID controller, and potentially enterprise-class drives for reliable operation. The costs add up quickly. Make sure budget allows for the extra expenses.

In-house IT skills

Installing and managing RAID is more complex than single disks. It also requires regular monitoring and maintenance. Assess if you have the technical expertise before committing to RAID.

When should I consider RAID?

Here are some common situations where implementing RAID can be advantageous if budget allows:

  • You need very high disk performance for tasks like video editing, financial modeling, scientific work, etc.
  • Your applications demand high availability – downtime from drive failures is unacceptable.
  • You have critical data that absolutely cannot be lost or corrupted.
  • Your data storage needs exceed the capacity of single affordable drives.
  • You want to reduce your risk of catastrophic data loss from drive failures.

In these cases, the benefits of RAID’s increased redundancy, performance, and capacity will likely outweigh the additional costs and management needs.

What are the downsides of RAID?

Some downsides and risks associated with RAID include:

  • Added cost – RAID requires purchasing multiple drives, a controller, and potentially other hardware. This increases the overall storage expense.
  • Complexity – Configuring and managing RAID is more complex than standalone drives. IT skills are needed to set up and monitor the system.
  • Potential for downtime – If multiple drives fail simultaneously, RAID can still lead to downtime for repairs or data recovery.
  • Decreased storage efficiency – Due to parity overhead, some RAID levels reduce usable capacity compared to the raw drive sizes.
  • Slower rebuilds – Rebuilding failed drives in a RAID array can take hours or days with large-capacity disks.

While offering advantages, RAID introduces tradeoffs that may not always be acceptable depending on your situation.

Key Factors When Implementing RAID

If you do opt to use RAID, there are several best practices to follow:

  • Select the appropriate RAID level to match your performance, redundancy, and capacity needs.
  • Use enterprise-class drives designed for RAID environments for better reliability.
  • Choose a reliable RAID controller – this is the most critical component.
  • Use at least RAID 1 for critical data to prevent data loss.
  • Monitor drive health closely and replace failed drives immediately.
  • Allow time for rebuilds and do not tax the system during that time.
  • Schedule regular drive health checks and perform preventative drive replacements.
  • Maintain at least one hot spare drive to enable immediate rebuilds.

Following best practices for RAID setup and maintenance will help avoid issues and get the most from your array.

Software vs. Hardware RAID

RAID can be implemented in two main ways:

  • Hardware RAID – Uses a dedicated RAID controller card with on-board RAID processing.
  • Software RAID – Managed by the operating system using CPU resources.

Hardware RAID advantages:

  • Higher performance – Offloads RAID processing from main CPU.
  • More reliability – Dedicated controller has no reliance on operating system.
  • Better compatibility – Works independently of OS or file system.

Software RAID advantages:

  • Lower cost – No need to purchase a controller card.
  • OS integration – Ties in closely with file system and volume manager.
  • Portability – Can be recreated more easily on another system.

For mission critical systems that need max performance and reliability, hardware RAID is preferred. Software RAID provides a lower cost option, but at the expense of speed and robustness.

Sample RAID Scenarios

Here are two examples of common RAID scenarios:

Application Server

For an application server hosting a critical database, optimal choices may be:

  • RAID Level: RAID 10 – Good balance of performance and redundancy.
  • Number of Drives: 8 – Enough for capacity needs and supports RAID 10.
  • Drive Type: Enterprise SSD – Fastest option to improve database performance.
  • RAID Controller: Hardware – More reliable with dedicated processor.

With 8 fast SSDs in a RAID 10 array, this provides speed, redundancy, and capacity capable of handling a demanding database server role.

Media Editing Workstation

For a video editing workstation where performance matters most:

  • RAID Level: RAID 0 – Provides maximum stripe performance.
  • Number of Drives: 3 – Minimum drives for RAID 0, balances cost.
  • Drive Type: NVMe SSD – Fastest disk speed currently available.
  • RAID Controller: Hardware – Reduce CPU load for better creative software performance.

The RAID 0 array of cutting-edge NVMe drives maximizes speed for smooth video editing, while the hardware RAID controller keeps the main CPU free for other tasks. Backup is still essential given the lack of redundancy.


The decision of whether RAID fits your storage needs depends on your capacity requirements, performance demands, budget, and tolerance for complexity. For mission critical data or high-performance applications, RAID can provide significant advantages compared to standalone disk drives. To maximize the benefits of RAID, invest in quality hardware and follow best practices for configuration and maintenance.