Should RAID mode be on?

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is a data storage technology that combines multiple disk drive components into a logical unit. RAID allows data to be distributed across multiple disks, providing increased data reliability and/or faster I/O performance compared to single disk storage solutions. When considering whether to use RAID, there are several factors to weigh regarding its potential benefits and drawbacks for a particular use case.

What is RAID?

RAID is a way of combining multiple physical disk drives into a single logical unit to provide data redundancy, improved performance, or both. There are several different RAID levels, each with its own mix of benefits and tradeoffs:

  • RAID 0: Disk striping without parity or mirroring. Provides improved performance but no redundancy.
  • RAID 1: Disk mirroring without parity or striping. Provides 100% redundancy but no performance gain.
  • RAID 5: Block-level striping with distributed parity. Provides redundancy and improved disk I/O performance.
  • RAID 6: Block-level striping with double distributed parity. Provides fault tolerance up to two failed disks.
  • RAID 10: Stripe of mirrors. Provides fault tolerance and improved performance but requires at least four disks.

The RAID level controls how data is distributed across the disks. This distribution scheme aims to achieve greater protection, reliability, speed, or a balance of these attributes depending on the RAID level used.

Why use RAID?

There are several potential benefits to using RAID:

  • Increased storage capacity – Combining multiple disks adds more storage space for data.
  • Improved performance – Disk striping improves speed by distributing IO and enabling concurrent access.
  • Redundancy/fault tolerance – Parity and mirroring provide protection in case of disk failures.
  • Read performance – RAID 0 and 5 provide fast reads via striping.
  • Write performance – RAID 1 and 10 allow fast writes by writing in parallel to mirrored disks.

Key potential benefits depend on the RAID level, but include increased capacity, speed, redundancy, and resilience against disk failures.

What are the downsides of RAID?

While RAID delivers important advantages, there are also some potential downsides to weigh:

  • Increased complexity – RAID requires additional configuration and adds complexity vs single disks.
  • Disk failure handling – Rebuilding RAID after a disk failure can take time and wears out the other disks.
  • Cost – Implementing RAID requires an initial hardware investment for multiple disks and a RAID controller.
  • Write penalty – Parity calculation on writes makes some RAID levels slower for write operations.
  • Decreased capacity – Parity and mirroring require overhead storage space, reducing total capacity.

Key potential downsides revolve around added complexity, the operational overhead when disks fail, and decreased write performance on some RAID levels.

What are the alternatives to RAID?

Instead of RAID, there are other options for improving storage performance, capacity, and resilience:

  • Single disks – Using individual disks avoids RAID complexity and can be an option if redundancy is less critical.
  • Backups – Maintaining backups can provide redundancy without needing RAID parity/mirroring.
  • High capacity disks – Larger individual disks boost capacity without adding RAID overhead.
  • Caching – Disk caching improves read/write speed without striping or mirroring.
  • Cloud storage – Cloud-based storage provides offsite data redundancy and geo-distribution.

The best alternative depends on specific goals. Single large disks, backups, caching, and cloud storage can meet some data protection and performance needs without RAID complexity.

When does RAID make sense?

There are certain situations where implementing RAID can be advantageous:

  • When high availability and uptime are critical, as RAID improves resilience.
  • For mission-critical data where redundancy is essential.
  • When fast IO performance is needed, via striping and parallelization.
  • If there is a limited budget for large single disks, RAID combines smaller disks cost effectively.
  • On dedicated storage servers where the RAID overhead has minimal impact.

In general, RAID makes the most sense in critical situations where high reliability, fault tolerance, and fast IO warrant the additional complexity.

When is RAID unnecessary?

In less demanding environments, RAID may be overkill:

  • For archival data or backups accessed infrequently, redundancy isn’t as necessary.
  • On desktops and laptops, the simplicity of a single disk often outweighs the benefits of RAID.
  • When data is already redundantly stored on a different system or on the cloud.
  • If performance needs are minimal, the single disk speed may be adequate.
  • When using flash storage, which is faster and more reliable than traditional hard disks.

Weighing the modest benefits vs. the added complexity often makes RAID unnecessary for non-essential data and less demanding environments.

Key factors when deciding on RAID

The choice of whether RAID is beneficial hinges on several key factors:

  • Application performance requirements – If speed is critical, RAID 0 or 10 can help.
  • Importance of redundancy – RAID 1, 5, or 6 provide protection against disk failure.
  • Disk failure consequences – RAID is more critical for highly availability applications.
  • Read vs write performance – RAID 0 and 5 speed up reads while 1 and 10 optimize writes.
  • Number of disks – RAID requires a minimum of 2 or more disks.
  • Budget constraints – RAID can maximize smaller disks, but single large disks may be cheaper.

Carefully weighing factors like these helps determine if the investment in RAID will pay off for a particular scenario.

RAID implementation best practices

When deploying RAID, following best practices helps maximize benefits while avoiding pitfalls:

  • Select the optimal RAID level for the needed mix of capacity, redundancy, and performance.
  • Ensure the RAID controller and disk connections provide the required throughput.
  • Use identical disks of the same model and capacity when possible.
  • Benchmark the RAID performance to validate it meets requirements.
  • Monitor disk health and receive alerts on failures.
  • Have hot spare disks ready to rebuild RAID after failures quickly.
  • Use uninterruptible power supplies to avoid disk failures during power events.

Following best practices like these helps get optimal reliability, performance, and efficiency from a RAID implementation.

RAID configuration examples

A few examples help illustrate how to choose an appropriate RAID level for different scenarios:

Application server storage

  • 6 x 2 TB SATA hard drives
  • Requires high disk IO performance for database queries
  • Requires redundancy to survive disk failures

For this application server, RAID 10 would be a good match. RAID 10 provides fast IO performance via striping, as well as redundancy through mirroring.

Video editing workstation

  • 2 x 2 TB NVMe SSD drives
  • Needs very fast video rendering performance
  • Redundancy less critical

For this video editing workstation focused on speed, RAID 0 makes sense. The disk striping of RAID 0 provides fast IO for improved video editing productivity.

File server storage

  • 4 x 8 TB SATA hard drives
  • Stores shared files accessed by multiple users
  • Read performance more important than writes

For this read-focused file server workload, RAID 5 offers a good balance. RAID 5 provides redundancy against drive failure plus high read speeds from disk striping.


Deciding if RAID is beneficial depends on the specific storage needs and constraints:

  • RAID improves performance, resilience, and IO throughput via disk striping, mirroring, and parity.
  • Downsides include cost, complexity, write performance impact, and failure handling overhead.
  • RAID is most advantageous for mission critical environments needing availability, speed, and redundancy.
  • For less demanding needs, single disks, caching, backups, and cloud storage can be preferable.
  • When implementing RAID, follow best practices for hardware selection, configuration, monitoring, and rebuild management.

By weighing key factors like performance requirements, budget, and availability needs, the decision of whether RAID makes sense for a particular storage environment can be made effectively.