What does a RAID array do?

A RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) array is a data storage technology that combines multiple disk drives components into a logical unit. RAID arrays are used to provide increased storage capacities, performance and redundancy for important data.

What are the key benefits of using a RAID array?

There are several key benefits to using a RAID array:

  • Increased storage capacity – Combining multiple disk drives allows for larger storage capacities than using single disks individually. RAID allows for disk spans and concatenations to expand total storage size.
  • Improved performance – Depending on the RAID level used, input/output (I/O) performance can be greatly improved by distributing data across multiple disks. This allows for concurrent read/writes.
  • Redundancy and fault tolerance – RAID provides protection against disk failures. If a single disk fails, data can be rebuilt from parity or mirrored disks. This avoids data loss and downtime.

By providing these benefits, RAID arrays are commonly used for mission critical systems where high capacity, performance and availability are required, such as in servers, workstations and storage arrays.

What are the different levels and types of RAID arrays?

There are several standardized RAID levels, each offering different combinations of performance, capacity and fault tolerance:


RAID 0 provides disk striping across multiple drives but no redundancy. It offers fast performance but no fault tolerance. If any disk fails, all data is lost. RAID 0 is useful where speed is critical and data has backups.


RAID 1 provides disk mirroring over two or more drives. If one drive fails, data is still available from the mirror. Read performance is improved but write performance is not, due to duplicating writes. RAID 1 provides good performance and protection for critical data.


RAID 5 stripes data and parity information across 3 or more disks. If a single disk fails, data can be rebuilt from the parity drive. RAID 5 provides good balance of speed, capacity and redundancy for general use.


RAID 6 is similar to RAID 5 but uses a second parity drive to protect against the failure of two disks. It provides excellent fault tolerance but slower write speeds.


RAID 10 combines mirroring and striping for both performance and redundancy. Data is mirrored then striped across disks. RAID 10 requires a minimum of 4 drives but provides fast speeds and can survive multiple drive failures.

In addition to standard RAID levels, there are nested, hybrid and non-standard RAID types that provide flexible options and combinations of performance, capacity and redundancy as needed.

How does RAID provide redundancy and fault tolerance?

RAID provides redundancy through the use of parity and data mirroring techniques:

  • Parity – Parity allows data to be recreated using checksums if a disk fails. RAID 5 and 6 use dedicated parity drives.
  • Mirroring – RAID 1 duplicates data identically across multiple drives. If one fails, the other contains a complete copy.

This redundancy allows RAID arrays to tolerate disk failures, depending on the RAID level used. If a disk fails, the missing data can be recomputed or accessed from another mirrored drive. This avoids service interruptions and data loss.

The level of fault tolerance depends on the RAID type:

RAID Type Fault Tolerance
RAID 0 None
RAID 1 1 drive failure
RAID 5 1 drive failure
RAID 6 Up to 2 drive failures
RAID 10 Up to 2 drive failures per mirrored set

Higher RAID levels provide greater fault tolerance for critical data and applications where downtime cannot be tolerated.

What are the disadvantages or limitations of RAID arrays?

Despite their advantages, RAID arrays also have some potential disadvantages:

  • Added hardware cost – Implementing RAID requires additional drives, controllers and in some cases batteries or flash caches. This adds to the total system cost.
  • Increased complexity – RAID management requires additional software, considerations and skills. Complexity increases with higher RAID levels.
  • Lower capacities – Due to parity drives and mirroring, total usable capacity is lower than the sum of all drive capacities.
  • Slower write performance – Write speeds are impacted due to parity calculation and drive synchronization overheads.
  • Longer rebuild times – In the event of a drive failure, rebuild times are slower with larger high capacity drives.

These limitations should be considered, though the benefits of RAID often outweigh the disadvantages for mission critical environments where performance, redundancy and uptime are important.

What hardware components make up a typical RAID array?

A basic RAID array consists of the following hardware components:

  • RAID controller – This is a device that manages the RAID array. It can be a dedicated hardware card or software integrated into the system.
  • RAID disk drives – This refers to the individual disk drives that make up the array. Enterprise grade drives are used for performance and reliability.
  • Cache memory – Fast DDR memory is used to cache reads and writes to improve performance. Batteries or flash memory preserve cache during power loss.
  • RAID enclosure – Provides power, cooling, connectors and mounting for the disk drives. Enclosures make drives easy to add and replace.
  • Cables and connectors – High speed cables connect the drives to the RAID controller. Connector types can include SATA, SAS or Fibre Channel.

Additionally, larger RAID implementations may also incorporate the following components:

  • Backup power supplies – Provide power redundancy for continuous operation.
  • Environmental monitoring – Sensors to monitor temperatures, humidity, power, etc.
  • Network interfaces – For RAID monitoring, administration and connecting to servers.
  • Management software – For configuring, monitoring and maintaining the RAID system.

What steps are involved in setting up a RAID array?

Setting up a RAID array involves these key steps:

  1. Select RAID level – Choose the RAID level based on the required capacity, performance, redundancy needs.
  2. Install RAID controller – Insert the RAID controller card into a PCIe slot or enable motherboard RAID support.
  3. Attach disk drives – Mount the physical disk drives into the RAID enclosure(s) and connect cables.
  4. Configure RAID – Use the RAID configuration utility to define the RAID arrays and assign disks.
  5. Initialize and format – Perform a full initialization format on the RAID array to prepare it for use.
  6. Create partitions – Partition and format the RAID array with a file system (e.g. NTFS, EXT) for storing data.

Furthermore, additional steps like configuring notifications, recovery settings, and snapshots can be done to customize the environment. The RAID system should also be regularly monitored and maintained once deployment is complete.

How does RAID improve performance compared to a single disk?

RAID can provide significant performance improvements over a single disk, depending on the RAID level implemented:

  • Parallelism – By striping data across multiple disks, read/write workloads can be performed in parallel which improves overall speed.
  • Concurrency – Multiple users or applications can access data concurrently from a RAID volume.
  • Caching – RAID controllers cache reads/writes in fast memory improving application response times.
  • Lower latency – Spreading I/O across more disks can reduce queue depths and lower average latency.

Benchmarks comparing a 6 disk RAID 10 array versus a single disk show improvements in I/O performance:

Test Single Disk RAID 10 Array Improvement
Sequential Read 168 MB/s 1017 MB/s 6x
Sequential Write 161 MB/s 531 MB/s 3x
Random Read 0.82 MB/s 2.4 MB/s 3x
Random Write 1.24 MB/s 11.1 MB/s 9x

For applications requiring high capacity, performance and availability, RAID delivers substantial improvements over standalone disks.

What are some typical applications and use cases for RAID arrays?

RAID arrays are widely used across many industries and applications including:

  • Database servers – Databases have high capacity and performance needs. RAID improves transaction speeds and query response.
  • Web servers – Websites with high traffic benefit from RAID’s improved I/O performance and concurrency.
  • File servers – RAID enables centralized storage and fast access to files for multiple networked users.
  • Virtualization – Hypervisors use RAID to store virtual machine images and enhance guest performance.
  • Media servers – Video editing and media streaming applications demand fast RAID storage.
  • Financial systems – Trading systems require low latency and fault tolerance provided by RAID.

Other common RAID use cases are backup storage, enterprise resource planning (ERP), email servers, medical imaging, and scientific data analysis.

Should I use hardware or software RAID?

RAID can be implemented in hardware or software, each with pros and cons:

Hardware RAID Software RAID
  • Higher performance
  • Lower CPU overhead
  • Dedicated cache memory
  • More expensive
  • Lower cost
  • Flexibility of software
  • No additional hardware needed
  • Higher CPU utilization

Hardware RAID provides the best performance, but at increased cost. Software RAID is lower cost, but has minimal hardware needs. For mission critical systems that need best performance, hardware RAID is preferred. Software RAID is more suitable for lower budget applications.

What are some key factors to consider when selecting drives for a RAID array?

Some important considerations when selecting RAID drives include:

  • Drive interface – Common options like SATA, SAS, FC should match controller and enclosure.
  • Drive capacity – Larger drives provide more storage, but rebuild times are slower.
  • Drive RPM – Faster 15K or 10K RPM drives offer better performance but higher costs.
  • Drive caching – DRAM or flash caches on drives buffer reads and writes.
  • Enterprise vs desktop class – Enterprise class drives designed for 24×7 operation and higher workloads.
  • Drive compatibility – Mixing drive types, brands or firmware in RAID can cause issues.

Balancing these factors allow selecting drives optimized for the needed RAID performance, capacity and reliability.

What precautions should be taken when rebuilding a failed RAID drive?

When rebuilding failed RAID drives, these precautions should be followed:

  • Replace failed drive with a new matching capacity and type of drive.
  • Only replace one failed drive at a time. Don’t rebuild multiple failed drives together.
  • Disconnect or power down any components not needed for rebuild to minimize activity.
  • Schedule rebuild during maintenance window when possible to limit disruption.
  • Monitor rebuild progress closely for errors. Pause if additional problems occur.
  • Ensure backups are up to date in case rebuild fails and data is lost.
  • Consider foregoing rebuild if array is degrading and not reliable.

Rebuilding should be performed cautiously as the process puts additional stress on the array. Taking precautions helps avoid adverse effects like long rebuild times, performance impacts or data loss.

How can you monitor the health and performance of a RAID array?

Effective monitoring helps maintain optimum RAID performance and reliability. RAID monitoring includes:

  • Reviewing event logs – Checks for disk errors, failures, configuration issues.
  • Monitoring utilization – CPU, network, disk throughput helps identify bottlenecks.
  • Tracking latency – High read/write latency indicates problems.
  • Smart attribute monitoring – Flags unreliable drives based on metrics like retries, ECC, etc.
  • Temperature monitoring – High drive temps affect reliability and performance.
  • Free space tracking – Warns when nearing capacity limits.
  • Periodic testing – Running read tests helps confirm array integrity.

Combining these monitoring methods provides a complete view of RAID health. They identify problems early so preventative action can be taken.


RAID technology delivers important benefits like increased storage capacity, improved performance and fault tolerance for critical data. A variety of RAID levels and implementations provide options tuned for different applications and budgets. Careful consideration of factors like required availability, capacity, performance and cost allows selecting the ideal RAID solution.