What is redundancy in RAID?

Redundancy is an important concept in RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) which allows continued operation in the event of disk failure. RAID uses multiple disks to provide different levels of redundancy and performance. The most basic level of RAID is RAID 0 which provides no redundancy but improves performance by striping data across multiple disks. Higher levels like RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6 provide redundancy through mirroring or parity so that data can be recovered if a disk fails. The type and amount of redundancy depends on the RAID level used.

What is RAID?

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. It is a technology that combines multiple disk drives into a logical unit to improve performance and/or reliability. The main goals of RAID are to provide increased data reliability through redundancy and improved I/O performance.

RAID takes advantage of the parallelism of multiple disks to enhance data transfer rates and provide error recovery mechanisms. It views physical drives as a single logical drive. Data is distributed across the drives according to a RAID level, depending on the required level of redundancy and performance.

Some key benefits of RAID include:

– Increased data transfer rates for I/O intensive applications
– Ability to recover data and continue operating with a failed disk drive
– Increased storage capacity and size

Common RAID levels include:

– RAID 0 – Striping for performance
– RAID 1 – Mirroring for reliability
– RAID 5 – Distributed parity for fault tolerance
– RAID 6 – Double distributed parity

RAID is implemented in hardware or software. Hardware RAID uses a dedicated RAID controller and is more efficient. Software RAID is implemented at the operating system level, providing more flexibility.

Why is redundancy important in RAID?

Redundancy is the core concept that enables RAID to provide continued access to data even when a disk fails. It involves maintaining extra copies of data or parity information so that data can be recovered or reconstructed if a disk goes bad.

Some key reasons why redundancy is important in RAID include:

  • Prevents data loss: By maintaining redundant copies of data, RAID can recover data that would otherwise be lost if a disk fails.
  • Allows continuous operation: If a disk fails, the redundant data on other disks allows the RAID system to continue operating without any downtime.
  • Avoids single point of failure: Storing data on a single disk presents a single point of failure. RAID eliminates this and improves reliability.
  • Reduces rebuild time: Only the failed drive needs to be replaced and rebuilt instead of having to restore the entire dataset from backup.
  • Increases fault tolerance: RAID can tolerate multiple disk failures depending on the RAID level. Higher redundancy means higher fault tolerance.

Without redundancy, RAID would not be able to recover from disk failures and would be no different than stand-alone disk drives. It is redundancy that gives RAID its powerful reliability and enables uninterrupted access to data.

Types of RAID redundancy

There are two main types of redundancy used in RAID:


Mirroring involves duplicating data across multiple disks. RAID 1 uses mirroring by writing identical copies of data to two different drives. If one drive fails, the data can be accessed from the mirrored drive.


Parity involves calculating and storing parity information that can be used to reconstruct data if a disk fails. RAID 5 and 6 use distributed parity to recover data from a failed drive. The parity information is striped across all the disks.

RAID 4 also uses parity but stores it on a dedicated parity disk. RAID 6 provides double distributed parity for additional fault tolerance compared to RAID 5.

RAID levels and redundancy

Different RAID levels provide varying amounts of redundancy:

RAID Level Redundancy
RAID 0 No redundancy, only striping for performance
RAID 1 Full disk mirroring
RAID 5 Distributed parity, single disk fault tolerance
RAID 6 Double distributed parity, two disk fault tolerance
RAID 10 Striped mirrors

RAID 0 does not provide any redundancy and offers no protection against disk failures. RAID 1 provides full redundancy through mirroring while RAID 5 & 6 offer single and double parity respectively. Combination levels like RAID 10 combines mirroring and striping.

In general, higher RAID levels mean more redundancy and lower risk of data loss but at increased cost. The level of redundancy required depends on the application and desired level of fault tolerance.

How does RAID redundancy work?

The way RAID redundancy works depends on the specific implementation:

RAID 1 Mirroring

RAID 1 writes identical copies of data to two different drives simultaneously. If one drive fails, the system continues running using the other mirrored drive without interruption. The failed drive can be hot swapped and rebuilt later.

RAID 5 Parity

In RAID 5, parity information is calculated using an XOR operation across stripes on multiple drives and stored in a distributed fashion. If a drive fails, the parity can recreate the missing data. RAID 6 uses additional parity for double disk fault tolerance.

For example, in a 3 drive RAID 5 array:

Drive 1 Drive 2 Drive 3
Block A Block B Parity P=A XOR B
Block B Block C Parity Q=B XOR C

If Drive 2 fails, Block B can be recreated as A XOR P and Block C as B XOR Q

Combination RAID

Combinations like RAID 10 provides redundancy through mirroring as well as striping. Data is striped across mirrored pairs allowing for high performance and redundancy.

Importance of hot spares

Hot spares are standby replacement drives that can improve the redundancy of RAID arrays. When an active drive fails, a hot spare is automatically swapped in to replace it. This helps restore redundancy faster without needing to wait for a admin to physically replace the failed drive.

Some key benefits of hot spares:

– Faster rebuild times – Hot spare begins rebuild as soon as a disk fails
– Reduces workload on array – Rebuild with hot spare doesn’t degrade array performance
– Allows seamless rebuilds – Failures and rebuilds transparent to end users
– More redundancy during rebuilds – Extra protection during vulnerable rebuild state
– Less risk of multiple disk failures – Quickly replaces faulty drives

Hot spares provide an extra layer of redundancy while reducing the downtime and performance impact associated with traditional RAID rebuilds. Critical systems typically have dedicated hot spares to minimize disruption from disk failures.

Choosing appropriate RAID levels

Choosing the right RAID level involves tradeoffs between performance, redundancy, and cost:

– RAID 0 offers better performance but no redundancy
– RAID 1 provides full redundancy through mirroring
– RAID 5 offers single-disk fault tolerance with distributed parity
– RAID 6 doubles the parity for higher redundancy
– RAID 10 combines mirroring and striping benefits

Here are some guidelines for selecting RAID levels:

Application Requirements

Consider I/O performance vs redundancy needs. RAID 0 improves speed for non-critical data while RAID 1/5/6 add redundancy for mission-critical data.

Number of Drives

Higher RAID levels need more drives. RAID 10 needs a minimum of 4 drives while RAID 6 needs at least 4 drives.


Additional redundancy carries additional cost. RAID 1/5/6 have higher storage overhead compared to RAID 0.

Rebuild Times

RAID 5/6 have longer rebuild times than RAID 1. Larger arrays take longer to rebuild failed drives.

Evaluate all requirements and use the RAID calculator to determine the optimal balance of cost, performance and redundancy.

Degraded vs failed RAID

It’s important to distinguish between a degraded RAID array and a completely failed RAID:


– One or more failed drives with remaining redundancy
– Array is still functional but with reduced performance
– Needs drive replacement to restore full redundancy


– Number of drive failures exceeds fault tolerance
– Remaining drives do not have enough data to reconstruct array
– Total array failure, data likely lost
– Requires rebuilding array and restoring from backup

For example, a RAID 5 array with a single failed drive would be degraded but still operational. But two drive failures in the same RAID 5 array would exceed the single parity’s fault tolerance causing complete array failure.

Identifying the state correctly lets admins take appropriate recovery actions. Degraded arrays can be rebuilt while failed arrays need full restoration from backups.

Rebuilding degraded RAID arrays

The process to rebuild a degraded RAID array involves:

1. Identifying failed disk(s) – Marked as failed/error by RAID controller

2. Replacing failed drives – Hot swap failed drives with new spare drives

3. Initiating rebuild – Controller rebuilds missing data/parity on new disks

4. Verifying correct rebuild – Check status codes and verify data rebuild

5. Restoring hot spare (optional) – Replace used hot spare with new spare drive

During rebuild, performance is reduced so it’s best scheduled during maintenance windows. Rebuild times depend on array size and can take several hours for large arrays.

Monitoring array health and promptly replacing failed drives prevents further degradation. Maintaining hot spares can automate and accelerate the rebuild process as well.

Protecting against RAID failure

To minimize risk of complete RAID failure, admins should:

– Choose appropriate RAID levels with adequate redundancy
– Use hot spare drives for quick failure recovery
– Monitor health proactively with smart alerts
– Replace failed drives immediately, don’t wait
– Ensure proper ventilation and cooling
– Perform regular backups in case all redundancy fails
– Test recovery procedures regularly
– Consider using RAID 6 instead of RAID 5 for added redundancy
– Replace drives before they exceed maximum usage lifespan
– Keep firmware up-to-date

Proactive monitoring, timely replacement of failed drives, proper backups and recovery testing reduce the chances of catastrophic RAID failures.

Alternatives to hardware RAID

There are alternatives to dedicated hardware RAID solutions:

Software RAID

Implemented through the operating system software. Linux MD and Windows Storage Spaces are software RAID solutions.

– Cost-effective, uses existing hardware
– Flexible management and configuration

– Higher CPU overhead
– Lacks dedicated cache so slower performance

ZFS and Btrfs RAID

Advanced file systems with built-in software RAID capabilities.

– Robust error detection and recovery features
– Integrated volume management

– Higher memory requirements
– Steeper learning curve

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI)

Combines storage, compute and virtualization as a software-defined solution. Has RAID capabilities via the hypervisor.

– Simplified management
– Distributed architecture
– Scalability
– Cost efficiency

– Potential vendor lock-in
– Limited tuning and customization

Software RAID provides more flexibility while HCI offers simplified management. But hardware RAID still provides the most performance for I/O intensive applications.


Redundancy is a critical component of RAID technology that enables continued access to data in the event of drive failures. It involves techniques like mirroring and parity to recover lost data. Higher RAID levels provide more redundancy but at increased cost. The amount of redundancy required depends on the specific application and desired tolerance for disk failure. Careful monitoring, timely replacement of failed drives, and proper backups are essential to gain maximum advantage from RAID while preventing complete failures.