RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Drives) is a data storage technology that can increase performance and provide fault tolerance for hard disk drives. RAID allows you to combine multiple disk drives together into a logical unit. Data is then distributed across the drives in the array. There are different RAID levels that provide specific benefits. For example, RAID 0 provides better performance while RAID 1 provides fault tolerance. However, RAID does have one major downside.
The main downside to using RAID is increased complexity. Configuring and managing a RAID array can be difficult compared to using a single disk drive. There are several factors that contribute to this increased complexity:
By nature, a RAID array uses multiple disk drives. This means there are more components that can potentially fail. There are also more disks that need to be configured and integrated together properly to work as an array. If the drives are not set up correctly, it could lead to errors, performance issues, or complete array failure. Having multiple disks complicates configuration, maintenance, and troubleshooting.
In many cases, additional hardware is required to create a RAID array beyond the drives themselves. A RAID controller is usually needed to manage the array. The controller can be a separate hardware card, integrated into the motherboard chipset, or in some cases software RAID uses the CPU. But extra hardware is often necessary, adding complexity. The RAID controller must be properly compatible with the drives and installed correctly into the server or computer system.
To configure, manage, and troubleshoot RAID arrays requires specialized technical knowledge. IT professionals responsible for RAID need expertise on topics like:
- RAID levels and their pros and cons
- Drive configurations for optimal performance
- Hardware and software RAID differences
- RAID controller features
- Rebuilding degraded arrays
- Monitoring for disk failures
This specialized knowledge is mandatory for implementing RAID without issues and to repair problems when they occur. Many small businesses and individual users lack the expertise to effectively work with RAID.
Choosing the Right RAID Level
One of the complexities of using RAID is choosing the appropriate RAID level for your needs:
RAID 0 provides improved performance by striping data across multiple drives. But it does not provide any fault tolerance. If one drive fails, the entire array fails.
RAID 1 provides fault tolerance by mirroring data across drives. But you lose 50% of storage capacity.
RAID 5 stripes data across three or more disks. It provides fault tolerance by dedicating one drive’s worth of space for parity information. But write performance is slower than RAID 0 or 1.
RAID 6 is similar to RAID 5 but uses two parity drives instead of one. This allows for two disk failures. But you lose more usable capacity and performance is slower.
RAID 10 combines mirroring and striping for both performance and fault tolerance. But it requires at least four drives.
Determining the right RAID level for your specific application requires in-depth knowledge of the pros and cons of each option. The complexity comes from needing to balance performance, protection, and cost.
Proper Drive Configuration
Configuring the drives correctly in your RAID array is critical yet complex:
- Drives must be of adequate size to hold the data being stored
- Drives must be compatible types – SATA, SAS, consumer, enterprise, etc
- Drives should be similar or identical models for best performance
- Drives in arrays using parity should be the same size
- Drives must be connected to RAID controller in correct order
- Arrays must be assigned proper RAID level
Improperly configuring the hard drives can lead to RAID failures or reduced performance. With multiple drives to configure, there are more opportunities for errors compared to a single disk system.
Difficult Initial Configuration
The initial configuration process of a RAID array can be complex:
- A RAID controller must be installed and configured
- Multiple disks must be installed into the system
- The physical disk configuration must be planned
- The drives must be logically defined as part of an array
- A RAID level must be selected and implemented
- Filesystem, volumes, and partitions must be created on the array
There are many steps required that involve specialized RAID and storage knowledge. The entire process requires careful planning and execution to avoid mistakes that could result in RAID problems or data loss.
Potential for Errors During Rebuilds
When a failed drive in a RAID 5, 6, or 10 array needs to be replaced and rebuilt, there is a period of vulnerability:
- The array is operating in a degraded state on reduced redundancy during the rebuild
- The long rebuild time with large drives increases chances of a second drive failure
- If errors occur during the rebuild, they can potentially spread
- Rebuild needs to be monitored and errors properly corrected
Rebuilding RAID arrays is a complex process that requires expertise to complete successfully. Any mistakes can lead to permanent data loss or array failure.
Difficult Troubleshooting and Repair
Troubleshooting and repairing RAID array problems requires specialized skills and knowledge:
- Determining root cause of issue can be difficult with multiple components
- Advanced knowledge of RAID controller logs and error codes is needed
- Identifying failed or failing drives requires testing tools and expertise
- Repairing software RAID configurations is complex
- Recovering from multiple drive failures requires advanced skills
Without expertise in storage systems and RAID technology, it can be very difficult for the average IT generalist to repair RAID issues. Often advanced vendor specific training is required.
Added Administrative Overhead
Ongoing maintenance and monitoring of RAID arrays adds to administrative overhead:
- Monitoring drive health status takes additional time
- Changing failed drives must be carefully planned and scheduled
- Performance tuning and optimization is more complex
- Upgrades and migrations require more planning
- Additional backups may be needed for protection
This extra administrative work must be accounted for in IT staffing and processes. Without proper ongoing RAID management, availability and performance can suffer.
Increased Storage Costs
In most cases, implementing RAID adds to the overall storage costs:
- Need for additional drives adds hardware acquisition costs
- Advanced RAID controllers are more expensive than basic disk controllers
- RAID can require more disk enclosures for extra drive bays
- Additional hardware maintenance and support fees are required
- The drives themselves may be more expensive enterprise models
The financial costs of the extra hardware, maintenance, and support should be considered against the benefits when deploying RAID.
Using proprietary RAID controllers and software often leads to vendor lock-in:
- Replacing RAID cards requires matching vendor and features
- Software RAID makes it hard to switch operating systems
- Advanced features may require specific vendor options
- Vendors go out of business or discontinue products
This lock-in reduces flexibility to use alternative storage options. Migrating to different RAID solutions may be difficult.
RAID arrays are less portable than single disk drives:
- Moving or migrating arrays requires moving multiple disks
- Need for identical hardware environments
- Recreating hardware RAID configurations is difficult
- Software RAID has limited portability between systems
The practicality of transporting RAID arrays between locations or platforms is limited compared to standalone disks.
While RAID can provide significant benefits like increased performance and fault tolerance, the main downside is increased complexity. The additional hardware, configuration requirements, specialized skills, costs, vendor lock-in, and portability challenges add complexity compared to standalone disk storage. Organizations need to weigh this complexity against the specific benefits for their use case when considering RAID. Experienced storage administrators also need adequate training and resources to manage and support RAID arrays to avoid technical issues and data loss. Carefully planning RAID deployments and managing complexity is critical to success.