What is the maximum disk failure in RAID 5?

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is a data storage technology that combines multiple disk drive components into a logical unit. RAID provides increased storage functions and reliability through redundancy.

RAID 5 is a widely used RAID level that provides a good balance between data protection, performance, and efficient use of disk capacity. In RAID 5, data is striped across multiple disks, and parity information is distributed across the disk drives. This allows the array to sustain a single disk failure without any data loss.

The key question many ask about RAID 5 is: What is the maximum number of disk failures it can sustain without losing data? This article will provide a comprehensive answer to this question.

How RAID 5 Works

Before going into the details of maximum disk failures, it is useful to understand how RAID 5 works:

– Data is divided into strips that are written across the disks in the array.

– Parity information is calculated and written across the disk drives. Parity allows the data from a failed drive to be recreated.

– If a drive fails, the parity blocks on the surviving disks can be used to reconstruct the data from the failed drive.

– RAID 5 requires a minimum of 3 disks – data, parity, and a spare.

– RAID 5 arrays use block-level striping with distributed parity. This means parity information is distributed across all the disks.

– The parity information in RAID 5 provides redundancy and failure tolerance. If a disk fails, the parity blocks can rebuild the missing data.

Maximum Disk Failures in RAID 5

Now let’s look at the key question – what is the maximum disk failures tolerated by RAID 5:

RAID 5 can only sustain ONE disk failure

This is an important point many get confused about. RAID 5 can continue operating with one failed disk. But if a second disk fails before the first failed disk has been replaced, data will be lost.

Here is why RAID 5 can only handle one disk failure:

– Data and parity is striped across the disks. This allows recovery from a single disk failure.

– But if a second disk fails, the parity information required to rebuild the data is lost.

– At this point, the RAID 5 array is degraded and data cannot be recovered.

So in summary, RAID 5 can only sustain ONE failed disk safely without data loss. Some key points:

– Data integrity is maintained if ONE disk fails.

– When a disk fails, the parity blocks from the surviving disks rebuild the missing data.

– But if a SECOND disk fails, data rebuilding is not possible due to lack of parity information. Permanent data loss occurs.

– To tolerate two disk failures, consider RAID 6 which uses double distributed parity.

Why RAID 5 has a Single Disk Failure Limit

It is understandable that many assume RAID 5 can survive multiple disk failures. After all, it stripes data across drives and has parity information. So why the single disk limit?

There are two key reasons:

1. Need for Parity Data

Parity data is required to rebuild missing data from a failed drive. But:

– Parity data is distributed, with different drives holding different parity blocks.

– When a second disk fails, some of the parity data is lost.

– At this point, there is no longer enough parity information to rebuild the missing data.

So the parity requirements for data rebuilding is the first reason for the single disk limit.

2. Extra Load on Remaining Disks

When a disk fails in RAID 5:

– The workload of the failed disk is distributed across the remaining disks.

– This extra load increases the risk of a second disk failure.

– It also slows rebuild times, increasing the vulnerability window.

So the higher load on the remaining disks also contributes to the single disk failure limit.

Scenarios Demonstrating the Single Disk Limit

Some examples help illustrate the single disk failure limit of RAID 5:

Scenario 1

– A RAID 5 array has Disks A, B, C, D.

– Disk A fails. The parity blocks on the other disks rebuild Disk A’s data. The array is still online.

– Disk B also fails while Disk A is being rebuilt. There is now missing data and insufficient parity to rebuild the data. Permanent data loss.

Scenario 2

– A RAID 5 array has Disks A, B, C, D.

– Disk A fails. The array begins rebuilding Disk A’s data using parity.

– Before rebuild completes, Disk C also fails. The parity data on C is now lost before Disk A could be rebuilt. Unrecoverable data loss.

Scenario 3

– A RAID 5 array has Disks A, B, C, D.

– Disk A fails. It is replaced with a new Disk A. Rebuild starts.

– Before rebuild completes, Disk B fails. This is now two failed drives. Data is lost as parity information is inadequate.

So in all scenarios, a second disk failure during any rebuild process causes data loss. This demonstrates the single disk failure limit.

Recovering from Multiple Disk Failures

Given the single disk failure limit, how can RAID 5 recover from multiple disk failures? There are two approaches:

1. Replace Failed Disks

If multiple disks have failed, replace the failed drives one at a time:

– Replace first failed disk and complete rebuild.

– Then replace second failed disk and rebuild.

This staggered approach allows the array to come online with rebuilt data.

2. Backup Storage

– Have a current backup copy of the data.

– In case of multi-disk failure, data can be restored from backup.

– Options include tape drives, cloud storage, mirrored arrays.

So with careful drive replacement or backup storage, data can be recovered or restored after multiple disk failures.

RAID 6 for Dual Parity

If higher resilience is required, consider:


RAID 6 provides protection against double disk failures:

– It uses double distributed parity (two parity blocks per stripe).

– Allows continuous operation with up to two failed disks.

– Significantly lower risk of data loss.

But RAID 6 writes have higher latency and lower performance than RAID 5. Capacity overhead is also higher.

So RAID 6 provides an excellent option for higher redundancy requirements.

Best Practices to Minimize Disk Failures

Some best practices to minimize the likelihood of disk failures in a RAID 5 array:

– Use enterprise-grade drives designed for 24/7 operation. Avoid consumer-grade drives.

– Monitor drive health statistics and retire disks before failure.

– Manage drive temperatures for stability.

– Use virgin drives with low wear rather than older reused drives.

– Deploy drives from multiple batches to minimize batch defects.

– Protect against power issues and surges. Use UPS.

– Regularly scrub arrays to detect and correct errors.

Following best practices reduces the likelihood of failures. But the single disk limit remains. So also consider RAID 6.


To summarize key points:

– RAID 5 stripes data and distributes parity information across disk drives.

– It can withstand ONE disk failure without data loss.

– But a second disk failure will result in data loss.

– The loss of a second disk causes insufficient parity data for rebuild.

– To survive two disk failures, RAID 6 with double parity should be used.

– Careful drive replacement or backups allow recovery from multiple RAID 5 drive failures.

So in conclusion, the maximum number of disk failures tolerated by RAID 5 without data loss is ONE. Understanding this limit allows proper array design and failure preparation.