Which RAID option is best for backup?

When setting up a RAID array for data backup purposes, choosing the right RAID level is critical for optimizing performance, redundancy, and cost. There are several factors to consider when selecting a RAID level for backup storage, including read/write speeds, fault tolerance, storage efficiency, and ease of setup. In this comprehensive guide, we will compare the most common RAID levels used for backup and help you determine which option best meets your needs.

What is RAID?

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is a data storage technology that combines multiple disk drives into one logical unit. Data is distributed across the drives in the array in different ways depending on the RAID level. This offers increased performance, redundancy, and/or larger capacities compared to single disk drives. Some key advantages of RAID include:

  • Increased read and write speeds – spreading data across multiple disks allows for parallel access.
  • Fault tolerance – if one disk fails, data can be rebuilt from parity or replicas on the remaining disks.
  • Higher capacity – multiple disks can be combined into larger logical volumes.

There are several standard RAID levels, each with specific performance, protection, and implementation tradeoffs. When planning a RAID array for backups, some of the most popular options to consider are RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6, and RAID 10.

RAID 1 (Disk Mirroring)

RAID 1 provides redundancy by mirroring (duplicating) data across two or more disks. When data is written to one disk, it is simultaneously copied to the other mirror disks. Key features of RAID 1 include:

  • Very high read performance – data can be read in parallel from both mirrors.
  • Excellent write performance – writes are duplicated to mirrors in real-time.
  • Easy to recover from drive failure – if one drive fails, data is still accessible from the other mirror.
  • Minimum 2 disks required.
  • 50% storage efficiency – total capacity equals size of the smallest disk.

RAID 1 is a popular choice for backup storage because it offers very high performance combined with excellent fault tolerance. The redundant mirrors provide a real-time backup copy of data if a drive fails. Rebuilding the array after a failure is also simpler than parity-based RAID levels.

Advantages of RAID 1 for Backup

  • High read and write speeds.
  • Real-time duplication provides instant backup capabilities.
  • Easy to recover from drive failures.
  • Minimum number of disks required.

Disadvantages of RAID 1 for Backup

  • Relatively low storage efficiency – requires at least 2x total capacity.
  • Rebuilding after failure has high disk workload.


RAID 5 distributes data and parity information across all disks in the array. The parity allows for the reconstruction of data if one of the drives fails. Key RAID 5 features:

  • Good read performance – data is striped across multiple disks.
  • Slower write performance – parity must be calculated on writes.
  • Single disk fault tolerance – array can survive one disk failure.
  • Minimum 3 disks required.
  • Typically 50-80% storage efficiency.

RAID 5 provides fault tolerance and good performance with reasonable storage efficiency. The parity information allows any failed disk to be recreated. However, rebuilding a failed drive has high disk workloads compared to RAID 1. RAID 5 is a good option for backup with a balance of performance, capacity, and redundancy.

Advantages of RAID 5 for Backup

  • Good read performance and moderate write speeds.
  • Single disk fault tolerance.
  • Higher storage efficiency than mirroring.

Disadvantages of RAID 5 for Backup

  • Slower rebuilds than RAID 1.
  • Higher risk of data loss during rebuilds.
  • Requires minimum 3 disk drives.


RAID 6 is similar to RAID 5 but uses double distributed parity. This allows the array to survive the loss of up to two disks. Key features include:

  • Good read speed – data is striped across disks.
  • Slower writes than RAID 5 due to dual parity.
  • Excellent fault tolerance – two drive failures can be tolerated.
  • Minimum 4 disks required.
  • 50% storage efficiency.

The double parity of RAID 6 provides excellent redundancy for backup environments where uptime and data protection are critical. The ability to recover from two drive failures makes it highly resilient. However, the additional parity does result in slower write speeds compared to other options.

Advantages of RAID 6 for Backup

  • Excellent fault tolerance – survives two disk failures.
  • Reliable protection for mission-critical data.
  • Rebuilds have less impact on performance than RAID 5.

Disadvantages of RAID 6 for Backup

  • Slower write speeds than RAID 5 or 1.
  • Minimum 4 disks required.
  • High storage overhead for double parity.

RAID 10 (1+0)

RAID 10 combines both mirroring and striping for enhanced performance and redundancy:

  • Disks are mirrored as pairs.
  • Data is striped across each mirrored pair.
  • Very high read/write speeds from parallelism.
  • Can survive one disk per mirrored pair failing.
  • Minimum 4 disks required.
  • 50% storage efficiency.

RAID 10 provides exceptional performance combined with good fault tolerance. The striping and mirroring allows for fast parallel reads and writes. And the multi-disk redundancy can handle one failure per mirror. RAID 10 is an excellent option for mission critical backup environments where speed and redundancy are top priorities.

Advantages of RAID 10 for Backup

  • Extremely high read and write performance.
  • Very fast rebuilds from disk failures.
  • High redundancy – one disk per mirror can fail.

Disadvantages of RAID 10 for Backup

  • Minimum 4 disks required.
  • Relatively low 50% storage efficiency.
  • Higher hardware costs than other RAID levels.

Comparison of RAID Options for Backup

RAID Level Read Speed Write Speed Fault Tolerance Min Disks Storage Efficiency
RAID 1 Excellent Excellent 1 disk 2 50%
RAID 5 Good Moderate 1 disk 3 50-80%
RAID 6 Good Slow 2 disks 4 50%
RAID 10 Excellent Excellent 1 disk per mirror 4 50%

This comparison summarizes the key differences in performance, redundancy, and storage capacity among popular RAID options for backup environments.

Recommendations for Backup RAID Levels

When choosing a RAID level for backup storage, you need to balance performance, fault tolerance, and storage needs for your specific environment. Here are some general recommendations based on backup requirements:

Backup Performance is Critical

If your backup storage needs to support a high throughput of reads and writes, RAID 10 is the best option. The mirrored striping provides excellent parallelism and speed. RAID 1 also provides very good performance from its mirrored disks.

Uptime and Redundancy Are Essential

For backup environments where downtime is unacceptable, use RAID 6 for its dual parity protection against up to two disk failures. This provides excellent fault tolerance. RAID 10 with its multi-disk mirroring also provides high redundancy.

Cost and Storage Efficiency Are Priorities

If you need to maximize your storage capacity on a budget, choose RAID 5 for the best balance of low cost, good performance, and enhanced redundancy compared to a single disk. RAID 6 also provides excellent redundancy with 50% storage efficiency.

Fast Rebuilds and Simplicity Are Key Factors

If you want to be able to quickly and easily rebuild arrays after disk failures, opt for RAID 1. The mirror rebuild workload is much less than parity-based RAID rebuilds. RAID 10 also allows fast rebuilds of the mirrors.

Software vs Hardware RAID for Backup

RAID can be implemented in software or hardware. Software RAID uses the operating system and/or third-party software to manage the array. Hardware RAID uses a dedicated RAID controller. Key differences include:

  • Hardware RAID typically offers better performance but has higher cost.
  • Software RAID relies on the OS/CPU which can impact performance.
  • Hardware RAID allows disks to be accessed independently if moved to another system.
  • Software RAID requires importing the configuration to another system.
  • Hardware RAID includes battery-backup cache for improved write performance.

For backup purposes, hardware RAID is preferred for production systems where performance is critical. For non-essential data backups, software RAID provides a more budget-friendly option.

Advantages of Hardware RAID for Backup

  • Better sustained performance – offloads processing from main CPU.
  • Improved reliability – dedicated controller and battery-backup cache.
  • OS/platform independent disk access.

Disadvantages of Hardware RAID for Backup

  • Significantly higher cost than software RAID.
  • Less flexibility for reconfiguring arrays.


Choosing the optimal RAID level involves balancing performance, data protection, cost, and implementation requirements. For maximum backup performance, RAID 10 provides top speeds. If redundancy is most important, RAID 6 can tolerate up to two disk failures. RAID 5 offers a good middle-ground of speed, redundancy, and efficiency. RAID 1 delivers excellent performance with easy array rebuilds. Whether you utilize software or hardware RAID depends on your budget and performance needs. Assessing your specific backup storage priorities and needs will determine which type of RAID best fits the objective.