Which RAID technology is best?

When it comes to data storage and protection, RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is one of the most popular technologies. RAID allows you to combine multiple disk drives to act as a single storage unit, providing increased capacity, performance, and reliability. But with different RAID levels to choose from, how do you know which one is right for your needs? We’ll explore the pros and cons of the most common RAID types to help you decide.

What is RAID?

RAID combines multiple physical disk drives and uses techniques like disk striping (spreading data across multiple drives), disk mirroring (duplicating data on separate drives), and parity (a method of data protection) to achieve different goals:

  • Increased storage capacity – By combining multiple disks, total capacity is increased beyond what a single disk can provide.
  • Faster performance – Data can be read and written in parallel across multiple drives for better speed.
  • Fault tolerance – If one disk fails, data integrity is maintained through redundancy and parity calculations.

The different RAID levels each use these techniques in various combinations to meet specific needs. When planning a RAID implementation, key factors to consider are capacity, speed, data protection, and cost efficiency. Let’s look at how the main RAID levels differ.


How it works: RAID 0 uses disk striping to spread data evenly across two or more drives with no parity or duplication. The separate drives appear as a single logical drive to the operating system.


  • Increased disk performance – Reads and writes are done in parallel for faster data access.
  • Full capacity utilization – RAID 0 capacity equals the total of all disks added together.


  • No fault tolerance – If one drive fails, all data is lost with no recovery.
  • Decreased reliability – More disks means higher likelihood of failure.

Use cases: RAID 0 works well for non-critical data needing fast access, such as video editing scratch disks. The lack of redundancy means it should not be used for storage reliability.


How it works: RAID 1 uses disk mirroring to copy and maintain identical data on two or more drives. If one drive fails, the system switches seamlessly to the duplicate drive with no interruption.


  • Excellent data protection – Full redundancy means complete recovery from a single disk failure.
  • Increased read performance – Data can be read simultaneously from both disks for faster access.


  • Higher cost – Requires at least double the number of disks.
  • Slower writes – Data has to be written to multiple disks, increasing write time.
  • 50% storage efficiency – Capacity is only half of total disks combined.

Use cases: RAID 1 provides the best data protection for critical data. The redundancy makes it ideal for sensitive data like financial, medical, or other records requiring high reliability.


How it works: RAID 5 uses disk striping with distributed parity. Data is striped across all drives, while additional parity information is written across the disks. If a drive fails, the parity data is used to reconstruct the missing information.


  • Good read performance – Data is striped across multiple disks for fast reads.
  • Only one disk can fail – Parity allows recovery from a single disk failure.
  • Nearly full capacity – Only one disk is needed for parity, so total capacity = sum of disks – 1.


  • Slower writes – Parity must be calculated and written with each write operation.
  • Not suitable for large drives – Rebuilding large failed drives takes longer, increasing risk of data loss.

Use cases: RAID 5 offers a balance of speed, capacity, and redundancy for general server storage and medium sized arrays. It provides protection for shared data without high cost.


How it works: RAID 6 is similar to RAID 5, but uses a second distributed parity stripe. This allows the array to recover from the failure of up to two disks.


  • Protection from two disk failures – Provides high redundancy and reliability.
  • Good read performance – Data is striped for fast reads.


  • Slower write performance – Calculating dual parity slows writes.
  • Less total capacity – Requires two disks for parity, so total capacity = sum of disks – 2.
  • Longer rebuild times – Reconstructing two failed drives takes more time.

Use cases: RAID 6 works well for larger arrays where the chances of dual disk failures and long recovery times are higher. The robust redundancy makes it ideal for archival data and other mission critical systems where high reliability is essential.


How it works: RAID 10 combines mirroring and striping by creating a striped array with mirrored pairs. This provides both speed and redundancy.


  • Very fast read/writes – Striping spreads data across mirrored disks for parallel performance.
  • Can survive multiple drive losses – Remaining mirrored pairs continue operating if one drive in a pair fails.


  • Higher hardware cost – Requires at least 4 disks to provide mirroring and striping.
  • 50% storage efficiency – Mirroring halves total capacity.

Use cases: RAID 10 is ideal for transaction databases and other I/O intensive applications requiring both high speed and fault tolerance. The performance and redundancy make it well suited for critical systems.

Software vs Hardware RAID

RAID can be implemented through dedicated hardware RAID controllers or in software through the operating system. Here’s a quick comparison:

Software RAID Hardware RAID
Implemented through OS tools Dedicated RAID controller card required
Lower cost, uses system CPU Higher cost, has onboard processor
Slower performance Faster performance
Less robust caching/functionality Advanced caching and features

Hardware RAID provides better performance and advanced RAID capabilities. But software RAID can be a good economical solution for basic redundancy in some systems.

Choosing the Right RAID Level

There are few key factors to consider when selecting a RAID level:

  • Availability requirements – If high availability is critical, opt for RAID 1 or 10 for mirroring redundancy.
  • Capacity needs – RAID 0 provides full volume, while RAID 1 cuts capacity in half. Parity levels offer efficiency based on # of disks.
  • Performance demands – Striping in RAID 0, 10 maximizes speed. Parity RAIDs have slower writes.
  • Budget – RAID 1, 10, and hardware RAID cost more for hardware and redundancy.

Analyze your specific environment and workload requirements, then choose the RAID level that aligns with availability, capacity, performance and budget needs.


RAID allows you to balance critical data storage needs like speed, capacity, reliability, and cost. Lower end RAID levels like 0, 1, and 5 can provide basic redundancy for small servers and data protection. Higher end RAID 10 and RAID 6 better meet demanding enterprise storage needs for critical systems and data.

By understanding how each RAID type differs, you can select the right solution to efficiently achieve your storage goals with the optimal balance of performance, protection, and budget.