If you’re a webmaster or someone that has ever dealt with a server, you have probably heard the term RAID. RAID, which stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, or occasionally Redundant Array of Independent Disks, is a way to put 2 or more hard drives together in different configurations to meet certain criteria, for better redundancy, faster speeds or both. While there are many sites on the internet that explain RAID already, many of them are quite technical in nature so this explanation will simplify it by describing each RAID type, what is required and the pros and cons of each. There are actually 13 different RAID types but only 4 that are commonly used. I will cover these 4 in detail.
RAID 0: RAID 0 is sometimes called striping. RAID 0 requires at least 2 drives. Data is written sequentially to all drives, which means that the pieces of a file will be written across all the drives. Because of this, this file can be read from the drives much faster as the reads come from all the drives simultaneously. A RAID 0 works well for a server where increased disk space is desired but redundancy is not an issue. RAID 0 may be used for file servers where a backup file server is also in place in case of data loss.
- Easy to create
- Fast reads and writes
- Can be done with only 2 drives
- Disk capacity is the combined size of the drives (ie, 2 200 GB drives would give you 400 GB of capacity
- No redundancy. If any drive in the RAID set fails, you lose all the data on that drive
- Not a true “RAID” due to the lack of redundancy (remember, RAID stands for “Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks”)
RAID 1: RAID 1 is mirroring and requires a minimum of 2 drives and the drives must be installed in pairs (2, 4, 6, etc). Each 2 drives is a mirror of each other where all data on each drive is identical to its pair. RAID 1 is perfect for a web server where 95% of the disk access is read from the drive to deliver web content and the other 5% is FTP uploads where speed isn’t really an issue. By default, every managed server that NationalNet builds comes with RAID 1 (for speed and redundancy) unless otherwise specified by the customer, or the server is a database or some other type of specialized server that requires a different type of RAID.
- Twice the read speed of a single drive
- Perfect for a web server where most of the activity is reads from the disk
- True redundancy in that if a drive fails, you just replace it and the RAID automatically rebuilds
- Slower writes than a typical RAID
- The capacity is that of the single disk (ie, 2 200 GB drives in a RAID 1 give you 200 GB of capacity)
RAID 5: RAID 5 requires at least 3 drives. The data is written to all drives with sections of the drives dedicated to the parity bits. Without getting too technical, the best way to explain parity bits is that they are in charge of ensuring data written to the disk is correct and not corrupted. Because of the way the data and parity bits are written to all three drives, each drive can fill in for any other failed drive. The capacity of a RAID 5 is N-1 (ie, you lose one drive to the RAID), which means that if you have 4 500 GB drives, your capacity would be 1500 GB. RAID 5 works well where more disk space is required than what can be had with a single drive.
- Highest READ speed of all RAID
- Good disk speed
- Good redundancy
- Disk failure can impact performance
- Slower write speeds
- Expensive to implement. Requires at least 3 matching drives and an expensive RAID card
RAID 10: RAID 10 is two mirrored drives (see RAID 1) striped together (see RAID 0). It requires a minimum of 4 drives to implement and like both RAID 0 and RAID 1, must be done in pairs. RAID 10 is very fast for both reads and writes and works well for servers that require high availability as well as fast read and write disk speeds. A database server would be a good example where you would implement RAID 10.
- Very high disk speeds for both read and write access
- Given a 4 disk RAID 10, you could lose two drives and not lose any data provided it was one drive from each RAID 1 set in the RAID 10. Given this same 4 disk RAID 10, the failure of one drive would never affect the data
- Expensive to implement. Requires 4 drives and an expensive RAID card
- Limited scalability
These are the 4 most often used RAID types. Here is a condensed list of the other, lesser used, RAID types. These RAID types are rarely used due to the fact that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages or due to cost constraints or both.
RAID 0+1: Similar to RAID 10 in that it’s a mirror/striping combination but without any redundancy. Any single drive failure causes total loss of data on the failed drive.
RAID 2: Requires expensive specialized disks and uses ECC code. Rarely if ever used.
RAID 3: Uses parallel disk writing method. Requires a minimum of 3 drives and uses 1 drive dedicated to the parity bit (see RAID 5). Very slow after disk failure and does not use disk space very efficiently (lots of wasted disk space)
RAID 4: Independent data disks with one disk dedicated to parity bit. Requires minimum of 3 drives. Very slow disk writes. Difficult to rebuild after a failure.
RAID 6: Very similar to RAID 5 only with a second set of parity bits written, which gives it higher fault tolerance in a mission critical situation. Very complex to implement and very poor write performance. Requires a minimum of 4 drives due to the extra parity bit.
RAID 7: Unlike the other RAID levels, RAID 7 isn’t an open industry standard; it is really a trademarked marketing term of Storage Computer Corporation, used to describe their proprietary RAID design. RAID 7 is based on concepts used in RAID levels 3 and 4, but greatly enhanced to address some of the limitations of those levels
RAID 1E: Simply put, RAID 1E is variation of RAID 10 only with more implementation headaches and less redundancy
RAID 50: Without getting too technical, a RAID 50 is similar to putting a RAID 5 and a RAID 0 together. Better redundancy but a high level of complication to implement and maintain
RAID 53: Very similar to a RAID 5 and RAID 3 put together.
Hopefully, you found this information helpful and maybe, just maybe…when you’re selecting your web hosting company and they ask you if you need RAID, you’ll now be able to hold your own in that part of the conversation.