RAID (originally redundant array of inexpensive disks; now commonly redundant array of independent disks) is a data storage virtualization technology that combines multiple disk drive components into a logical unit for the purposes of data redundancy or performance improvement.

Data is distributed across the drives in one of several ways, referred to as RAID levels, depending on the specific level of redundancy and performance required. The different schemes or architectures are named by the word RAID followed by a number (e.g. RAID 0, RAID 1). Each scheme provides a different balance between the key goals: reliability, availability, performance, and capacity. RAID levels greater than RAID 0 provide protection against unrecoverable (sector) read errors, as well as whole disk failure.


Many RAID levels employ an error protection scheme called "parity", a widely used method in information technology to provide fault tolerance in a given set of data. Most use simple XOR, but RAID 6 uses two separate parities based respectively on addition and multiplication in a particular Galois Field or Reed–Solomon error correction.

Standard levels

Main article: Standard RAID levels

A number of standard schemes have evolved. These are called levels. Originally, there were five RAID levels, but many variations have evolved—notably several nested levels and many non-standard levels (mostly proprietary). RAID levels and their associated data formats are standardized by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) in the Common RAID Disk Drive Format (DDF) standard:[15][16]


RAID 0 consists of striping, without mirroring or parity. The capacity of a RAID 0 volume is the sum of the capacities of the disks in the set, the same as with a spanned volume. There is no added redundancy for handling disk failures, just as with a spanned volume. Thus, failure of one disk causes the loss of the entire RAID 0 volume, with reduced possibilities of data recovery when compared to a broken spanned volume. Striping distributes the contents of files roughly equally among all disks in the set, which makes concurrent read or write operations on the multiple disks almost inevitable. The concurrent operations make the throughput of most read and write operations equal to the throughput of one disk multiplied by the number of disks. Increased throughput is the big benefit of RAID 0 versus spanned volume.[11]


RAID 1 consists of mirroring, without parity or striping. Data is written identically to two (or more) drives, thereby producing a "mirrored set". Thus, any read request can be serviced by any drive in the set. If a request is broadcast to every drive in the set, it can be serviced by the drive that accesses the data first (depending on its seek time and rotational latency), improving performance. Sustained read throughput, if the controller or software is optimized for it, approaches the sum of throughputs of every drive in the set, just as for RAID 0. Actual read throughput of most RAID 1 implementations is slower than the fastest drive. Write throughput is always slower because every drive must be updated, and the slowest drive limits the write performance. The array continues to operate as long as at least one drive is functioning.[11]


RAID 2 consists of bit-level striping with dedicated Hamming-code parity. All disk spindle rotation is synchronized and data is striped such that each sequential bit is on a different drive. Hamming-code parity is calculated across corresponding bits and stored on at least one parity drive.[11] This level is of historical significance only; although it was used on some early machines (for example, the Thinking Machines CM-2),[17] as of 2014[update] it is not used by any of the commercially available systems.[18]


RAID 3 consists of byte-level striping with dedicated parity. All disk spindle rotation is synchronized and data is striped such that each sequential byte is on a different drive. Parity is calculated across corresponding bytes and stored on a dedicated parity drive.[11] Although implementations exist,[19] RAID 3 is not commonly used in practice.


RAID 4 consists of block-level striping with dedicated parity. This level was previously used by NetApp, but has now been largely replaced by a proprietary implementation of RAID 4 with two parity disks, called RAID-DP.[20]


RAID 5 consists of block-level striping with distributed parity. Unlike in RAID 4, parity information is distributed among the drives. It requires that all drives but one be present to operate. Upon failure of a single drive, subsequent reads can be calculated from the distributed parity such that no data is lost. RAID 5 requires at least three disks.[11] RAID 5 is seriously affected by the general trends regarding array rebuild time and chance of failure during rebuild.[21] In August 2012, Dell posted an advisory against the use of RAID 5 in any configuration and of RAID 50 with "Class 2 7200 RPM drives of 1 TB and higher capacity" for business-critical data.[22]


RAID 6 consists of block-level striping with double distributed parity. Double parity provides fault tolerance up to two failed drives. This makes larger RAID groups more practical, especially for high-availability systems, as large-capacity drives take longer to restore. As with RAID 5, a single drive failure results in reduced performance of the entire array until the failed drive has been replaced.[11] With a RAID 6 array, using drives from multiple sources and manufacturers, it is possible to mitigate most of the problems associated with RAID 5. The larger the drive capacities and the larger the array size, the more important it becomes to choose RAID 6 instead of RAID 5.[23] RAID 10 also minimizes these problems.[24]


RAID can provide data security with solid-state drives (SSDs) without the expense of an all-SSD system. For example, a fast SSD can be mirrored with a mechanical drive. For this configuration to provide a significant speed advantage an appropriate controller is needed that uses the fast SSD for all read operations. Adaptec calls this "hybrid RAID".[57]


Data scrubbing (referred to in some environments as patrol read) involves periodic reading and checking by the RAID controller of all the blocks in an array, including those not otherwise accessed. This detects bad blocks before use.[58] Data scrubbing checks for bad blocks on each storage device in an array, but also uses the redundancy of the array to recover bad blocks on a single drive and to reassign the recovered data to spare blocks elsewhere on the drive.[59]

Frequently, a RAID controller is configured to "drop" a component drive (that is, to assume a component drive has failed) if the drive has been unresponsive for eight seconds or so; this might cause the array controller to drop a good drive because that drive has not been given enough time to complete its internal error recovery procedure. Consequently, using RAID for consumer-marketed drives can be risky, and so-called "enterprise class" drives limit this error recovery time to reduce risk.[citation
] Western Digital’s desktop drives used to have a specific fix. A utility called WDTLER.exe limited a drive’s error recovery time. The utility enabled TLER (time limited error recovery), which limits the error recovery time to seven seconds. Around September 2009, Western Digital disabled this feature in their desktop drives (e.g. the Caviar Black line), making such drives unsuitable for use in RAID configurations.[60] However, Western Digital enterprise class drives are shipped from the factory with TLER enabled. Similar technologies are used by Seagate, Samsung, and Hitachi. Of course, for non-RAID usage, an enterprise class drive with a short error recovery timeout that cannot be changed is therefore less suitable than a desktop drive.[60] In late 2010, the Smartmontools program began supporting the configuration of ATA Error Recovery Control, allowing the tool to configure many desktop class hard drives for use in RAID setups.[60]

While RAID may protect against physical drive failure, the data is still exposed to operator, software, hardware, and virus destruction. Many studies cite operator fault as the most common source of malfunction,[61] such as a server operator replacing the incorrect drive in a faulty RAID, and disabling the system (even temporarily) in the process.[62]

An array can be overwhelmed by catastrophic failure that exceeds its recovery capacity and, of course, the entire array is at risk of physical damage by fire, natural disaster, and human forces, while backups can be stored off site. An array is also vulnerable to controller failure because it is not always possible to migrate it to a new, different controller without data loss.[63]


Correlated failures

In practice, the drives are often the same age (with similar wear) and subject to the same environment. Since many drive failures are due to mechanical issues (which are more likely on older drives), this violates the assumptions of independent, identical rate of failure amongst drives; failures are in fact statistically correlated.[11] In practice, the chances of a second failure before the first has been recovered (causing data loss) is higher than four random failures. In a study of about 100,000 drives, the probability of two drives in the same cluster failing within one hour was four times larger than predicted by the exponential statistical distribution—which characterizes processes in which events occur continuously and independently at a constant average rate. The probability of two failures in the same 10-hour period was twice as large as predicted by an exponential distribution.[64]

Unrecoverable read errors during rebuild

Unrecoverable read errors (URE) present as sector read failures, also known as latent sector errors (LSE). The associated media assessment measure, unrecoverable bit error (UBE) rate, is typically specified at one bit in 1015 for enterprise-class drives (SCSI, FC or SAS), and one bit in 1014 for desktop-class drives (IDE/ATA/PATA or SATA). Increasing drive capacities and large RAID 5 instances have led to an increasing inability to successfully rebuild a RAID set after a drive failure and occurrence of an unrecoverable sector on the remaining drives.[11][65] When rebuilding, parity-based schemes such as RAID 5 are particularly prone to the effects of UREs as they affect not only the sector where they occur, but also reconstructed blocks using that sector for parity computation. Thus, an URE during a RAID 5 rebuild typically leads to a complete rebuild failure.[66]

Double-protection parity-based schemes, such as RAID 6, attempt to address this issue by providing redundancy that allows double-drive failures; as a downside, such schemes suffer from elevated write penalty. Schemes that duplicate (mirror) data in a drive-to-drive manner, such as RAID 1 and RAID 10, have a lower risk from UREs than those using parity computation or mirroring between striped sets.[24][67] Data scrubbing, as a background process, can be used to detect and recover from UREs, effectively reducing the risk of them happening during RAID rebuilds and causing double-drive failures. The recovery of UREs involves remapping of affected underlying disk sectors, utilizing the drive’s sector remapping pool; in case of UREs detected during background scrubbing, data redundancy provided by a fully operational RAID set allows the missing data to be reconstructed and rewritten to a remapped sector.[68][69]

Increasing rebuild time and failure probability

Drive capacity has grown at a much faster rate than transfer speed, and error rates have only fallen a little in comparison. Therefore, larger capacity drives may take hours, if not days, to rebuild. The rebuild time is also limited if the entire array is still in operation at reduced capacity.[70] Given an array with only one drive of redundancy (RAIDs 3, 4, and 5), a second failure would cause complete failure of the array. Even though individual drives’ mean time between failure (MTBF) have increased over time, this increase has not kept pace with the increased storage capacity of the drives. The time to rebuild the array after a single drive failure, as well as the chance of a second failure during a rebuild, have increased over time.[21]

Some commentators have declared that RAID 6 is only a "band aid" in this respect, because it only pushes the problem a little further down the road.[21] However, according to a 2006 NetApp study of Berriman et al., the chance of failure decreases by a factor of about 3,800 (relative to RAID 5) for a proper implementation of RAID 6, even when using commodity drives.[71] Nevertheless, if the currently observed technology trends remain unchanged, in 2019 a RAID 6 array will have the same chance of failure as its RAID 5 counterpart had in 2010.[65][71]

Mirroring schemes such as RAID 10 have a bounded recovery time as they require the copy of a single failed drive, compared with parity schemes such as RAID 6, which require the copy of all blocks of the drives in an array set. Triple parity schemes, or triple mirroring, have been suggested as one approach to improve resilience to an additional drive failure during this large rebuild time.[71]

Atomicity: including parity inconsistency due to system crashes

A system crash or other interruption of a write operation can result in states where the parity is inconsistent with the data due to non-atomicity of the write process, such that the parity cannot be used for recovery in the case of a disk failure (the so-called RAID 5 write hole).[11] The RAID write hole is a known data corruption issue in older and low-end RAIDs, caused by interrupted destaging of writes to disk.[72]

This is a little understood and rarely mentioned failure mode for redundant storage systems that do not utilize transactional features. Database researcher Jim Gray wrote "Update in Place is a Poison Apple" during the early days of relational database commercialization.[73]

Write-cache reliability

A concern about write-cache reliability exists, specifically regarding devices equipped with a write-back cache—a caching system that reports the data as written as soon as it is written to cache, as opposed to the non-volatile medium.[74]