RAID (“Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks” or “Redundant Array of Independent Disks”) is a data storage virtualization technology that combines multiple physical disk drive components into one or more logical units for the purposes of data redundancy, performance improvement, or both. This was in contrast to the previous concept of highly reliable mainframe disk drives referred to as “single large expensive disk” (SLED).
Data is distributed across the drives in one of several ways, referred to as RAID levels, depending on the required level of redundancy and performance. The different schemes, or data distribution layouts, are named by the word “RAID” followed by a number, for example RAID 0 or RAID 1. Each scheme, or RAID level, provides a different balance among the key goals: reliability, availability, performance, and capacity. RAID levels greater than RAID 0 provide protection against unrecoverable sector read errors, as well as against failures of whole physical drives.
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.
RAID can also 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”.
Originally, there were five standard levels of RAID, but many variations have evolved, including 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:
- RAID 0 consists of striping, but no mirroring or parity. Compared to a spanned volume, the capacity of a RAID 0 volume is the same; it is the sum of the capacities of the drives in the set. But because striping distributes the contents of each file among all drives in the set, the failure of any drive causes the entire RAID 0 volume and all files to be lost. In comparison, a spanned volume preserves the files on the unfailing drives. The benefit of RAID 0 is that the throughput of read and write operations to any file is multiplied by the number of drives because, unlike spanned volumes, reads and writes are done concurrently. The cost is increased vulnerability to drive failures—since any drive in a RAID 0 setup failing causes the entire volume to be lost, the average failure rate of the volume rises with the number of attached drives.
- RAID 1 consists of data mirroring, without parity or striping. Data is written identically to two or more drives, thereby producing a “mirrored set” of drives. 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.
- 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. This level is of historical significance only; although it was used on some early machines (for example, the Thinking Machines CM-2), as of 2014 it is not used by any commercially available system.
- 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. Although implementations exist, 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. The main advantage of RAID 4 over RAID 2 and 3 is I/O parallelism: in RAID 2 and 3, a single read I/O operation requires reading the whole group of data drives, while in RAID 4 one I/O read operation does not have to spread across all data drives. As a result, more I/O operations can be executed in parallel, improving the performance of small transfers.
- RAID 5 consists of block-level striping with distributed parity. Unlike RAID 4, parity information is distributed among the drives, requiring all drives but one to 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.Like all single-parity concepts, large RAID 5 implementations are susceptible to system failures because of trends regarding array rebuild time and the chance of drive failure during rebuild (see “Increasing rebuild time and failure probability” section, below). Rebuilding an array requires reading all data from all disks, opening a chance for a second drive failure and the loss of the entire array.
- 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. RAID 6 requires a minimum of four disks. As with RAID 5, a single drive failure results in reduced performance of the entire array until the failed drive has been replaced. 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. RAID 10 also minimizes these problems.
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. 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.
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 consumer-marketed drives with RAID can be risky, and so-called “enterprise class” drives limit this error recovery time to reduce risk. 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 (such as the Caviar Black line), making such drives unsuitable for use in RAID configurations. However, Western Digital enterprise class drives are shipped from the factory with TLER enabled. Similar technologies are used by Seagate, Samsung, and Hitachi. 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. 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.
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 a common source of malfunction, such as a server operator replacing the incorrect drive in a faulty RAID, and disabling the system (even temporarily) in the process.
An array can be overwhelmed by catastrophic failure that exceeds its recovery capacity and the entire array is at risk of physical damage by fire, natural disaster, and human forces, however 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.
There are concerns about write-cache reliability, specifically regarding devices equipped with a write-back cache, which is a caching system that reports the data as written as soon as it is written to cache, as opposed to when it is written to the non-volatile medium. If the system experiences a power loss or other major failure, the data may be irrevocably lost from the cache before reaching the non-volatile storage. For this reason good write-back cache implementations include mechanisms, such as redundant battery power, to preserve cache contents across system failures (including power failures) and to flush the cache at system restart time.