Lets start with the basics. RAID Redundant Array of Independent Discs. In the old days it also used to mean Redundant Array of Inexpensive Discs. A RAID system is a collection of hard drives joined together using a RAID level definition ( see level below). There are many uses for RAID. First it can be used to stripe drives together to give more overall access speed (level 0). Second it can be used mirror drives (level 1). Third it can be used to increase uptime of your overall storage by striping drives together and then keeping parity data, if a drive should fail the system keeps operating (level 5). Most people use RAID level 5 for the uptime purposes and its ability to join together 16 drives, giving a large storage block. Read about RAID levels below and see which one suits you best.
A hot spare is a stand by drive assigned to an array or assigned to a group of arrays (global spare). If a drive goes bad in an array the hot spare will take over for failed drive automatically and your array will not suffer a performance degradation. Hot spares only make sense on levels 5, 5+0 , 0+5, 1+5 and 5+1.
Hot swap is a term used to describe the condition in which drives are attached to the RAID controller. You always want hot swap drives so that if a drive goes bad it can be replaced on the fly without incurring downtime.
Other features of professional RAIDs include Hot swap and redundant power supplies. Hot swap and redundant fans. In some more expensive RAID systems we even have hot swap and redundant RAID controllers.
This is the simplest level of RAID, and it just involves striping. Data redundancy is not even present in this level, so it is not recommended for applications where data is critical. This level offers the highest level of performance out of any single RAID level. It also offers the lowest cost since no extra storage is involved. At least 2 hard drives are required, preferably identical, and the maximum depends on the RAID controller. None of the space is wasted as long as the hard drives used are identical. This level has become popular with the mainstream market for it's relatively low cost and high performance gain. This level is good for most people that don't need any data redundancy. There are many SCSI and IDE/ATA implementations available. Finally, it's important to note that if any of the hard drives in the array fails, you lose everything.
This level is usually implemented as mirroring. Two identical copies of data are stored on two drives. When one drive fails, the other drive still has the data to keep the system going. Rebuilding a lost drive is very simple since you still have the second copy. This adds data redundancy to the system and provides some safety from failures. Some implementations add an extra RAID controller to increase the fault tolerance even more. It is ideal for applications that use critical data. Even though the performance benefits are not great, some might just be concerned with preserving their data. The relative simplicity and low cost of implementing this level has increased its popularity in mainstream RAID controllers. Most RAID controllers nowadays implement some form of RAID 1.
This level uses bit level striping with Hamming code ECC. The technique used here is somewhat similar to striping with parity but not really. The data is split at the bit level and spread over a number of data and ECC disks. When data is written to the array, the Hamming codes are calculated and written to the ECC disks. When the data is read from the array, Hamming codes are used to check whether errors have occurred since the data was written to the array. Single bit errors can be detected and corrected immediately. This is the only level that really deviates from the RAID concepts talked about earlier. The complicated and expensive RAID controller hardware needed and the minimum number of hard drives required, is the reason this level is not used today.
This level uses byte level striping with dedicated parity. In other words, data is striped across the array at the byte level with one dedicated parity drive holding the redundancy information. The idea behind this level is that striping the data increasing performance and using dedicated parity takes care of redundancy. 3 hard drives are required. 2 for striping, and 1 as the dedicated parity drive. Although the performance is good, the added parity does slow down writes. The parity information has to be written to the parity drive whenever a write occurs. This increased computation calls for a hardware controller, so software implementations are not practical. RAID 3 is good for applications that deal with large files since the stripe size is small.
This level is very similar to RAID 3. The only difference is that it uses block level striping instead of byte level striping. The advantage in that is that you can change the stripe size to suit application needs. This level is often seen as a mix between RAID 3 and RAID 5, having the dedicated parity of RAID 3 and the block level striping of RAID 5. Again, you'll probably need a hardware RAID controller for this level. Also, the dedicated parity drive continues to slow down performance in this level as well.
RAID 5 uses block level striping and distributed parity. This level tries to remove the bottleneck of the dedicated parity drive. With the use of a distributed parity algorithm, this level writes the data and parity data across all the drives. Basically, the blocks of data are used to create the parity blocks which are then stored across the array. This removes the bottleneck of writing to just one parity drive. However, the parity information still has to be calculated and written whenever a write occurs, so the slowdown involved with that still applies. The fault tolerance is maintained by separating the parity information for a block from the actual data block. This way when one drive goes, all the data on that drive can be rebuilt from the data on the other drives. Recovery is more complicated than usual because of the distributed nature of the parity. Just as in RAID 4, the stripe size can be changed to suit the needs of the application. Also, using a hardware controller is probably the more practical solution. RAID 5 is one of the most popular RAID levels being used today. Many see it as the best combination of performance, redundancy, and storage efficiency.
RAID 10 or 0+1
Combining Levels of RAID
The single RAID levels don't address every application requirement that exist. So, to get more functionality, someone thought of the idea of combining RAID levels. What if you can combine two levels and get the advantages of both? Well that was the motivation behind creating these new levels. The main benefit of using multiple RAID levels is the increased performance. Usually combining RAID levels means using a hardware RAID controller. The increased level of complexity of these levels means that software solutions are not practical. RAID 0 has the best performance out of the single levels and it is the one most commonly being combined. Not all combinations of RAID levels exist. The most common combinations are RAID 0+1 and 1+0. The difference between 0+1 and 1+0 might seem subtle, and sometimes companies may use the terms interchangeably. However, the difference lies in the amount of fault tolerance. Both these levels require at least 4 hard drives to implement. Let's look at RAID 0+1 first.
This combination uses RAID 0 for it's high performance and RAID 1 for it's high fault tolerance. I actually mentioned this level when I talked about adding striping to mirroring. Let's say you have 8 hard drives. You can split them into 2 arrays of 4 drives each, and apply RAID 0 to each array. Now you have 2 striped arrays. Then you would apply RAID 1 to the 2 striped arrays and have one array mirrored on the other. If a hard drive in one striped array fails, the entire array is lost. The other striped array is left, but contains no fault tolerance if any of the drives in it fail.
RAID 1+0 applies RAID 1 first then RAID 0 to the drives. To apply RAID 1, you split the 8 drives into 4 sets of 2 drives each. Now each set is mirrored and has duplicate information. To apply RAID 0, you then stripe across the 4 sets. In essence, you have a striped array across a number of mirrored sets. This combination has better fault tolerance than RAID 0+1. As long as one drive in a mirrored set is active, the array can still function. So theoretically you can have up to half the drives fail before you lose everything, as opposed to only two drives in RAID 0+1.
The popularity of RAID 0+1 and 1+0 stems from the fact that it's relatively simple to implement while providing high performance and good data redundancy. With the increased reduction of hard drive prices, the 4 hard drive minimum isn't unreasonable to the mainstream anymore. However, you still have the 50% waste in storage space whenever you are dealing with mirroring. Enterprise applications and servers are often willing to sacrifice storage for increased performance and fault tolerance. Some other combinations of RAID levels that are used include, RAID 0+3, 3+0, 0+5, 5+0, 1+5, and 5+1. These levels are often complicated to implement and require expensive hardware. Not all of the combinations I mentioned above are used