Organizing disks into a redundant array decreases the usable storage capacity. For instance, a 2-disk RAID 1 array loses half of the total capacity that would have otherwise been available using both disks independently, and a RAID 5 array with several disks loses the capacity of one disk. Other types of RAID arrays are arranged, for example, so that they are faster to write to and read from than a single disk.
There are various combinations of these approaches giving different trade-offs of protection against data loss, capacity, and speed. RAID levels 0, 1, and 5 are the most commonly found, and cover most requirements.
RAID 0 (striped disks) distributes data across multiple disks in ways that gives improved speed at any given instant. If one disk fails, however, all of the data on the array will be lost, as there is neither parity nor mirroring. In this regard, RAID 0 is a misnomer because RAID 0 is non-redundant. A RAID 0 array requires a minimum of two drives. A RAID 0 configuration can be applied to a single drive provided that the RAID controller is hardware and not software (i.e. OS-based arrays) and allows for such configuration. This allows a single drive to be added to a controller already containing another RAID configuration when the user does not wish to add the additional drive to the existing array. In this case, the controller would be set up as RAID only (as opposed to SCSI in non-RAID configuration), which requires that each individual drive be a part of some sort of RAID array.
RAID 1 mirrors the contents of the disks, making a form of 1:1 ratio real time mirroring. The contents of each disk in the array are identical to that of every other disk in the array. A RAID 1 array requires a minimum of two drives.
RAID 3, RAID 4
RAID 3 or 4 (striped disks with dedicated parity) combines three or more disks in a way that protects data against loss of any one disk. Fault tolerance is achieved by adding an extra disk to the array, which is dedicated to storing parity information; the overall capacity of the array is reduced by one disk. A RAID 3 or 4 array requires a minimum of three drives: two to hold striped data, and a third for parity. With the minimum three drives needed for RAID 3, the storage efficiency is 66 percent. With six drives, the storage efficiency is 83 percent.
Striped set with distributed parity or interleave parity requiring 3 or more disks. Distributed parity requires all drives but one to be present to operate; drive failure requires replacement, but the array is not destroyed by a single drive failure. Upon drive failure, any subsequent reads can be calculated from the distributed parity such that the drive failure is masked from the end user. The array will have data loss in the event of a second drive failure and is vulnerable until the data that was on the failed drive is rebuilt onto a replacement drive. A single drive failure in the set will result in reduced performance of the entire set until the failed drive has been replaced and rebuilt.
RAID 6 (striped disks with dual parity) combines four or more disks in a way that protects data against loss of any two disks. For example, if the goal is to create 10x1TB of usable space in a RAID 6 configuration, we need two additional disks for the parity data.
RAID 1+0 (or 10) is a mirrored data set (RAID 1) which is then striped (RAID 0), hence the "1+0" name. A RAID 1+0 array requires a minimum of four drives – two mirrored drives to hold half of the striped data, plus another two mirrored for the other half of the data. In Linux, MD RAID 10 is a non-nested RAID type like RAID 1 that only requires a minimum of two drives and may give read performance on the level of RAID 0.
RAID 0+1 (or 01) is a striped data set (RAID 0) which is then mirrored (RAID 1). A RAID 0+1 array requires a minimum of four drives: two to hold the striped data, plus another two to mirror the first pair.
RAID can involve significant computation when reading and writing information. With traditional "real" RAID hardware, a separate controller does this computation. In other cases the operating system or simpler and less expensive controllers require the host computer's processor to do the computing, which reduces the computer's performance on processor-intensive tasks (see Operating system based ("software RAID") and Firmware/driver-based RAID below). Simpler RAID controllers may provide only levels 0 and 1, which require less processing.
RAID systems with redundancy continue working without interruption when one (or possibly more, depending on the type of RAID) disks of the array fail, although they are then vulnerable to further failures. When the bad disk is replaced by a new one the array is rebuilt while the system continues to operate normally. Some systems have to be powered down when removing or adding a drive; others support hot swapping, allowing drives to be replaced without powering down. RAID with hot-swapping is often used in high availability systems, where it is important that the system remains running as much of the time as possible.
Note that a RAID controller itself can become the single point of failure within a system.