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RAID: Pros and Cons

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks and is a method of storage that helps protect against individual disk failure and offers faster access to your data. Large businesses often implement it in dedicated file servers and network attached storage. There are many different numbered levels that make up a RAID, each with their own specific advantages and disadvantages.
One of the best things about RAID is that it offers fault tolerance. What this means is that even if one of the drives fails, there will be no downtime to the system and no data will be lost. If you’ve ever suffered from a corrupted hard drive, then you know how damaging it can be to be without access to your files during business hours. In a RAID, all data is mirrored across the drives. Plus, providing the server offers hot-swappable drives, you can simply take out the failed drive and replace it with a functional drive with no downtime. Different levels of RAID offer varying protection (for example, RAID 5 has at least three drives, meaning there is a wider margin for error).
RAID also offers the benefit of faster data access. When you only have a single drive in your system there is physically only one read/write mechanism. What this means is that no matter how fast your drive is, only one set of data can be operated on at any time. With RAID, however, everything works in parallel thanks to the multiple drives. In large companies where there are hundreds of users accessing data constantly the benefits are very noticeable.
There are some potential setbacks when it comes to using RAID. It is very important that there is someone in the business who understands RAID and will be able to maintain the system to ensure it is healthy. If problems are not noticed then it will mean the array is vulnerable to greater failures; potentially making the entire thing unworkable, leading to downtime and loss of data. Having an IT department who knows how to monitor RAID and fix any issues that arise is very important – you cannot just set it up and leave it. Operator fault is often cited as a common cause of malfunction in a RAID, so be sure to have someone who knows exactly what they are doing. It’s an additional cost, but one that’s worth paying.
Another possible downside is the time it takes to rebuild data if it needs recovering. Drive storage has increased quickly over the years, while transfer speeds have not and error rates have fell only a little. Drives with a large capacity may take days to rebuild, especially if the array is still in operation. And when you are using RAIDs like 3, 4 and 5 there is only one drive for redundancy – if the second one fails then the whole array has failed.
Ultimately, though, the benefits of using RAID outweigh the disadvantages. If you have lots of users and data then the fault tolerance and speedy access that a RAID offers is certainly a great help. As long as there is someone in the business who understands the technicalities, you can be comforted in the knowledge that your data is safe.


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