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Tutorial: Performance and reliability in redundant disk arraysA disk array is a collection of physically small magnetic disks that is packaged as a single unit but operates in parallel. Disk arrays capitalize on the availability of small-diameter disks from a price-competitive market to provide the cost, volume, and capacity of current disk systems but many times their performance. Unfortunately, relative to current disk systems, the larger number of components in disk arrays leads to higher rates of failure. To tolerate failures, redundant disk arrays devote a fraction of their capacity to an encoding of their information. This redundant information enables the contents of a failed disk to be recovered from the contents of non-failed disks. The simplest and least expensive encoding for this redundancy, known as N+1 parity is highlighted. In addition to compensating for the higher failure rates of disk arrays, redundancy allows highly reliable secondary storage systems to be built much more cost-effectively than is now achieved in conventional duplicated disks. Disk arrays that combine redundancy with the parallelism of many small-diameter disks are often called Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID). This combination promises improvements to both the performance and the reliability of secondary storage. For example, IBM's premier disk product, the IBM 3390, is compared to a redundant disk array constructed of 84 IBM 0661 3 1/2-inch disks. The redundant disk array has comparable or superior values for each of the metrics given and appears likely to cost less. In the first section of this tutorial, I explain how disk arrays exploit the emergence of high performance, small magnetic disks to provide cost-effective disk parallelism that combats the access and transfer gap problems. The flexibility of disk-array configurations benefits manufacturer and consumer alike. In contrast, I describe in this tutorial's second half how parallelism, achieved through increasing numbers of components, causes overall failure rates to rise. Redundant disk arrays overcome this threat to data reliability by ensuring that data remains available during and after component failures.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Gibson, Garth A.
(Carnegie-Mellon Univ. Pittsburgh, PA, United States)
Date Acquired
September 6, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1993
Publication Information
Publication: NASA. Goddard Space Flight Center, Goddard Conference on Mass Storage Systems and Technologies, Volume 1,
Subject Category
Computer Programming And Software
Accession Number
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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