Why isn't RAID a backup?

I'm always looking for something that could be useful to share so I can write an article about it. This time, I was scrolling through the Reddit support threads and I saw a few posts about using RAID as backups. If you're running a business that relies on data, then you better have backups. Even if you're selling fruit at the farmer's market, you're probably reliant on at least some data. Whether it's for trending, records, or compliance, it's your hard earned data and it's important to you. Of course, it's a bad day if you lose something critical like your accounting or customer files.

That established, RAID is not a backup. RAID (or "Redundant Array of Inexpensive/Independent Disks") is intended for, just as the name states, redundancy. It can do a lot more than just redundancy but that's the primary purpose. Instead of a single drive failing and losing all your data, you have several drives operating in tandem that can tolerate failure and continue serving data. While trying not to get lost in the technology jungle, let's look at RAID1. RAID can be configured in all sorts of ways depending on your needs, risk tolerance, and budget. RAID1 is often called a "mirrored array" and commonly used in office and Point of Sale servers. With RAID1, you have two drives that exactly mirror each other and appear as one drive. If a drive fails, all your data is safely on the other drive and work continues as normal. Redundancy. So why isn't RAID a backup?

It's a bit confusing and that's understandable. Technology is weird and a lot of it serves multiple and overlapping purposes. RAID is part of your backup strategy, but it's not a backup itself. There are two characteristics that are required for backups to be backups. At least in the technology world.

Point In Time

RAID is always real-time. This is what makes it great for redundancy and keeping your servers working. However, you accidentally save over your important presentation that you spent all night on? It's gone. Ransomware finds its way onto your network and encrypts your customer data? Gone too. In contrast, backups are snapshots of your files at points in time that you can go back to when something goes wrong. Need to go back a day, a week, or a month? Backups have you covered.

Independent of Hardware

RAID is a complex technology so let's simplify it a bit. RAID is hardware based, meaning it exists outside the operating system, and it's very picky. If the hardware the RAID lives on has an issue then you'll have a hard time getting your data. Any data stored on the RAID is tied to that hardware as well. What happens if your computer is stolen or in a fire? Not getting that data back. Backups, though, don't care about hardware ("hardware agnostic"). If the computer is lost or destroyed, your data can be recovered to another system so you can get back to work.

Should you have redundancy or backup? Having both would be best as they complement each other. Redundancy keeps you working and backups keep your data safe. This is layering your protection so no one failure can destroy your data and cause a bad day. If you have to choose, backups are the better choice. Losing access to your data for a bit while you download it from the backups is better than losing the data entirely from RAID failure or ransomware. Best to look at your specific needs and regulatory compliance, of course.

I would be remis in my duties if I didn't give my sales pitch. This is a complicated subject that would be many articles to really get into it. Internetek is here to help. Call us and we can look at your specific needs.

If you don't have backups for your computers, we can help. If you do, great job! Have you checked that they're actually working and backing up your files? Did you check recently? Do you check regularly? Part of our IT Support offering is monitoring your backups and redundant drives to make sure everything is working as it should and fix them when they're not.

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