Read This Before You Buy Another Hard Drive

It's rare that a company would release internal data on drive failure rates -- even more so when that company, Backblaze, earns its living storing consumer data in the cloud. That makes the hard drive data released this week even more valuable.

By Lucas Mearian
Wed, January 22, 2014

Computerworld — Data storage service provider Backblaze yesterday revealed failure rates among more than 27,000 consumer-class hard drives it uses in its data center.

The breadth and depth of Backblaze's data has given consumers unprecedented access to specific hard drive failure rates across the three largest vendors of the technology: Seagate, Hitachi and Western Digital. It offers an unvarnished look at hard drives (models and serial numbers included), and even details which drives Backblaze will no longer use because they're so unreliable.

While users should check out the actual data for more granular information, the big picture boils down to this: Over a three-year period, 3.1% of Hitachi's drives failed; 5.2% of Western Digital's drives died; and a sizable 26.5% of Seagate's drives failed.

"Hitachi does really well," Backblaze said in its blog. "There is an initial die-off of Western Digital drives, and then they are nice and stable. The Seagate drives start strong, but die off at a consistently higher rate, with a burst of deaths near the 20-month mark."

The study includes data on 15 drive models totaling more than 12,000 drives each from Seagate and Hitachi, and almost 3,000 drives from Western Digital. There were also several dozen drives from both Toshiba and Samsung, but not enough for solid statistical results.

Healthy skepticism

IT vendors often pitch studies and "user surveys" to the press. Most of the time, those studies are overtly self-serving. For example, my colleagues and I regularly get study and survey pitches from security software makers on consumer data vulnerability -- i.e. "your data is vulnerable, buy our software to protect it."

Professional journalists typically ignore these kinds of reports, unless they can be used in concert with objective data. So why make a big deal over Backblaze's data?

Gleb Budman, Backblaze's co-founder and CEO, told Computerworld today that his company lives by the ethos that, when it can, it will openly share information that helps others. And no, that doesn't include customer data.

"We use Linux, we use Tomcat, we use Apache. We use a variety of open-source software and information people publish about technology or marketing. So we like to give back when can," he said.

Now, for a grain of salt. Obviously, on some level Backblaze compiled the drive failure-rate data to draw attention to its $5-a-month storage service. The message is simple: If hard drives fail, yours could, too. So go out and sign up for the cloud storage service.

But in this one case, the data offered by Backblaze is still compelling.

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