Twenty years ago the hard drives I recall using might not have been fast in the data transfer stakes, they were certainly not lithe and sexy pieces of hardware and I prefer not to think how much I actually paid for a large and clunky bit of kit to store hardly any data at all. One thing they did have going for them was reliability though. Indeed, in the space of a decade I think I only needed to replace a single failed unit across a dozen or so computers. And that had something to do with me dropping the amber gas plasma screened, laughingly called a laptop, device while trying to live the mobile computing fantasy we had all been sold.
Fast forward to today, and in the last five years I have replaced no less than six hard drives which have mostly failed without warning, a couple within months of purchase and all for no good reason other than sloppy quality control and a market which has driven prices down at the cost of reliability.
Which is why I had to laugh when Fujitsu presented me with a press release today in order to 'big up' its latest innovation: the hard drive designed for continuous operation.
Yes, you read that right. The unique selling point of the Fujitsu MHY2 BS-series of 2.5" SATA hard drives would appear to be that they have been designed not to fall over at the slightest provocation, like actually using them a lot. OK, so the marketing push is aiming these at the bank teller ATM machines, point of sale systems and entry-level servers etc. But surely the point is that all hard drives should be engineered not to fail, designed to run for as long as the end user wants, without an expectation of disaster should you cross some unnamed time barrier which thrusts you into a continuous user bracket.
I want every hard drive I buy to feature 'high frequency access' and 'low heat generation' not to mention reduced energy consumption and integrated technology to 'minimize the effects of rotational vibration' thank you very much.
That is not, however, what I nor any other consumer appears to be getting.
What we are getting is cheap hardware produced under a 'pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap' mentality. What we are getting, is screwed.
Recent research by the Carnegie Mellon University, presented at the 5th USENIX Conference on File and Storage Technology in San Jose, looked at 100,000 hard drives and analyzed the mean time to failure. It revealed that despite the data spec sheets for the drives claiming a mean time to failure of between 1-1.5 million hours, or a mean annual failure rate of just 0.88% at the top end, the actual figures when tested were anywhere between 2% and 13%.
Unfortunately, the research was not vendor-specific so we cannot draw conclusions on which manufacturers really care more about our data than the financial bottom line, but we can conclude that they all lie about reliability rates.
At the same conference a Google study of 100,000 drives at its own server farm concluded that 56% of failures did not flag any SMART drive status issues before committing suicide, heavy data grinding did not appear to impact upon longevity, nor did a little overheating. Indeed, exposing yet another industry lie, the study revealed that drives which are cooled excessively tended to fail more often than those which were running a bit hot.
So, what can I do about this? What can you do about this? Well, for a start, you can use the power of crowds to influence your next hard drive purchase rather than the slick marketing of the manufacturer and vendor. Use Google to search for such strings as "<manufacturer> drives are useless" and "<manufacturer> drives are great" for example and base your buying decision upon what you discover. Oh, and implement a cast iron data backup strategy. I suspect you might need it whatever device you buy…