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For First Three Years, Consumer Hard Drives As Reliable As Enterprise Drives 270

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the good-luck-convincing-management dept.
nk497 writes "Consumer hard drives don't fail any more often than enterprise-grade hardware — despite the price difference. That's according to online storage firm Backblaze, which uses a mix of both types of drive. It studied its own hardware, finding consumer hard-drives had a failure rate of 4.2%, while enterprise-grade drives failed at a rate of 4.6%. CEO Gleb Budman noted: 'It turns out that the consumer drive failure rate does go up after three years, but all three of the first three years are pretty good,' he notes. 'We have no data on enterprise drives older than two years, so we don't know if they will also have an increase in failure rate. It could be that the vaunted reliability of enterprise drives kicks in after two years, but because we haven't seen any of that reliability in the first two years, I'm skeptical.'"
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For First Three Years, Consumer Hard Drives As Reliable As Enterprise Drives

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  • by sycodon (149926) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @02:25PM (#45597839)

    At my company all the hardware is managed by CSC. They retire severs in about 3 years...including the drives.

  • by John3 (85454) <john3@cornFREEBSDells.com minus bsd> on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @02:25PM (#45597843) Homepage Journal
    "Enterprise" drives may have longer warranty coverage, so you are essentially just buying an extended warranty that is built into the selling price. This is how water heaters are priced...a 5 year warranty water heater is often identical to a 10 year warranty unit, but the manufacturer has crunched the failure rate numbers and will just wind up replacing a percentage of 10 year models when they start to leak in 8 years.
    • And I bet that consumer drive did not come with a CE showing up in 2 to 4 hrs to replace the drive after the hardware called it in automatically.

      • by Guspaz (556486)

        The enterprise drives don't either. If your support contract with somebody (who wouldn't be the drive manufacturer) covers that, that's not really related to the type of drive, but rather if you have a support contract or not.

    • by Guspaz (556486) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @02:53PM (#45598235) Homepage

      Let's presume that consumer drives don't fail for 3 years, and enterprise drives don't fail for whatever their warranty period is (or at least neither suffers significant failure figures during those time periods). Let me then compare the price of a comparable consumer and enterprise drive on NewEgg:

      Consumer drive: WD3001FAEX (3TB, 7200RPM, 64MB cache, 6gbit/s): $220, 2y warranty
      Enterprise drive: WD3000FYYZ (3TB, 7200RPM, 64MB cache, 6gbit/s): $340, 5y warranty

      Now, we know the data shows consumer drives are highly reliable for 3 years, after which they get reliable, so let's presume you replace at your own cost every 3 years. Enterprise drives are probably no more reliable, but replacements are free between years 3 and 5, so let's say you replace at your own cost every 5 years. You get:

      Consumer drive, average cost per year: ~$73
      Enterprise drive, average cost per year: ~$68

      Not a huge difference there, and if both drives are really equally reliable, it doesn't really make much of a difference which you pick.

      • Good analysis, with two issues:

        1. Both of the specific drives you mentioned above have 5 yr warranties, so your specific example doesn't work for costs, but in general, your analysis is valid.

        2. You don't address performance differences. WD doesn't specify seek times on these, so I can't compare them. But in general, "Enterprise" drives have faster seek and/or transfer rates. This may make the enterprise drive superior for certain environments.

        One final difference, many/most "enterprise" drives have higher

        • by Guspaz (556486)

          The warranty on the consumer one was listed as 2 years on NewEgg, where I got the prices from, not 5 years. In terms of seek times, they're both 7200RPM drives, so their seek times would be nearly identical as the 7200RPM rotation is the primary limiting factor there. And the amount of on-disk error correction is determined by if it's an AF drive or a 512b drive, not by if it's an Enterprise drive or not. Ironically, the specs show that the consumer drive I listed is an AF drive, while the enterprise drive

          • by gstrickler (920733) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @11:04PM (#45604515)

            I got the warranty info directly from WD's site and spec sheets. RPM is NOT the primary factor in determining seek time, that only affects rotational latency, which is one of at least 4 components of access time, the other three being track seek time, head settling time, and head select time. Seek time is generally the largest of those, rotational latency second largest, and the others are minor by comparison.

            Amount of ECC is not only dependent upon 512/4k (AF) drive, that's one factor, but most "enterprise" drives from most manufacturers have greater ECC and most use lower track densities to allow faster positioning (faster seek). For instance, compare the data sheets for the 7200RPM desktop [seagate.com] and Enterprise (Constellation ES) [seagate.com] drives from Seagate. Note the "enhanced error correction" and better "non-recoverable read error" rates (which are directly related to ECC recoverablity) on the ES (enterprise) drive, and that's comparing a 512b sector ES drive to a 4K/AF desktop drive.

            As I said, you analysis was generally good, you just missed a the 3 items I noted.

      • Good point. When the floods hit Thailand and drive prices increased by about 20%, most people cried, but when they almost simultaneously reduced warranties from 5 years to 1-2 years, effective prices nearly doubled and hardly anybody complained.

    • by whoever57 (658626)
      There is a difference, but it is just in the firmware settings and some consumer drives allow you to switch the firmware to behave like the enterprise drives. The settings are the "TLER read" and "TLER write". Essentially, how long should a drive keep trying to read and write before giving an error. If the drive is part of a RAID system, then for performance reasons, you want the drive to give an error sooner and let the RAID system deal with it. On a desktop system, where there is no redundancy, you don't
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @02:41PM (#45598063)

    Google already published many detailed reports on various issues surrounding the HDD business, proving that the money saved by buying cheaper hard-drives, and using them in data 'defending' situations (replicating data on multiple drives) made far more sense then using so-called 'enterprise' class equipment in complex, expensive configurations. Once again, to the surprise of no alpha, the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle wins out in engineering.

    The buzz wordy, mock intellectual, synthetically complex world of 'enterprise' solutions is designed to appeal to the mind of the 'beta', a class of technocrat for whom rote-learning is everything. IT people are mostly of this class, so the 'paraphernalia' and 'jargon' make such people feel 'special'. The fundamentals of Computer Science fly right over the heads of most people involved in computer decision making.

    It shames people to not even understand why the capitalist society works best with mass manufactured items, and that limited run items will always have significant compromises. Make more of an item, and it gets cheaper AND more reliable through necessity of efficiency.

    But only a few days back, in some forum, people were dribbling in ecstasy because some fake enterprise HDD (RED series from Seagate?) was being 'discounted' to only 40% above the cost of the cheapest quality 3TB HDD. Many people gave EXPENSE as the primary reason for buying the vastly inferior Xbox One over the PS4 (in other words they were 'big' individuals because they could afford the more expensive console).

     

  • But consumer hard drives are so much cheaper that it's not really cost effective anymore to buy Enterprise drives. You may need to replace them more often, but as SATA are hot swappable and everyone is using some variation of RAID these days, one could argue that buying Enterprise drives is an unnecessary expense. In a down economy, that might be significant.

    • Re:Not only that, (Score:5, Informative)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @02:55PM (#45598275) Homepage

      But consumer hard drives are so much cheaper that it's not really cost effective anymore to buy Enterprise drives.

      Do you actually do Enterprise Storage? Because I know people who do.

      At the really high end, the machines automatically call home and report a fault to the vendor. The vendor then dispatches someone to replace the faulty bit within the SLA.

      In my experience, and from what I've been told by people who do this for a living, the Enterprise class drives come with the benefit of a warranty in which the manufacturer is contractually obligated to get you a replacement within a fixed amount of time.

      Anyone doing real enterprise class storage for real mission critical things -- using commercial SATA drives is just not done unless it's cheap/bulk storage. Sure, you pay through the nose to the vendor for that kind of support, but you also have guaranteed service time and availability.

      I just don't see evidence of people who do this at an enterprise scale cheaping out on disks for the important stuff.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        > At the really high end, the machines automatically call home and report a fault to the vendor.

        Not everyone that does "Enterprise Storage" wants to pay for that kind of pampering. This is true in general and doesn't just apply to storage devices that you think no one else here has ever managed.

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          This is true in general and doesn't just apply to storage devices that you think no one else here has ever managed.

          I understand that ... but it all depends on how you define "enterprise".

          Running a NAS box for 100 people versus running big huge storage for an actual 'enterprise' application spanning hundreds of terabytes (and being business critical to a multi-billion dollar company) is a different thing entirely.

          In my experience, the people doing the latter pay for the 'pampering' because the outage is ridi

        • by roc97007 (608802)

          > At the really high end, the machines automatically call home and report a fault to the vendor.

          Not everyone that does "Enterprise Storage" wants to pay for that kind of pampering. This is true in general and doesn't just apply to storage devices that you think no one else here has ever managed.

          Indeed. Moreover, there are other solutions, some included as a perk with commercial hardware, that do (in my experience) just as good a job at notifying in-house admins, who have much better business context, can make better decisions and respond much MUCH faster. You don't outsource storage support because it's more effective. You outsource storage support in the misguided belief that it's much cheaper [1], and that paying for someone else's generic process is somehow better than your own, more experie

      • But consumer hard drives are so much cheaper that it's not really cost effective anymore to buy Enterprise drives.

        Do you actually do Enterprise Storage? Because I know people who do.

        At the really high end, the machines automatically call home and report a fault to the vendor. The vendor then dispatches someone to replace the faulty bit within the SLA.

        And if you know those people you have also heard the stories about how ugly things got when the new accounting team forgot to pay the service contract, and that one failed drive ended up costing A grand, and took 3 days to replace. (Because you couldn't just get one a Fry's and limp along for a few days...)

        This is why the real big boys are going with commodity stuff.

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          And if you know those people you have also heard the stories about how ugly things got when the new accounting team forgot to pay the service contract

          LOL, you know, I have never had an outage or problem like that from accountants forgetting to pay the bills.

          Maybe your accountants suck? ;-)

        • by bws111 (1216812)

          Never once have I heard of that happening. Do you also keep cheap offices empty somewhere in case your accountants 'forget' to pay the rent or taxes?

          On the other hand, I have seen many cases of people deciding not to buy a service contract because it is 'too expensive', then crying like babies when they have a failure and the vendor says 'too bad'.

      • Re:Not only that, (Score:4, Interesting)

        by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @03:57PM (#45599425) Journal

        > Do you actually do Enterprise Storage? Because I know people who do.

        > At the really high end, the machines automatically call home and report a fault to the vendor. The vendor then dispatches someone to replace the faulty bit within the SLA.

        Yes, I deal directly with that, with Big Company and Really Big Company, and I have to say the process doesn't work very well, for many reasons that I won't enumerate here for keep-my-job reasons. In all honesty, we had better uptime and much faster response when we stocked our own spares and hired someone to walk through the machine room daily looking for yellow lights. Sorry, but that has been my experience. After outsourcing storage, the lag from warning light to replacement is significant, with many hilarious hijinks along the way. (My favorite being when they remotely updated the firmware during the same service call as disk replacement and bricked the device.) It's a great example of not getting what you pay for, except the ability to check off managerial line items.

  • Perhaps it's due to the smaller components or faster spindles creating more heat, but I rarely get a few years of service out of a single SATA drive before smartctl starts showing problems or a raid array tossing a drive. Seagate and OCZ have always been awesome about replacing the drive under warranty but still. Seems like those 400 meg IDE drives of yesteryear lasted decades before making any clicks-of-death.

    • Re:Not like the 90's (Score:4, Interesting)

      by houstonbofh (602064) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @03:26PM (#45598853)
      You may want to check your environment for heat or dust, or get better power supplies. I can not remember the last drive I have had fail in the warranty period.
    • by mlts (1038732) *

      It seems to come in waves. Sometimes you get the old drives which work forever without issue, only being replaced because their capacity is pointless. Other times, your RAID arrays are constantly in degraded mode because a batch of HDDs are constantly dropping into prefail status, or just deciding to take a dirt nap.

  • by vhfer (643140) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @02:54PM (#45598247)
    We have hundreds of drives in Coraid SAN shelves. In our first batch of maybe four or five 15-drive shelves, we bought our own drives-- Seagate with 5 year warranties. We had a high initial rate of failure in the first 6 months, followed by a low but steady rate from then until the warranties were up. We had spares, Seagate was good about getting us replacements relatively quickly, were weren't happy, but it was workable.

    All the newer shelves came preloaded with Coraid-approved drives. As I said, there's hundreds of drives involved here, a lot of SATA 1TB and 2TB and some SAS 600GB. I think out of the later drives, we've had two fail. Maybe three.

    Asked about it, Coraid said, yes, the warranty is better on "Enterprise-class" or "RAID-class" drives, but also, the firmware is different. They claim that drives intended for the consumer / SOHO market spend a lot of time retrying marginal reads before declaring an unreadable sector and sparing it. They say that SAN-class drives limit the retry time, because the array controller handles it more efficiently, since it has the big-picture view.

    The also say that the drives are optimized for close-quarters operation, all jammed together in an array, handling vibration and heat build-up slightly differently, and that they have minor differences to keep lubrication from migrating out of the spindle bearing under continuous operation. I don't know but I imagine loss of spindle bearing lube would add vibration and make any but the best reads more marginal.

    I don't know for sure, but we've spent a great deal of US dollars on their products and our experience has borne out the fact that there's a definite difference in arrays.

    As for corporate desktop and/or server use, well, I don't really know. Our servers that have one to four drives were mostly shipped with those drives, so we didn't choose them. I can't tell you if they are enterprise class drives, but I imagine they are, based on the replacement costs. And I know about what some of those costs are, or anyhow I know they were way more than I personally pay for drives for home desktop and server use. I know that because occasionally they fail, and I have to buy new ones.

    • they have minor differences to keep lubrication from migrating out of the spindle bearing under continuous operation. I don't know but I imagine loss of spindle bearing lube

      Yeah? Where does the lube leak to? If it were into platter space, the drive would instantly die. If it were outside of the drive, we'd see it.

      The Coraid folks seem to know their game, so I'm curious how they think this failure mode works.

  • Used to design HDD's (Score:5, Informative)

    by loose electron (699583) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @03:01PM (#45598381) Homepage

    No difference between enterprise and home HDD's that I know of.

    As for what "hammering and heavy use " of a drive is?

    The biggest killer of HDD's is something called the CSS test cycle.

    CSS = Contact Start Stop where the drive is booted up, spun up, and then shut down repetitively.

    Generally, a HDD sitting there spinning away is not what kill them off,
    however turning them on-off-on-off a lot is the most abusive thing that you can do.

    I still think WD makes the best quality out there, but that's just my opinion.

    just my 0.02 worth...

    • by JustNiz (692889)

      >> I still think WD makes the best quality out there, but that's just my opinion.

      Not in my experience. Some while ago I've had several Raptor (10k RPM) drives, they cost a whole lot for their capacity mostly because of their performance, but I also seem to remember they were meant to be enterprise quality.
      None of them lasted more than a year or so. One went down in like 3 months.

  • I wonder how many more slashdot stories will be based upon the same Backblaze story of the "first of its kind" (ignoring Google's older paper) story on hard drive longevity, that doesn't name names?

  • That's an unfair scenario. There could be many quality differences between enterprise and consumer drives that simply don't come up in their environment. I know when I make consumer and enterprise-grade objects, of course the consumer-grade objects work -- I don't build carp -- but the enterprise-grade work better. For many values of better. Most often, that better includes things like a wider temperature range, dirtier air, and more frequent and rougher shipping. Even my packaging is wildly different

  • by Hamsterdan (815291) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @04:46PM (#45600279)

    Until we see some names, those studies are useless...

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