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Hard Drive Reliability Study Flawed? 237

Posted by samzenpus
from the on-the-other-hand dept.
storagedude writes "A recent study of hard drive reliability by Backblaze was deeply flawed, according to Henry Newman, a longtime HPC storage consultant. Writing in Enterprise Storage Forum, Newman notes that the tested Seagate drives that had a high failure rate were either very old or had known issues. The study also failed to address manufacturer's specifications, drive burn-in and data reliability, among other issues. 'The oldest drive in the list is the Seagate Barracuda 1.5 TB drive from 2006. A drive that is almost 8 years old! Since it is well known in study after study that disk drives last about 5 years and no other drive is that old, I find it pretty disingenuous to leave out that information. Add to this that the Seagate 1.5 TB has a well-known problem that Seagate publicly admitted to, it is no surprise that these old drives are failing.'"
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Hard Drive Reliability Study Flawed?

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  • Re:In all fairness (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:14PM (#46106109) Homepage

    Back in '99 we used to get factory sealed boxes of Seagate drives DOA, or already having cluster collapse. There's nothing quite like 250-500+ brand new units which are all dead or dying, and then shipping them back. I've only started using Seagate again in the last few years.

  • by jgotts (2785) <`jgotts' `at' `gmail.com'> on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:15PM (#46106117)

    I've either personally owned or purchased for companies I've worked for dozens of hard drives of all (except ESDI) technologies including MFM/RLL, IDE (parallel and serial), SCSI (original, wide, ultra wide, etc.) of form factors from full height 5.25 inch to 2.5 inch, dating back to 1991, and in my experience most hard drives last until you throw them away after 10 or 15 years because they're too small.

    A few hard drives die in the first 6 months, and maybe 5-10% die in 3-5 years. Saying that disk drives last about 5 years just doesn't agree with my experience at all. Hard drives essentially last an infinite amount of time, defined by me as until they're so small that their storage can be replaced for under a dollar.

    I do agree with the author's other points. Certain lines of hard drives have more like a 100% failure rate after 5 years. One 250 GB hard drive I purchased was RMA replaced with a 300 GB model because the 250 GB line was essentially faulty.

    I think these studies might be looking at 7200 or 10000 RPM SCSI units under extremely high use. That's not how consumers use hard drives.

  • Re:In all fairness (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Seta (934439) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:30PM (#46106255)

    Eh, it depends. I've had plenty of bad luck with Seagate's consumer drives dying pretty quickly. On the other hand, I've yet to have to replace a single enterprise ES (or ES2) series drive. We use Seagate's ES series drives in the arrays we depend on and Western Digital black drives in the arrays we don't care too much about (video editing rigs). Though I said, "Don't care too much about", I at least expected them to last more than a few months. Unfortunately, a few months is a tall order for Western Digital. The black drives die so often that their entire warranty department probably knows me by name...

  • someone got paid (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:32PM (#46106267)

    Sorry, you're full of shit Henry Newman. How many people follow specifications about burn-in on a drive when they buy it wholesale OEM and it comes in nothing more than a plastic bag? How many people only buy drives released recently? If you're like most people and you want a 1.5TB drive you go out and buy the cheapest one that meets your needs. If Seagate still has 8 yr old drives on the market, then it's damned right that their failure rate should be considered. And so what if a drive "has a well-known problem that Seagate publicly admitted to"? As long as Seagate publicly admits all the issues with every drive they release we should then adjust stats to eliminate those flaws? That's ridiculous. This study was about "If you go out and buy a drive off the market, this is the rate you can expect it to fail at." I don't think any consumer that got a Seagate drive, had it fail and lose all their data, would then say "Oh! Well they publicly admitted to a problem! Shit! My bad!"

    Sounds like Mr Newman is going to get a nice paycheck soon.

  • Re:In all fairness (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Drew M. (5831) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:41PM (#46106335) Homepage

    I've got ~170 failed Seagate Enterprise 500G drives sitting here in my cube. That's pretty close to a 50% failure rate after 4 years of that fleet. Sadly Dell who branded them won't warranty them after 1 year. I'm pretty close to playing hard drive dominoes with them and posting that on youtube. Also noteworthy, we have almost as many Western Digital drives of that same generation with just one failure. Due to this, my company refuses to buy any more Seagates until we see things get better.

  • Revisionist History (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:48PM (#46106379)

    People seem to forget that Seagate denied the issue for almost a year.
    I remember.
    I was a seagate buyer, before they lied. It was my preferred vendor. We had a number of drives in disk arrays, but when it was time to swap them out, I avoided Seagate as replacements. Never had any data loss due to Seagate drives, but the company was a client of the software my team wrote for enterprise customers, so I did get a view on the edges of the company. Something changed.

    Last year, those drives were 6 yrs old and had never gave us any issues, but old drives can't be trusted. The new drives were Hitachi - because I can read reliability reports. I'm still using the old Seagate for unimportant things from time to time. Mainly transporting large amounts of data. No issues and if there are any at this point, the old drives have exceeded expectations.

    However, I don't plan to buy another Seagate drive again. They lied! Didn't step up and tell the truth. That is a management issue, not technical, and I remember it. It was a management failure. I will always remember it and were I work (BTW, I'm a CIO) - we will never buy Seagate drives again, if there is a choice.

    Life and work is too important to deal with liars.

  • by Nuitari The Wiz (1123889) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:54PM (#46106423)

    My experience tends to mirror Backblaze, both with my own personnal business and as an employee at 2 different companies.

    Seagates would always fail prematurely, but usually in a way that is noticeable through SMART monitoring. Interestingly it matches up with when they acquired Maxtor, which also started going bad when they bought Quantum. With my colocated servers for my side business I used to have to go at least twice a month to replace a failed drive. I eventually gave up on Seagate and replaced all but 1 drive (a spare raid member) with a mix of WD and Hitachi. I'm also really pissed at Seagate to have slipped so much in reliability, especially with their 7200.11 and early 7200.12 drives.

    WD would fail sometimes, near when they were new. Where I worked previously, we had a policy of mixing new and old WD drives in a new server. It was a lenghty process but helped avoid losing a simple RAID1 setup.

    Hitachi very good and usually inexpensive.

    Where I'm working now we're trying out Toshiba and so far one drive failed out of 12, but that sample size is way too small and its not been long enough to truly tell how it will go.

  • by The Grim Reefer (1162755) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:55PM (#46106429)

    BS. I have had at least 2/3 of my newer seagates fail. From 500 gigs to 2TB drives. At LEAST 10 in the last 3 years. In the same time I have had 1 of 6 hitachi and 2 of 18 western digital. I will NEVER buy another seagate drive. Just lost my external 1.5TB USB3 drives go last week with 0 warning and TON of my data. I hate seagate with a passion that I feel for no other.

    Hard drive manufacturers are extremely cyclical in quality. I've said it on /. many times, but back in the day they all went from the bottom of the reliability and performance list to the top on a yearly basis. Now that we have fewer drive manufacturers to choose from it's probably closer to every 3-5 years. I have a 500 MB Seagate external that just died that's at 7+ years old. Actually the HDD is fine, the electronics for the USB controller died. I also have a 12GB Maxtor that was in a BSD box that I just retired. It was on that box for 14 or 15 years. I actually had 12 years of up time on that system at one point. I've had plenty WD drives fail from Velociraptors to the consumer grade drives. Seagate seems about on par with all the rest. Most SCSI drives I've had seem to last forever though. If you care about reliable, get some 15K RPM drives. Their fast as hell and usually last forever, or until they get too small for your needs.

  • Re:In all fairness (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Swave An deBwoner (907414) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:57PM (#46106437)

    In mid-December 1987, Miniscribe's management, with Wiles' approval and Schleibaum's assistance, engaged in an extensive cover-up which included recording the shipment of bricks as in-transit inventory. To implement the plan, Miniscribe employees first rented an empty warehouse in Boulder, Colorado, and procured ten, forty-eight foot exclusive-use trailers. They then purchased 26,000 bricks from the Colorado Brick Company.

    On Saturday, December 18, 1987, Schleibaum, Taranta, Huff, Lorea and others gathered at the warehouse. Wiles did not attend. From early morning to late afternoon, those present loaded the bricks onto pallets, shrink wrapped the pallets, and boxed them. The weight of each brick pallet approximated the weight of a pallet of disk drives. The brick pallets then were loaded onto the trailers and taken to a farm in Larimer County, Colorado.

    Miniscribe's books, however, showed the bricks as in-transit inventory worth approximately $4,000,000. Employees at two of Miniscribe's buyers, CompuAdd and CalAbco, had agreed to refuse fictitious inventory shipments from Miniscribe totaling $4,000,000. Miniscribe then reversed the purported sales and added the fictitious inventory shipments into the company's inventory records.

    Find the full text here: http://www.justice.gov/osg/briefs/1996/w961430w.txt [justice.gov]

    Now, though, Seagate is not Miniscribe.

  • Re:In all fairness (Score:5, Interesting)

    by YoungHack (36385) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @10:15PM (#46106533)

    This reflects my anecdotal experience of late as well. My Dell server just turned 3 years old (and I had a 3 year service agreement on it). It came with three 1-terabyte drives. All failed before my service period ended and were replaced; the last of the three was replaced this past summer. 100% failure of the original drives in less than 3 years.

  • Betteridge's Law (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sparohok (318277) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @10:30PM (#46106613)

    No.

    Henry Newman's response, however, is deeply flawed.

    1) Newman complains that average drive age is a "useless statistic." But he seems to prefer "time since product release" which is far worse than useless -- it is an obviously incorrect way to estimate the age of a drive population and is directly contradicted by the average age data reported in the blog post.
    2) Newman has questions about Backblaze's burn in. He can find answers by googling "Backblaze burn in" to learn more about the company's remarkably transparent operations. Beach does not go into these details because an effective blog post will focus on its key conclusions rather than discussing every detail of methodology. It is not a research paper.
    3) Newman digresses into hard error rate which is unrelated to drive failures. I look forward to a future Backblaze blog post about error rates. In any case since all these drives are consumer drives and all but one have the same specified error rate it is a non-sequiter.
    4) Newman points out that Backblaze probably vastly exceeds manufacturer specs for drive throughput. I think this is exactly the point. Is there really enough difference in reliability between commodity and enterprise drives to justify their price difference? Or is it just a form of price discrimination? Does the spec sheet reflect reality or is it a marketing-driven fiction?

    Overall this article strikes me as being written by an industry flack: someone who is more interested in parroting jargon and received wisdom rather than indulging in genuine curiosity.

"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us in trouble. It's the things we know that ain't so." -- Artemus Ward aka Charles Farrar Brown

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