Published On: Mon, Apr 15th, 2013

The real truth about the impact of heavy use and high temperatures on hard disk drive failure

Report on the impact of heavy use and high temperatures on hard disk drive failure


A report examining 100,000 commercial hard drives, ranging from 80GB to 400GB in capacity, used at Google since 2001 has revealed the impact of heavy use and high temperatures on hard drive failure may be overstated.

Most people believe that hard disks which are subject to heavy use are more likely to fail than those used intermittently. We also tend to think hard disk preferred cool temperatures to hotter environments.

However the results from Google’s report appear to paint a more complex picture.

Google uses “off-the-shelf” drives to store cached web pages and services Google employs its own file system to organise the storage of data, using inexpensive commercially available hard drives rather than bespoke systems.

Hard drives less than three years old and frequently used are unlikely to fail as compared to similarly aged hard drives that are used infrequently, according to a report compiled by Eduardo Pinheiro, Wolf-Dietrich Weber and Luiz Andre Barroso, that was presented to a storage conference in California.

“One possible explanation for this behaviour is the survival of the fittest theory,” said the authors, speculating that drives which failed early on in their lifetime had been removed from the overall sample leaving only the older, more robust units.

The report showed that there was a clear trend showing lower temperatures are associated with higher failure rates and only at very high temperatures is there a slight reversal of this trend.

Hard drives which are three years old and older were more likely to suffer a failure when used in warmer environments.

“This is a surprising result, which could indicate that data centre or server designers have more freedom than previously thought when setting operating temperatures for equipment containing disk drives,” said the authors.

The report also found drives with scan errors (problems found on the surface of a disk) are 10 times more likely to fail than the group without the errors.

Once a drive gets its first scan error, it is 39 times more likely to fail within 60 days than drives without the scan error.

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