Backblaze HDD report shows the resilience of hard disk drives

With an almost flawless failure rate despite constant use, mechanical drives still have a place in computing.

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Given the continued growth in capacity and performance of enterprise SSDs, it would seem mechanical hard disk drives are set to fade out eventually. But if they do, it won't be any time soon. Cloud storage provider Backblaze’s quarterly drive performance report shows that hard disks have remarkable resilience despite the abuse they take.

Backblaze has storage pods in data center colocations that include more than 129,000 HDDs from various manufacturers, ranging in capacity from 4TB to 16TB. With that many drives deployed, Backblaze has a unique perspective on the durability of different hard drives.

Hard drives go through a specific lifecycle when they're put into service at Backblaze. Initially, data is written to the drives until they're almost full. Once the drives are full, most of the activity is reading and some file deletions. As files are deleted, the space is used to write more files. That last stage is how they operate for most of their lives, with some drives being busier than others. The workload is typically steady but not intense.

The company tracks the number of drives and failures from vendors and various capacities to come up with an estimated annualized failure rate (AFR), which is based on the equation (drive failures/drives days/366) * 100. Drive days represents the number of days the drives were operational during the period of observation, and Backblaze uses 366 because this year is a leap year.

As the chart shows, the AFR for Q1 2020 was 1.07%, which is the lowest AFR for any quarter since Backblaze started keeping track of failures in 2013 (and back then it had much fewer drives).

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