Data Management

Backblaze’s hard drive fleet data confirms: Age isn’t just a number

Backblaze data shows that the bathtub curve is alive and well, at least on the back end.
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· 3 min read

We all know the saying, “Time waits for no man.” Turns out, the same thing applies to hard drives, according to cloud storage and backup provider Backblaze’s 2022 stats on its fleet of over 230,000 drives.

Backblaze’s Principal Cloud Storage Storyteller Andy Klein wrote in a blog post that data shows the company’s drives’ annualized failure rate (AFR) rose from 1.01% in 2021 to 1.37% in 2022. Every model of hard drive operated by Backblaze saw AFR go up year over year compared to 2021—the sole exception being its 16 TB drives, which are significantly newer than the rest of the fleet at an average age of 13.3 months.

Backblaze’s drives have historically followed the well-known “bathtub curve”—that’s the AFR pattern where defective drives die quickly, and the remaining ones tend to experience smooth sailing until the rate spikes again from age-induced mechanical failure.

Bathtubs aside, Backblaze has previously reported its newer models of drives have proven more resilient earlier in the curve than older ones. Several factors could be contributing to the increased initial survival rates of newer models, such as sturdier construction, increased manufacturer testing, and receded effects from a 2011 flood crisis in Thailand that had lingering effects on the data storage supply chain.

Backblaze’s oldest drives are 6 TB Seagate and 4 TB Toshiba models, which have average ages of 92.5 and 91.3 months (nearly eight years) respectively. The Seagate drives had a “very respectable” AFR of 0.68% in 2022, while the Toshibas’ AFR jumped from 2.04% in 2021 to 3.13% in 2022, according to the report.

While Backblaze’s smaller drives have higher AFR than larger ones, Klein told IT Brew that’s a simple function of age. Larger drives were introduced over time in response to ballooning customer storage needs and are thus newer, with Backblaze planning to replace older units with 16 TB or larger ones throughout 2023.

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Klein told IT Brew its annual fleet data is a useful addendum to manufacturer data for enterprises looking to gather more data on the longevity and reliability of specific models of drives.

“What’s interesting is there’s just nothing like it out there,” Klein said. “You know, you get a scant amount of information from the manufacturer…They all seem to say the same thing. Either the annualized failure rate is going to be 1%, or it’s going to be slightly less than 1%.”

“Obviously, that’s not the case,” Klein added. “We’ve seen that over the years, where different drive models fail at different rates, under the same set of circumstances.”

Western Digital drives had the highest reliability at a Q4 2022 AFR of just 0.2%, according to the report. They were followed by HGST (0.51%), Toshiba (0.82%), and Seagate (1.87%). Klein cautioned against drawing hasty conclusions about the latter manufacturers, as higher failure rates don’t necessarily translate to lower cost effectiveness over time. Klein also advised fleets composed of varied drives can be more resilient, as the quality of a given manufacturers’ drives often varies by model.

“You want to have a whole bunch of different manufacturers, have different driving models in there,” he told IT Brew. “Just in case you do have a problem that crops up later that you weren’t anticipating, which occasionally happens.”—TM

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Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming, IT Brew delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.