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Cloud backup firm BackBlaze has posted some interesting data over the course of the past couple of months, including one in which the company talked about estimating the life expectancy of hard drives. Turns out such a task is tricky business even for a firm that keeps over 25,000 HDDs spinning at all times. BackBlaze also posted data suggesting that enterprise drives might actually be less reliable than consumer HDDs, but neither study really answered the question the company is most frequently asked -- which drive should a consumer buy? If failure rate is the only concern, BackBlaze says Hitachi is the most reliable HDD brand around.
By the end of 2013, BackBlaze had 27,134 consumer grade drives spinning in its storage pods. The majority of those drives were nearly equally split between Seagate and Hitachi, followed by Western Digital in a distant third. BackBlaze also employed some Toshiba and Samsung drives, though only 76 of them between the two.
"Why do we have the drives we have? Basically, we buy the least expensive drives that will work," BackBlaze explains in a blog post. "When a new drive comes on the market that looks like it would work, and the price is good, we test a pod full and see how they perform. The new drives go through initial setup tests, a stress test, and then a couple weeks in production. (A couple of weeks is enough to fill the pod with data.) If things still look good, that drive goes on the buy list. When the price is right, we buy it."
Some drives simply don't work in BackBlaze's environment, such as Western Digital's Green 3TB and Seagate's LP (low power) 2TB drives, both of which begin to accumulate errors almost immediately when deployed. BackBlaze suspects it's due to vibration, but whatever the reason, they don't work and are therefore not included in the firm's analysis.
Out of the drives that are included, Hitachi's failed least often. Depending on the drive, the annual failure rate observed was anywhere from 0.9 percent to no more than 1.5 percent. As far as long term survival rates, BackBlaze says that 96.9 percent of its Hitachi drives remained running after 36 months, versus 94.8 percent of its Western Digital drives and 73.5 percent of its Seagate drives.
"If the price were right, we would be buying nothing but Hitachi drives. They have been rock solid, and have had a remarkably low failure rate," BackBlaze says.