Hard Drive Failure Frequency


Today’s Question: You mentioned that hard drives fail periodically. I’m curious to know how often you experience hard drive failures, and if you think this is just something we should expect from time to time.

Tim’s Quick Answer: I typically experience a hard drive failure about once every few years. This is based on having more than a dozen hard drives in active use, including primary drives and at least two backup drives for each primary.

More Detail: Hard drive failures are a fact of life, and so really it is not a matter of if a hard drive will fail but rather when. Fortunately, today’s hard drives are overall very reliable. However, failures do occur. I experience a failure about once every three years on average, though sometimes I go longer without a failure and sometimes I experience more than one failure in a single year.

I have also “retired” hard drives that hadn’t yet failed but had given me reason to distrust them, such as if a file fails to copy or gets corrupted, or the hard drive fails to mount through the operating system.

It is difficult to gauge hard drive reliability based on a small data set. I often hear from photographers who say they have had a very bad experience with multiple failures from a single hard drive manufacturer. However, overall industry data supports that failures are relatively rare.

I have actually gotten to the point where I don’t worry about hard drive failures. To be sure, I consider them a minor annoyance, but they don’t generally cause me to lose any data. That is because I maintain a consistent backup workflow that ensures when a hard drive fails I have a backup I can recover from quite easily.

When a hard drive does fail, I’m able to recover from a synchronized backup created using GoodSync (http://timgrey.me/greybackup), which means the backup is an exact copy of the original drive. Therefore, the biggest issue I face when a hard drive fails is that I need to purchase a replacement for the failed drive and create a new backup, so that I’m back to having a primary drive and at least two backup drives.

I should add that in addition to my local backups I use Backblaze (https://timgrey.me/onlinebackup) as an online backup solution to provide yet another layer of redundancy.