This article’s not borne out of a question, per se. This one’s my own
experience that I want to share.
I know my regular readers are probably sick and tired of me evangelizing
(really just a nice term for “harping on”) the need for regular and complete
backups. (Perhaps almost as tired of that as they are Hotmail password articles
But if you’re not backing up or you think it just doesn’t apply to you – it’s
time to rethink and back up. The end is nearer than you think.
The end of your drive, that is.
My 1.5 Terabytes of Woe
This morning I woke up to failing hard drive: the primary hard drive on my primary machine … again. It had been working just fine since I installed it as a replacement for a prior hard disk failure a few months ago.
As I type this, the repair and recovery software (SpinRite) is doing it’s magic, with a projected completion of … 5 days from now.
Did I mention that this is a 1.5 terabyte drive?
The replacement will be here and installed before the repair operation is completed.
That’s just one of several new ways of thinking about hard drives that I think is important to cover.
Hard Drive Lifespan
How long should a drive last? I have no idea. All I know is that if it contains something that matters Murphy’s Law means that a hard drive probably won’t last as long as you want.
The drive I’m having troubles with was around four months old. That seems young, but then again it was also my primary drive – the drive used the most, and it’s on my primary machine – the machine I use the most.
And it’s the largest drive I own – 1.5TB.
In researching its replacement, I read some very interesting and insightful comments expressing ideas that I think are worth repeating here – if for no other reason than to put the fear of failure in front of you to get you to start backing up.
Drives are Huge
I don’t mean just big, I mean frakkin’ HUGE! I mean, really, one and a half trillion bytes in a single small enclosure? Using my “Bible as a somewhat more understandable measurement of size” approach – that hard drive could hold the full contents of 300,000 copies of the Bible.
Capacity comes at a price, however.
The drives have gotten larger in capacity, but the actual drives are physically the same size. If anything, as the capacities have gotten larger the drives themselves have become smaller. That means that hard drive manufacturers are squeezing more bits per inch on the media putting them right on the bleeding edge of readability.
It’s a well known fact that today’s hard drives have incredible error rates – but you typically don’t see that because of all the error detection and correction techniques that are involved. It’s only when the errors exceed a certain severity or quantity that you and I as users start to see things actually fail.
The important take away? Drives are always closer to failure than you think.
Drives are Cheap
I don’t mean inexpensive, I mean frakkin’ CHEAP! I ordered a replacement drive (downsizing to “only” 1 terabyte) for $70 – including next-day shipping. Seventy dollars. All the major brands were comparably priced.
High capacity disk drives have become a commodity. More importantly: a replaceable commodity.
If your hard drive dies, it’s incredibly cheap to replace it. Heck, you’ll probably get a larger capacity drive as part of the bargain. Such a deal.
Hard drive manufacturers are struggling – not just to stay ahead of each other, but to continue with a viable approach to making money. With drives being as cheap as they are, you know that the manufacturers can’t spend a ton of effort in QA and test on each device. My suspicion is that the number of drives that arrive dead is much higher than it used to be. I’ll also bet that “infant mortality” rates (drives, like mine, that experience a problem within the first few months of use) is also much higher than in the past.
The important take away? Drives are allowed to fail more often because they’re so cheap to replace.
But What About the Data?
Aye, there’s the rub.
The drives may be cheap and easy to replace if they fail – even if they fail often.
But your data? Not so much.
Which leads me to the inevitable and quite expected conclusion: back up.
I may recover my 1.5 TB drive, and I may not. When the replacement arrives I’ll restore my most recent backup and carry on. Absolute worst I’ll reinstall from scratch, but in no case will any meaningful data be lost.
Now, you may never experience a failure. You may have a drive that’s in fantastic shape that’ll last for years.
Or not. You don’t know. And if you think you know, you’re wrong.
If your data is stored in only one place, then it’s not backed up.
If that one place is a hard drive, it may well be more vulnerable than you think.
The solution is simple.