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What Hard Drive Should You Buy? Backblaze Releases Q1 2017 HDD Reliability Results

By Kishore Sawh on June 10th 2017

The popular data storage service, Backblaze (probably more popular now that Amazon has prematurely killed their ‘unlimited’ service), has not long ago released their hard drive stats for Q1 2017, and, as always, provides some interesting insight.

As we’ve said before, the arms race of photographic tech makes for a rapidly growing number of megapixels, number of photos, and essentially means an exponential growth of data we all need stored, sort of along the lines of Moore’s Law. For the creative, all of that data represents our life’s work, and life’s pleasures; all of it digitally stored, and thus we must do what we can so it doesn’t vanish into some silicon wasteland, leaving us cold and alone, and possibly broke.

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So, since we are all faced with the task of figuring out a back-up solution, we all arrive and are faced with the same questions: How much storage so I need, what’s the best hard drive brand/form/size/line and so on. BackBlaze currently runs using primarily using consumer drives, but in such vast quantities (82,516) it puts them in a unique position to test drives that you and I could buy, and report their findings, which is something they’re in the habit of doing.

The last time we checked Backblaze’s data was just after their Q1 2016 report, and we have seen a number of changes since then, both in how they operate and in what their findings show us of the market. Last year I spoke with Andy Klein of Backblaze to help make sense of the stats they were putting out, and to ask some blunt questions. One of which was simply, what drives he recommended for photographers? The recommendations then? As follows:

Seagate 4TB Barracuda 3.5’ Drive
HGST 4TB
HGST 2TB

But that was then and this is now, and since then the company has added 10,577 drives (about an 18% jump), significantly more 8TB drives, and now include some enterprise class also. So where do we stand now? Well, first we should address that which is unavoidable: the general negative sentiments so many have toward Seagate on a whole, and then why Andy would recommend one of their drives.

In February last year rumors surfaced that Seagate was being sued for the poor performance of their 3TB Barracuda drives. At the time Andy had told me that the problem was not so much a Seagate-wide issue as much as it was a model issue, and while that still points to some Seagate QC problems, the fact that the other Seagate drives they were replaced with fared so well was promising, and the data corroborated Andy’s sentiments.

A year on, however, looking at the charts you’d notice yet another one of Seagate’s models being used had an annualized failure rate of 35%, which is so far beyond any of the others that it does nothing if not reinforce many people’s sensitivity toward the brand. But again, it doesn’t show all the data and Backblaze themselves suggest that the lifetime rate is actually closer to 7.5%. Not to mention that other 4TB Seagate models were in the 3% range.

Perhaps some of the most interesting insights gleaned from the report, however, is just how well higher capacity drives are doing. 8TB drives from HGST and Seagate were all performing extremely well, with the HGST having an annualized failure rate of 0% and Seagate’s models between 1-2%. Granted, HGST drives are top performers with consistency, but their price is prohibitive, and even Backblaze only has 45 of those 8TB drives compared to over 12,000 Seagate 8TB drives. The reason they went with such drives came down primarily to price:

“Some of you may have noticed we now have a significant number of enterprise drives in our data center, namely 2,459 Seagate 8 TB drives, model: ST8000NM055. The HGST 8 TB drives were the first true enterprise drives we used as data drives in our data centers, but we only have 45 of them. So, why did we suddenly decide to purchase 2,400+ of the Seagate 8 TB enterprise drives? There was a very short period of time, as Seagate was introducing new and phasing out old drive models, that the cost per terabyte of the 8 TB enterprise drives fell within our budget.”

So where does this leave photographers for choice? Well, Seagate drives are probably nothing to be scared of, though it certainly would seem they have some QC issue with some of their lower classed drives and inconsistency is not something we like regarding data back-up. But keep in mind that many high-end and premium storage products and services use Seagate as the backbone. I, for instance, have a lovely LaCie 6Big 48TB on my desk that runs 6 Seagate Enterprise 8TB drives, and it’s a system I have good faith in. It would just appear you’ve got to be choosey which Seagates you go for.

It’s good to see the 8TB drives doing so well as that should make life easier for many content creators with lots of data who like to load-up and file drives away, but BackBlaze will have further reporting on those larger capacity types after Q2.

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You can check out the full detail on BackBlaze’s report.

Source: Backblaze

About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

4 Comments

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  1. Ed Rhodes

    bascially, don’t be an early adopter with new Seagate drives. Wait for backblaze to be the guinea pig for you.

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  2. John Montesi

    Good article but I would have liked to have seen an ‘Average’ colunm to see which brands/models have the best overall life span.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I agree that’s something desirable, John, but if you go to the full post on their site you may get a better idea. That said, even from the chart listed you can tell the HGST drives perform extremely well. It also warrants saying that to make a broad sweep about any brand seems to be difficult given the varying levels of drives produced. 

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