What's the reliability of modern hard drives when left on a shelf for a few years?
August 21, 2011 10:50 AM   Subscribe

What's the reliability of modern hard drives when left on a shelf for a few years?

Is there any way to determine if it's safe to leave a bunch of drives with data on a shelf for a few years? If I do that, what's the likelihood that they'll work / be readable when I go pick them up again?
posted by Caviar to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The advice I've heard is to spin them up at least once or twice a year, and rotate information onto newer drives when you can. Also, you want the information backed up on two drives, preferably in two locations.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:17 AM on August 21, 2011


I had a 300GB WD Passport USB portable drive that I had set on a shelf for about a year (I actually forgot about it). One day I found the drive and plugged it into my Mac to see what was on it and to possibly copy stuff onto it. The drive mounted but and I could read to it, but I couldn't write to it. There was nothing important on the drive, so I tried to reformat to Mac and Windows formats. I tried repairing it with Disk Utility and Disk Warrior. Nothing worked. I'm pretty sure that my leaving it on the shelf for a year didn't kill it, but if there was something important on there, I'd be pretty bummed to discover when I needed it that it failed.

I guess what I'm saying is you should spin them up every once in a while and have multiple backups if it is important data you're protecting. Checking them to see if they work every few months may not make them more reliable, but it will help you quickly act when you find out there's a problem and may be able to recover things quickly.
posted by birdherder at 11:32 AM on August 21, 2011


I can't answer this exactly, but for a definitive answer, you're going to want to read up on "Bit rot."

Here's a discussion that scratches the surface of what you're discussing.

Basically, you're going to have a tough time figuring this out, because hard drives (and their overlying filesystems) are not designed with long-term offline storage in mind.

LTO tape is designed with this in mind, and has a more robust error-checking mechanism built in. That said, tape backup has its own unique set of reliability issues, and I've personally always been put off by the fact that a purportedly "archival" medium has such a high rate of failure in the wild.

Oh, and obviously, said shelf should be in a cool, dark, and dry place.
posted by schmod at 11:33 AM on August 21, 2011


I can't answer this exactly, but for a definitive answer, you're going to want to read up on "Bit rot."

you called?

The drive mounted but and I could read to it, but I couldn't write to it.

Any chance that was an NTFS-formatted disk you plugged into your Mac? OSX doesn't support writing to NTFS volumes (or if it does, that was added very recently).


Is there any way to determine if it's safe to leave a bunch of drives with data on a shelf for a few years? If I do that, what's the likelihood that they'll work / be readable when I go pick them up again?

In the early '90s Sun workstations were slightly infamous for having trouble coming back to life after being powered off for a few months. Turns out the problem was a production run of hard drives with badly formatted bearing grease. When the drives sat for too long, the grease coagulated, creating too much friction for the drive motor to overcome. I wouldn't rule out stiction as a risk entirely, but if you are talking about a small handful of drives then I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:46 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I run a small IT shop and occasionally have to swap out old IDE HDDs from a stash I have for a couple of legacy machines that control ancient lab instruments. We're talking upwards of 10-11 years old HDDs. Each of the few times I've had to pull one (they actually are used to make backups of this one PC --don't ask, I don't have ownership of that project) the file structure on the spare was still intact and readable. They were all kept in a climate controlled storeroom inside a cupboard, so YMMV. But, make backups anyway.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:00 PM on August 21, 2011


tape backup has its own unique set of reliability issues, and I've personally always been put off by the fact that a purportedly "archival" medium has such a high rate of failure in the wild.

This has been my experience as well, which is why I'm even considering this.
posted by Caviar at 3:20 PM on August 21, 2011


I've booted up recently on several drives that were around 15 years old, I'm talking between 200 to 1000MB. So from the perspective of mechanical workings, they work...as for if the original data would be there after that long...I don't know, I wouldn't bet on it either way. I agree with the above post that suggests to move the data every few years.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 3:58 PM on August 21, 2011


Hard drives are now so much cheaper than tape that you could make three copies of everything and still have change left over. So do that. If you use three different makes of hard drive, I would expect the chances of all three of them failing at the same time to be negligible.
posted by flabdablet at 5:12 PM on August 21, 2011


I've been considering blue ray disks for archiving...have you thought about that?

I really have no ideas about the details, but it seems it would be a lot easier than buring dvds, which was my old style.
posted by sully75 at 8:49 AM on August 22, 2011


I've been considering blue ray disks for archiving...have you thought about that?

Blu-ray media is expensive. If it is anything like burnt CD/DVD media, then hard drive platters are far more reliable.

Even pressed media isn't all that archival - the plastic is just permeable that the thin metal layer can oxidize over time, given the right environment.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:29 AM on August 22, 2011


Optical media is generally not a recommended archival format. They make expensive discs (DVDs at least) with claims of longer life, but I wouldn't suggest going that route.

Tape backup is reliable, but very expensive and subject to the system you buy into. For the price reason, I'm sticking with several hard drive copies of all archival information (Video production - Raw Footage, Project Archives, and Completed Spots).
posted by shinynewnick at 8:54 PM on August 22, 2011


I've come back to burned CD/DVD discs after only a few years to find that the majority of them are completely unreadable. They are _NOT_ archive material. Tape is supposed to be archival, but in my experience, tapes also fail at a remarkable rate.
posted by Caviar at 8:10 AM on August 24, 2011


« Older I'm looking for a mail merge s...   |  I'm having a difficult time tr... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.