Have hard drives become less reliable?

One reader's spate of hard drive failures leads him to wonder if it's just a run of bad luck or a sign of a more troubling trend in the storage industry

"In the past six months," writes Paul, "I have had to return eight Seagate drives for refurbishment. One was a 2.5, 80G drive, five were 500GB, and two were 750GB. One of these last is going back for to be refurbished for the second time in less than three months." All of Paul's drives were still under warranty, which is a good thing, but replacing hard drives after they have been installed and used to store data is no laughing matter. And isn't this an awfully high rate of failure? Is this just one man with very bad luck or some sort of trend?

"Until this year," says Paul, "I haven't only had to return maybe three hard drives over the course of five years." These were all Seagate drives. "I have used Seagate exclusively for the past 10 to 15 years," he says, "with good results after a rash of Western Digital drive deaths. Maybe the Maxtor purchase has resulted in high failure rate?"

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I contacted Seagate to see if there is an explanation for Paul's bad luck -- perhaps it was a known problem like the one with the high-capacity Barracuda line earlier this year. Though I exchanged several e-mails with a representative there, I could get no official response in time for this post.

Paul's bad luck was not limited to Seagate drives, either. "I was so disappointed with Seagate," he says. "That I decided to try Western Digital again. In the past two months I purchased eight WD 750 Raid drives. Three of them were dead on arrival. My supplier is, of course, very sorry. But even though they have decent buying power, they do not seem to be inclined to hold either company accountable for supplying faulty hard drives. My customers, of course, expect me to repair, replace, and rebuild their systems when hard drives in them fail. But the manufacturer can send relabeled broken drives out as warranty service."

Without some sort of in-depth study (such as the one Google did in its own server farms a couple of years ago, which did find a high rate of mortality in hard drives), it's difficult to determine if this is a trend or simply one man who somehow inadvertently offended the god that watches over data storage.

"My supplier tells me they don't see a pattern that would indicate a problem," says Paul. "I must just be unlucky."

Is this just Paul hitting a patch of bad luck? Are others in the same boat? Have any of you seen a pattern of increased drive failure? Please let us know in the comments. (Comments on hard drives that exceed expectations are also welcome.) Not only will Paul's misery love to know it has company, but we might be able to identify a trend.

Got gripes? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "Have hard drives become less reliable?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in storage at InfoWorld.com.

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