Your hard drive just crashed. This is the last text you’re going to see on your computer. Right now. Are you okay with that?
I know. This is a bad time. You have a lot going on today, and you have to have your computer. That project you’ve been working on for the last few weeks is just about finished. All you need to do is print it out…
More than 90% of new information in the world is being stored on magnetic media. It has been estimated that the world produced around 1.5 exabytes of unique new information last year. That’s more information than humankind produced in the previous 5,000 years. To store that much information would require 297 million DVDs. Or, maybe you’d prefer to use 2.8 million 500-gig hard drives. And that’s just one year’s worth of new data.
My computer doesn’t have that much storage space, and neither does yours. But most of this data is being stored on computer hard drives. And let’s face it: if you have a lot of data to save, you’re going to used the least expensive hard drives you can find.
That brings us to Google. They store quite a bit of data. After all, they keep track of where everything is on the Internet. They even keep their own cached copies of a lot of it. That means they have a little experience with hard drives. They use lots of them. They’ve seen them die. And they’ve taken good notes.
I’m going to overgeneralize the results on purpose. If you want the details, go look at the study. About 3% of hard drives fail within the first three months. After this initial period, the failure rate falls to 1.7% for the first year. Of the drives that survive that first year, about 8% fail in each of the next two years. The rates then fall to about 7% for each of the next two years. After a little number crunching, we can estimate that more than one out of every four new hard drives will fail within five years.
In my house (when I’m home with my laptop), there are eight hard drives in use. We can expect that, within the next five years, two of them are going to fail. That would be fine if I get to pick which two, but unfortunately, I don’t. At school, the problem gets more complex. We have about 1200 computers that are six years old or less. If we can expect 300 bad hard drives over the next five years, that’s more than one per week. Fortunately, most of our data is stored on servers, which get backed up every night in multiple places. But it’s still a troublesome issue.
I think I better go backup my laptop now.