Backblaze recently provided consumers with valuable data on what they can expect from their HDD investments. In their recent blog post, the company looked at data from the life expectancy of several brand-name hard disk drives that are seen in use on their servers. Companies that made the list are HGST, Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital.
Backblaze analyzes HDDs over ten years to see the trend in their life expectancy
Consumers should understand that the length of life across HDD brands can vary, even with the top-rated brands. With Backblaze's recent data, they looked at HDDs that range from 4 TB up to 14 TB. The hope the company has is to answer the question of the lifeline of a hard drive that a consumer is currently looking into investing in for the future.
Backblaze has tabulated their data analysis starting almost ten years ago — April 2013 to be exact — researched the company's hard drives in large quantities and applied the Kaplan-Meir life expectancy curve. The Kaplan Meier Curve offers a visual representation that shows the probability of an event at a particular time gap. The curve is expected to approach the actual survival life under the studied subject (in this case, hard disk drives). The most significant determining factor in the analysis is ensuring that the company had plenty of drive to apply the curve, and it appears they successfully answered several questions. Readers should note that some of the hard drives on the list did not make the life expectancy by the end of the culmination of data, which was March 31, 2022.
Let's look at the 4TB HDD analysis, where Backblaze looked at the HGST HMS5C4040BLE640 (known as the HGST MegaScale to clients) and Seagate's ST4000DM000 HDD. Before testing, HGST was acquired by Western Digital in 2012 but remained with the name on the analyzed HDDs. These two drives were utilized in 2013 and lasted a little over a few years.
The graph above shows that Seagate's 4TB HDD life expectancy drops significantly over 72 months. Eighty-one percent of Seagate's HDDs lasted during that period. However, HGST's drives lasted the same period with a much higher percentage — ninety-seven percent of the analyzed HDDs.
However, many more items go into a purchase decision outside of "shelf life." Consumers' thoughts such as performance, purchasing accessibility, and cost play a significant factor in deciding on investing in a dependable HDD.
From a cost perspective, HGST HDDs are almost 1.5 times more expensive than Seagate's equivalent drive. Seagate drives are also more convenient than HGST's drives to purchase in larger quantities. HGST's focused segment is the enterprise marketplace, meaning that potential buyers are looking for highly reliable drives, explaining the increased cost. Seagate's market for the 4TB HDDs is desktop PCs. Consumer PCs are expected to be more consumable, meaning they do not last as long and need upgrades or replacements at a higher rate.
Backblaze does consider other metrics in their analysis. For one, the typical consumer is quick to change out drives, and when looking at the research, Seagate drives showed that 4,200 HDDs more than HGST's drives during that period did not survive. The number of drives needing to be replaced each day — each year — adds up, especially when a technician must spend two-thirds of an hour replacing hard drives.
Two HDDs were analyzed again in the 8TB segment, but both were from Seagate. First the consumer-level ST8000DM002 and the ST8000NM0055, an enterprise-level HDD from the Exos sub-brand. In a surprising turn of events, the consumer level outlasted the enterprise level HDD, but only a tiny fraction during the six years. 95% of the consumer HDDs survived, while 93.6% of the enterprise drives lasted during the analysis period.
The 12TB HDD was the start of severe numbers from the analysis by Backblaze. The drives compared were from Seagate, with their Exos X14 (ST12000NM0008) and the Exos X16 (ST12000NM001G) HDDs along with one HGST model, the HGST HUH721212ALN604. The HGST HDD in this comparison may have the newly stickered "Western Digital" branding, but that is less of the point as WD utilized HGST's technology for their drives.
The above graph could be confusing, as the amount of time is reduced by a few years. The explanation is that the higher we go with capacity sizes, the less time these drives have been in the marketplace due to newer technology offering larger memory sizes. Also, HGST's drives cost much more for performance, so those consumers are getting their return on investment. The results show us that, once again, HGST and their preceding technology outlasted Seagate and their two Exos drives. Readers should note that the three drives also offered the same period for their warranty, which was five years for each drive.
Toshiba, Western Digital, and Seagate round out the last of the analysis with their 14 TB HDD offerings. Toshiba offered an enterprise HDD (MG07ACA14TA), Western Digital (WUH721414ALE6L4), and Seagate (ST14000NM001G) offered high-density HDDs. Every brand showed a 99% life expectancy, with Seagate falling behind compared to the other drives in the graph. However, that indicates that the company improved its technology over time and lost less life when it reached 14TB storage capacities. Again, we see a shorter time analyzed due to these drives not being on the market for over four years.
Toshiba's drive has a gradual decline past the two-year mark. The failure rate increased for the company's drive, so it is unsure why this could happen and if it will affect future drives. But, what the company projected for the hard disk drives in comparison to the actual life of the hard drives is enormous.
Throughout the testing, due to reliability, Western Digital drives were more favorable among customers than Seagate. However, cost also comes into factor, as shown in the 12TB and 14TB graph analysis failure rates.