How long do disk drives last?

By  /  November 12th, 2013


How long do disk drives last? The short answer is: we don’t know yet, but it’s longer than you might guess.

Why does a company that keeps more than 25,000 disk drives spinning all the time not know how long they last? Backblaze has been providing reliable and unlimited online backup for over five years. For the past four years, we’ve had enough drives to provide good statistics, but 74% 78% of the drives we buy are living longer than four years. So while 26% 22% of drives fail in their first four years, and we have detailed information about the failure rates of drives in their first four years, we don’t yet know what will happen beyond that. So how long do drives last? Keep reading.

How Drives Are Used At Backblaze

Backblaze uses lots of hard drives for storing data. 45 drives are mounted in each Backblaze Storage Pod, and the Storage Pods are mounted in racks in our data centers. As new customers sign up, we buy more disk drives, test them, and deploy them. We are up to 75 petabytes of cloud storage now.

Before being deployed, each Backblaze Storage Pod is tested, including tests on all of the drives in it. Recently, Andy posted about Poor Stephen, a disk drive that failed this testing. His post describes the process Backblaze uses to set up, load test, and deploy a Storage Pod.

Types Of Hard Drives In The Analysis

Backblaze has standardized on “consumer-grade” hard drives. While hard drive companies say these drives are not designed to work in RAID arrays or the 24×7 workload of a data center environment, Backblaze uses software redundancy to protect data. In a future blog post we will delve into the statistics comparing “consumer” and “enterprise” hard drives.

By far the majority of these hard drives are “raw” or “internal” hard drives. However, because the Thailand Drive Crisis made it nearly impossible to find internal hard drives for sale at reasonable prices, Backblaze started to farm hard drives. Thus, approximately 6 petabytes of the drives in this analysis were originally “external” hard drives that were “shucked” out of their enclosures.

Number of Hard Drives

The chart below shows the age distribution of the drives in the Backblaze data centers. The shape of the chart is mostly a reflection of the growth of the company, and the addition of drives as the customer base grew. Overall, not that many drives fail.


Failure Rates

Before diving into the data on failure rates, it’s worth spending a little time clarifying what exactly a failure rate means. At first glance, you might think that a failure rate of 100% is the worst possible. Every drive is failing! That’s not the whole story, though.

Imagine you have a disk drive supplier who provides drives that are 100% reliable for six months, but then all fail at that point. What’s the annual failure rate? If you have to keep 100 drives running at all times, you’ll have to replace the drive in every slot twice a year. That means that you’ll have to replace 200 drives each year, which makes your annual failure rate 200%. So, in theory at least, there is no worst possible failure rate. If every drive failed after one hour of use, the annual failure rate would be 876,000%. Fortunately, the drives that Backblaze gets are more reliable than that.

The Bathtub Curve

Reliability engineers use something called the Bathtub Curve to describe expected failure rates. The idea is that defects come from three factors: (1) factory defects, resulting in “infant mortality”, (2) random failures, and (3) parts that wear out, resulting in failures after much use. The chart below (adapted from Wikimedia Commons) shows how these three factors can be expected to produce a bathtub-shaped failure rate curve.


The theory matches the reality that Backblaze experiences. The chart below shows the failure rate of drives in each quarter of their life. For the first 18 months, the failure rate hovers around 5%, then it drops for a while, and then goes up substantially at about the 3-year mark. We are not seeing that much “infant mortality”, but it does look like 3 years is the point where drives start wearing out.


Calculating Life Expectancy

What’s the life expectancy of a hard disk drive? To answer that question, we first need to decide what we mean by “life expectancy”.

When measuring the life expectancy of people, the usual measure is the average number of years remaining at a given age. So when we say that the life expectancy of newborns in the world in 2010 is 67.2 years, we are saying that if we wait until all of those new people have lived out their lives in 120 or 130 years, the average of their lifespans will be 67.2.

For disk drives, it may be that all of them will wear out before they are 10 years old. Or it may be that some of them last 20 or 30 years. If some of them live a long, long time, it makes it hard to compute the average. Also, a few outliers can throw off the average and make it less useful.

The number that we will be able to compute soon, and the one that is more likely to be useful, is the median lifespan of a new drive. In other words, at what age have half of the drives failed? We are starting to get an idea what the answer will be.

Disk Drive Survival Rates

On the internet, it’s surprisingly hard to get an answer to the question “How long will a hard drive last?” What you’ll find are mostly anecdotal stories, or perhaps references to Google‘s and CMU‘s studies, neither of which really answer the question.

The anecdotes you get don’t give you any useful information:

  • From “Hard drives are mechanical and thus will eventually fail. … I’ve had drives arrive DOA, some die after a day, and some that have lasted 10 years. There is just no way to tell how long a drive will live.”
  • From CNET: “I don’t know about 5 years. My WD died after 2 years.”

Google’s study has some interesting information on failure rates. They found that temperature doesn’t matter as much as you might think, and that the SMART checks of a drive aren’t very good at predicting drive failure.

CMU’s study found that manufacturer’s MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) ratings are exaggerated. Drives fail a lot more than the MTBF would indicate.

The chart below shows the percentage of drives at Backblaze that are still alive at different ages:

  • For the first 1.5 years, drives fail at 5.1% per year.
  • For the next 1.5 years, drives fail LESS, at about 1.4% per year.
  • After 3 years though, failures rates skyrocket to 11.8% per year.


Most Drives Are Still Alive

The chart above could be misleading. At a glance, it appears that most of the drives have already died and all are on track to die within the next year. However, if you redraw the chart with the bottom at 0, you can see that nearly 80% of all the drives Backblaze has ever purchased are still operating!


How Long WILL The Hard Drives Last?

What happens to drives when they’re older than 5 years? Neither Google nor the CMU team presented any data on drives older than 5 years, although the CMU paper has a tantalizing comment in its conclusion claiming that failure rates go up after 5 years. No basis for that assertion is provided, though.

At Backblaze, we’ve been up and running for 5 years, and all of the drives we install are new drives, so we also don’t have any data for drives older than that. We are looking forward to finding out what will happen when drives become 5, 6, 7, and 8 years old.

If you extrapolate the line from the previous chart to estimate the point at which half of the drives have died, you get a prediction:

The median lifespan of a drive will be over 6 years.


When Backblaze started, there were some concerns that consumer-grade disk drives wouldn’t hold up in a data center. If this 6-year median lifespan is true, it means that more than half the drives will last six years, and those concerns were unfounded. We intend to continue to update these statistics quarterly. Thus, over the next couple of years, we’ll have hard data on the median lifespan of hard drives. Stay tuned to the blog to find out the answers.

Nov 14: Update

My bad: Due to a transcription error, the percentages in the second paragraph were wrong, and were more pessimistic than necessary. 78% (not 74%) of drives are still alive after four years. The projection of a six-year median lifespan is not affected by this change. Thanks to sharp-eyed Frederic for catching the error. – Brian

Brian Beach

Brian Beach

Brian has been writing software for three decades at HP Labs, Silicon Graphics, Netscape, TiVo, and now Backblaze. His passion is building things that make life better, like the TiVo DVR and Backblaze Online Backup.
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  • TacoPunk

    I know I should be replacing but part of me wants to see how long until they really die. I have an 09, 10, few 12s, threw out a 13 because i was getting SMART errors in RED………oh and a 10 year old Corsair PSU! :O

  • Soitu Grigore

    I have two HDD, one WD, 1TB, born in 2010, and is very alive (100℅ life in HD Sentinel, no errors), second is Hitachi, 2 TB, born in 2011 (no errors and full life, in HD Sentinel). I’m very optimistic ;) !

  • Soitu Grigore

    I nave to HDD, one WD, 1TB, born in 2010, and is very alive (100℅ life in HD Sentinel, no errors), second is Hitachi, 2 TB, born in 2011 (no errors and full life, in HD Sentinel). I’m very optimistic ;) !

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  • GreatInca

    I have four 4TB western digital drives. Two are greens purchased in 2014, two are blues purchased 2016. All still working so far.

  • GreatInca

    I have 8 1TB western digital blue laptop dirves. Some were bought new in 2010. Some were bought as refurbs in 2012. They all still work. Four have heavy miles on them.

  • GreatInca

    I have 6 2TB western digital green hard drives. Bought them in 2010. One has failed late last year (late 2016), rest are still functioning.

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  • Andrew S Hat

    “We are looking forward to finding out what will happen when drives become 5, 6, 7, and 8 years old.”

    4 years later *crickets*

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  • Deniz Can Çığşar

    How do you manage risk of a file? Do you calculate risk of a file and distribute them on to younger, middle aged and older disks? For instance if a file is on a 4 years old disk, %11 of lost is possible in a year, so you put a copy of it on a 2 years old disk, and another copy onto new one? vs..

  • Eric

    Any updates on 2014?

    • Or 2015? (;

      • Jaze Kerxx

        or 2016 :D

        • mauriciolazo

          or 2017?
          Wait… what?

          • empirebuilder1

            Found the Time Traveller

    • Nick

      still waiting in 2017…

  • Chris Moore

    This post was from a couple years ago. Is there an update to this?

  • DashRipr0ck

    Stupidly, I was planning t purchase a military brand laptop. I wanted something very rugged but after reading articles like these, I am realizing that I am just focusing on the housing and the internal components have a built in self obsolescence. DUH!

    • Dom Falconetti

      Exactly! Do not waste time reading such articles. My old Fiat 128 3p is over 40 years old and I’ve seen brand new 1,000,000$ Ferraris and Porsches rotting to junk after 5 years.

      • Algiark .

        Define “rotting to junk”.

  • Eugene Cottle

    Excellent reference, it is rare to see such a thorough treatment of the failure rate of a component. I especially appreciate the illustrations of the variable failure rate, bathtub curve, multiple failure modes, suspensions, etc. There are obviously still a lot of complications, such as usage factors and definition of a “failure”, as pointed out in some of the comments. Disk drive life could probably be treated as a degradation problem. I usually replace a hard drive when performance becomes an issue, prior to a catastrophic failure. At any rate, thank you for publishing this data.

  • karl Ferron

    What about drives that are used for storage and then, stored as archiving? It seems there isn’t a viable alternative for long term archival storage…. other than DVDs.

  • Peter

    How much is usage a factor? If I have data stored on a hard disk and rarely use it will it last longer?

  • Dom Falconetti

    I don’t understand. All of my 7 hard disks are over 15 years old and not a problem yet! I have floppies which are 25 years old, and cassettes over 50 years old, too. Not a problem! This reminds me of the light-bulb story when at the turn of the 20th century, they were made to last for 100 years before Philips came into play. Thank God, I shun such modern technology equipment.

    • Eroticus

      Online Backup drivers are used by 100000 people and not just one…

    • Algiark .

      And how much their capacities are..?

    • Coulsen Kimber Meyers

      Well because unlike online data centers, normal consumers power on and off their drives on normal basis.

      • Dom Falconetti

        Hehehe, I just saw this again after 3 years. Now my hard disks are 20 years old and not a problem…. yet.
        Somebody is laughing until he wets his pants on you consumers.

  • Alfonso
  • Jay Manne

    My first major disk drive failure came on a WD 4TB I purchased less than 6 months ago. I say it failed because my computers, regardless which one, did not recognize it and therefore the data was unavailable to me. Fortunately, my backup had a backup, and a backup with Backblaze was in place as well. BTW, I did redundancy tests, nothing was wrong with the ports or the cords… Define a failure if you cannot retrieve data from the drive… period.

  • SpaceChimp

    I presume this relates to an ‘always on’ drive. It would be interesting to know if this is a fair comparison for home use. Switching on and off may also have an adverse effect.

    • Christopher Katko

      That’s an extremely good point. (Also, power line quality, and subjection to modest vibration. Whereas data centers rarely physically move.) But back to your point, like in car engines, bearings will wear more upon first start up because the fluid film that protects the bearing hasn’t built up yet. If a piece of bearing comes apart from wear, a tiny spec could be big enough to ruin significant portions of data.

  • Scott

    How does the above compare with SSDs? Or is that out of scope for this article?

  • Mark

    interesting post but it seems to be missing vital information, how are you defining ‘a failed drive’? Google had a similar problem in 2006 with the report they wrote, defining what actually contributes to a failed drive is in the eye of the holder.

  • Jam Smith

    very nice post regarding the life time of hard disk drive.I think the life of hard disk drive also depends on how many times it fails and hard disk failure is very common issue .To resolve this issue you can use vhd recovery tool which provides best solution to recover from hard disk failure .Visit to download the tool

  • Jerry Kung

    I’m looking forward to see the 2014 (5th year) chart.