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How long do hard drives actually live for?

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40hz:
@ Mouser- IIRC Backblaze uses pretty much nothing but consumer grade hardware in their storage PODs and simply maintains a lot of redundancy and has excess capacity to offset the increased likelihood of hardware failures. More risk management at work.

4wd:
@ Mouser- IIRC Backblaze uses pretty much nothing but consumer grade hardware in their storage PODs ...-40hz (November 12, 2013, 06:46 PM)
--- End quote ---

No need to recall, it's mentioned in the article:

It’s worth noting that Backblaze uses normal, consumer-level drives — the kind of drives with 12- or 36-month warranties.
--- End quote ---

 ;)

IainB:
Whilst a disaster contingency strategy of backing-up everything in anticipation/assumption of (say) a 3 or 4-year lifespan for a drive would seem to be prudent and could give you some peace-of-mind, it would have the disadvantage that the strategy would apparently be based on uncertainty - a belief/expectation/anticipation of a failure event at some future guessed-for date. As a strategy that is rather like "working blind" or "in the dark".

The only disaster contingency backup that will be of productive use is likely to be the last backup which chanced to be taken before the disaster (disk failure event) - always assuming that you can use that backup to make a recovery from (and how often does one test for that failure?).

All the other unproductive disaster contingency backing-up and administration of same is going to be time consuming, and the consumption of the necessary unproductive backup resources (e.g., including man-hours, CPU-secs., hardware, and on/off-site space rental costs) are likely to be cumulatively expensive too.

However, if, as well as normal operational backups, you have a tool that is monitoring the state of your hard drives in realtime and which will report faults as soon as deterioration starts to set in, and before failure occurs, then one could arguably be in much better control of risk mitigation.
So, for most PC-users and small client-server operations, I would strongly recommend consideration of something like Hard Disk Sentinel PRO, which is relatively inexpensive.
See here: Hard Disk Sentinel PRO - Mini-Review.

Edvard:
From the anecdotal-tale-to-the-contrary-department: I still have a handful of less-than-1GB drives that still fire up just fine, though they don't hold much, and I can count on that same hand how many disk drives I've had fail while it was installed and being used.  Every time I've had a disk fail it was because I had taken it out to install a newer, larger one, and later tried to install it in a different machine. 
CD-ROM drives, on the other hand... let's just say I should buy them in bulk.  :-\

IainB:
@Edvard: Yes, I have never known a hard drive to fail, though it has happened to some people that I know of.
I reckon hard drives are probably over-engineered and likely to last ages - at least with the type of intermittent usage on PCs. I have some pretty old 2½" laptop drives lying around, mostly from 3+ year old/dead laptops, and they all still seem to work fine when I fire them up. (I usually keep them as long-term archives.)
From memory the first and only trouble I have ever had with a hard drive was with the bad blocks on the 5700rpm 7200rpm. drive in my HP ENVY 14 laptop - which was mentioned as being reported on by Hard Drive Sentinel in the review I linked to above. The drive is still working fine with no further trouble, the NTFS "self-healing" of the bad blocks apparently having been catered for by the Win7 operating system.

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