The folks at Backblaze have a really good blog post on hard drive life titled “How Long Do Disk Drives Last?” that is worth a read.
I’ll give you the TL;DR, it’s about four to six years according to their data.
Backblaze is the most reliable source for drive life data as they have been releasing drive life stats for their cloud backup system for over a decade, and given us the best real world look at how long drives last.
Their experience mirrors mine, albeit on a much smaller scale. In the West Coast Imaging days, I designed and maintained our storage system of forty drives to store all our client’s files and make them accessible to the staff. I’ve tracked over 100 drives through that system and in my own personal use, and I see something pretty close to what Backblaze is seeing.
While drives can die at any time, even new drives, it’s more typical to see a drive last 3-5 years in a home or office setting. After that, the failure rate starts to go up fast, as I’m experiencing right now with my backup consolidation project.
The Backblaze data combined with my own experience is leading me to a new storage approach. I plan to replace my main data drive after 365 days of use. At that point, it will be depreciated to use for onsite backup.
Basically I’m turning it into an oil change which just makes more sense, and will help me avoid headaches. It will make it easier to keep up to date than the “replace when something fills up or fails” plan I had been using.
My backup plan looks something like this:
Main Data Drive
Onsite Backup A
Onsite Backup B
Offsite Backup A
Offsite Backup B
I have five hard drive based copies of my data plus a copy in the cloud with Backblaze, which is an insurance layer every photographer should have in place.
As drives age, I’ll move them down the list of backups, so that their age will look like this:
Main Data Drive – less than 1 year old
Onsite Backup A – less than 2 years old
Onsite Backup B – less than 3 years old
Offsite Backup A – less than 4 years old
Offsite Backup B – less than 5 years old
And with this many copies and ages, I am well protected agains data loss IF I keep the backups up to date.
So buying a new drive every year will be my new strategy. (And don’t forget to mark your drives with the month and year of purchase to make it easy to know their age.)
Now where is that credit card…