General Question

rovdog's avatar

Can a hard drive fail when out of use?

Asked by rovdog (842points) September 15th, 2010

I have important data that I need to store long term backups of but will not need to access for years. If I put a hard drive aside and keep it safe- can the drive fail while not in use?

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15 Answers

iamthemob's avatar

Absolutely – a hard drive is a machine, like any other – and is particularly delicate. You should boot it regularly, and after a couple years transfer data. How often and how long you should wait depends on the type of drive and the amount and kind of data you’re concerned with.

iamthemob's avatar

VERY IMPORTANT – you should also store the data in two different locations. Disaster damage in one location, even if you have a backup, can be devastating if you kept your backup close to the drive you currently use.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Rule number 1 in data backups is trust nothing. Have a back up of your back up and store another backup off site too.

jaytkay's avatar

Yes, hardware can always deteriorate over time.

Also, storing multiple backups in multiple locations guards against fire/earchquake/flood.

I would keep the hard drive in a climate controlled place (or a bank deposit box if the data is really crucial) with desiccant a packet.

And I would use a couple of online backup like Microsoft Skydrive, Google docs or Dropbox.

iamthemob's avatar

@jaytkay makes a great point – any non-confidential information is a great candidate for “cloud”-based backup.

robmandu's avatar

The Dan’s Data blog has a very interesting article about robust long-term storage and suggests a very novel solution: Use paper for your digital storage

But not paper with boring old plain text on it. Paper with arbitrary digital data on it.

Paper is a great format on which to store really important information. Thieves seldom bother to steal it. Magnetic fields or power surges don’t damage it. Paper can also tolerate much higher temperatures than any digital storage system. And if those high temperatures are created by a housefire, paper in a simple wooden box, like the bottom shelf of a chest of drawers, is actually very likely to survive.

He goes on to describe in detail what kind of digital encoding to use, how to include robust error correction in case of damage, as well as explains how the technological choices he makes are immune against future unavailability (for example, if you’d stored valuable data on an 8-track tape in the ‘70’s, you’d have a hard time finding something with which to read it back today.)

rovdog's avatar

@ everyone so far

Thanks for the thoughts. My plan is to do off site backups but in terms of those backups I am just curious as to whether the risk is limited by having the drives not in use. Unfortunately the data is too big to effectively store online or (on paper I guess- interesting thought- it’s video- I think it would be a lot of paper!).

@iamthemob – are you saying that booting the drive will actually help preserve it?

Basically one of the big things I’m weighing is whether sticking another backup securely somewhere (in a safe, storage facility, or in safe deposit box) or having a mirrored raid sitting on my desk is a better option because I will know if a drive fails and be able to replace it.

rovdog's avatar

I do know it’s possible to both of course- but it’s a lot of data so I’m trying to be space (including physical space) and cost effective.

Any more thoughts on long term data storage appreciated- including theoretical- is there any data on long term data storage on solid state memory (not that I could afford it)?

iamthemob's avatar

@rovdog – It’s a personal feeling that keeping the drive active will help keep little things at bay (gathering dust and such). What it WILL do is give you a heads up with any early warning signs of data or drive corruption that you wouldn’t get if you let the drive sit dormant.

robmandu's avatar

@rovdog, well, for one thing, mechanical hard drives are lubricated. Without regular use, that lubricant can congeal. Same is true for automatic watches.

Flash-based media is likely to survive shelf life better. You might should consider a solid-state drive then.

wgallios's avatar

What will happen, since the hard drive stores its information magnetically on the platters, over years of not using the disk, it will lose that magnetic information over time.

Solid state might be a good solution, however flash memory can only be written to so many times before it wears. Although if you are not using it constantly; it might not be too much of an issue, but I’m not sure about it’s shelf life.

Depending on the size of the files, I would go with a website like dropbox, or carbonite to backup your information.

mowens's avatar

It’s a magnet,,, anything can fuck with it.

rovdog's avatar

All great points everyone. I looked into online backup but it seems like too much data. Solid state would be great considering I’m not going to change the data (only read it and almost never do that- only to check it’s there) but it’s too expensive for that size too.

I think an offsite backup plus raid might be the best that I can do. But it’s looking like 5 years or so would be the max I could expect to keep safe. The idea of the raid rebuilding if one of the drives fail I think is nice- I just need to get a reliable raid. Any suggestions- perhaps that another question.

BTW- I found an external solid state raid (to combine some of the ideas here)- but alas, it’s quite pricey.

Also I have the data on LT04 tapes but unfortunately I don’t have access to a tape drive so I can’t even check if the data there.

jaytkay's avatar

I just need to get a reliable raid. Any suggestions- perhaps that another question.

I would start another question, you would get more feedback.

robmandu's avatar

Just to be clear: RAID ≠ Backup

A Redundant Array of Independent Disks is intended to provide real-time speed, reliability, and availability of your data. It does not protect against your data being wiped out (by human or computer error) nor does it provide adequate protection against catastrophic damage (like flood or fire).

Just saying, don’t think of RAID as a component of your backup solution process.

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