Humidity rather than heat is the number one enemy of the hard disk

Is it us, or is it getting humid in here?

Hard disk

Heat isn't the biggest enemy for the humble hard disk, rather humidity is what causes the most failures, a new piece of research has observed.

The study, carried out by Rutgers University and entitled 'Environmental Conditions and Disk Reliability in Free-cool Data Centres', found that the most negative effects on drive controllers and adapters were felt when humidity levels increased.

As Network World reports, the testing took place in Microsoft data centres and encompassed over a million hard drives over a period of several years, and unsurprisingly found that the vast majority of hardware failures in the data centres – 89% of them – were disk failures.

Clear difference

And as the humidity level rises, hard disk rises, failures increase to such an extent that the study authors noted you could easily tell which data centres had humidity controls, as those which didn't showed up clearly when they looked at the annualised failure rate of controllers.

Humidity is such a danger that researchers found that positioning drives in the "hot region at the back of the server" actually improved the reliability level of the drives, because the heat kept humidity at bay – and the heat is clearly the lesser of two evils.

Whether the cost of advanced humidity controls for a data centre is worth it compared to what you'd fork out replacing the extra failed disks is another matter – although that also depends on how long-term you're looking.

Last month, we saw some research from Google on the reliability of the hard disk's big rival, the SSD. That also turned up an interesting finding, namely that it wasn't the amount of usage the SSD had seen which correlated with high error rates, but simply the age of the drive.

In other words, heavy usage isn't the big demon which it used to be, and today's SSDs cope far better with heftier workloads.

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