The Disk side of the Server game from AnandTech

AnandTech: Server Guide part 2

Even the so called “Nearline” (Seagate) or “Raid Edition” (RE, Western Digital) SATA drives which are made to operate in enterprise storage racks, and which are more reliable than desktop disks, are not made for the mission critical, random transactional applications. Their MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) is still at least 20% lower than typical enterprise disks, and they will show the similar failure rates when used with highly random server workloads as desktop drives.Also, the current SATA drives on average experience an Unrecoverable Error every 12.5 terabytes written or read (EUR of 1 in 1014 bits). Thanks to the sophisticated drive electronics, SAS/SCSI disks experience these kinds of errors 100 (!) times less. It would seem that EUR numbers are so small that they are completely negligible, but consider the situation where one of your hard drives fails in a RAID-5 or 6 configuration. Rebuilding a RAID-5 array with five 200 GB SATA drives results in reading 0.8 terabytes and writing 0.2 terabytes, in total 1 terabytes. So you have 1/12.5 or 8% chance of getting an EUR on this SATA array. If we look at a similar SCSI enterprise array, we would get a 0.08% chance on one unrecoverable error. It is clear an 8% chance of getting data loss is a pretty bad gamble for a mission critical application.

Another good point that Seagate made in the same study concerns vibration. When a lot of disk spindles and actuators are performing a lot of very random I/O operations in a big storage rack, quite a bit of rotational vibration is the result. In the best case the actuator will have to take a bit more time to get to the right sector (higher seek time) but in the worst case the read operation has to be retried. This can only be detected by the software driver, which means that the performance of the disk will be very low. Enterprise disks can take about 50% more vibration than SATA desktop drives before 50% higher seek times kill the random disk performance.

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