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I'm just quite interested in the reasons why hard drive failures occur. Some people say that it's because it was handled poorly during the shipping and transportation processes while others say that it is due to the heat/prolonged intense usage, yet I have even heard someone say that it is because of dust.

What is the most likely answer and cause of hard drive failures?

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There is a good summary here.

The reasons include:

  • Head crash, where the read-and-write head touches a platter.
  • Faulty air filter, allowing dust to land on the platter
  • Actual failure of the controller electronics.
  • Mechanical failure or worn parts

So being knocked during shipping is a possible reason for disk failures, and prolonged use in intense conditions will cause wear to mechanic parts and dust getting in can cause a failure too.

The most likely cause of a disk failure if the disk is not defective in some way is just getting worn.

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Some causes for harddrive failure include:

  • poor handling, e.g. impact, static electricity
  • vibration
  • high accelration
  • overvoltage/power surge
  • dust or other particular matter, e.g. metal filings
  • rapid changes in temperature - I think EMC says more than 10C per hour temperature change - but check with your vendor
  • plain old high temperature e.g. ambeint temp over 45degrees C or there abouts - check with - your vendor
  • in the old days buggy drivers, but nowadays I believe the firmware/physical interlocks tends to prevent that - although I believe there has occasionally been buggy firmware released that has caused drive failure problems.
  • faulty components/other manufacturing defect

You might find this paper interesting: Basically some Google Sysadmin/SRE did some research into drive failures over a large population of drives (i.e. the google data centres).

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I was surprised to learn that apparently a colder drive (colder than 37 'C) will last longer than a hotter drive, according to that paper. – David Cary Dec 14 '11 at 4:01

Bugged firmware: yes, like velociraptors. being bitten by that stupid thing at the moment. Have to change firmware on a dozen drives.

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I have a bunch of WD drives that won't spin up unless connected to the specific controller model that set them to wait/no-spinup-on-power. WD will replace them because apparently it was a bug in the drive firmware, Stockholm syndrome? ^^ – Oskar Duveborn Aug 14 '10 at 17:26
Not sure. Stupid velociraptors turn off every 49.x days for some seconds - my RAID controller hates them. Fixed a long time ago. Getting the update from WD was worse than getting a teath pulled. We had to get lawyers into the link before they admitted the fix existed. – TomTom Aug 14 '10 at 19:14

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