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Build data storage reliability into a backup infrastructure

In today's market, there are a variety of data backup options. Here's how to make sure your organization's essential data will always be there when it is needed.

Even in this age of the cloud-almost-everywhere, reliable on-site data storage remains essential for a wide range of organizations.

Ensuring critical data is backed-up, rapidly available and intact is a top responsibility of any IT department. Fortunately, building data storage reliability into an existing storage infrastructure can be almost effortless.

Choose: Hard disk or solid-state drives

Thanks to their considerable cost advantage over SSDs, hard drives remain the top on-site data center storage choice and will likely remain so for many more years. Hard drive storage is also extremely reliable. Data storage provider Backblaze evaluated 10,000 hard drives for 2017. After exhaustive testing, the company discovered that data center-class drives exhibited a meager 1.61% failure rate over 300,000 days.

Consumer-class drives, meanwhile, fared nearly identically: a 1.60% failure rate over 420,000 days.

Pricier SSDs are also highly reliable for routine data center use. Yet, it's difficult to directly compare hard disk and SSD data storage reliability, since SSDs are relatively new, still evolving and tend to fail in different ways from their magnetic counterparts. Hard drives often succumb to mechanical failure, as well as poor ventilation.

Lacking any critical mechanical components, SSDs can tolerate hostile environments much better than hard drives. A functioning SSD can shrug off temporary hot and cold temperatures, drops, high pressure and multiple G-forces that would kill a typical hard drive. Yet, these are relatively trivial benefits, since few data centers are launched into space or plunged into deep ocean canyons.

SSDs, while reliable for day-to-day use, remain best suited for backup applications where performance is a top priority.

More important is the fact that SSD performance slows as it ages. A nearly full SSD will exhibit much slower write operations than a partially filled counterpart, and eventually, its memory cells will wear out. Age -- not usage -- is often the prime factor affecting SSD reliability, according to a report issued in 2016 by the Advanced Computing Systems Association. The report also indicated that SSDs tend to have a higher bit error rate than hard drives.

It's important to note that SSDs will lose data when left unpowered for prolonged periods of time -- months or years. Long-term cold storage can also wreak havoc on SSD-stored data.

SSDs, while reliable for day-to-day use, remain best suited for backup applications where performance is a top priority. Hard drives, meanwhile, are generally more reliable in situations where large amounts of data must be written to a drive more or less constantly for long periods of time.

But wait a minute...

Remember, however, that while data storage reliability is an important goal, no technology is perfect. There will always be a need to maintain accurate and easily accessible backups.

As it turns out, when it comes to long-term backup, hard drives and SSDs both lag far behind a tool many IT managers now view as a past-generation legacy technology: magnetic tape storage.

Unlike buzzing, whirling hard drives or power-dependent SSDs, magnetic tape cartridges simply sit on a shelf, patiently waiting to be called back to action whenever the need arises. Keep the tape cool and comfortable, and its backup data will be fully readable for years, perhaps even decades.

When it comes to data storage reliability, it simply doesn't get any better.

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