Enterprise hard drives are over-rated and over-priced (for one customer at least).

“Are enterprise drives worth the cost? From a pure reliability perspective, the data we have says the answer is clear: No,” Backblaze distinguished engineer Brian Beach said Wednesday.  This according to a CNET article by .

Backblaze’s study and findings are very impressive. I suggest everyone read Brian’s blog titled “Enterprise Drives: Fact or Fiction?” It’s well worth the time and was very eye opening for me, and I’m an enterprise hard drive guy.

I think the other story here is a testament to Backblaze’s system design.  The fact that they can get enterprise-grade reliability using desktop-grade hard drives, for one, is a tip of the hat to desktop class drive design, but more so to Backblaze’s engineering prowess and ingenuity (the whole back story on how Backblaze managed the hard drive shortage as a result of “the flood” is another great read).

When it comes to using desktop-class drives in an enterprise environment, a number of stars have to be aligned for it to work.  In the case of Backblaze, their system design, their application workload, software, environment, and more seem to be in perfect harmony for them to pull this off, and that is a rarity.  For every enterprise customer that can make desktop drives work in their environment, there are dozens that have tried and failed, and have gone back to the comparable enterprise-class drive.  That is what makes Backblaze’s story and study so unique, and kudos well deserved.

All of the applause aside, I feel compelled to make one clarification when it comes to loosely using the term “enterprise drives.”  In the case of Backblaze, the comparison is between desktop drives and one class of enterprise hard drive – the 7,200 RPM “nearline” class.  Yes, these drives are the closest in comparison specification-wise to the traditional desktop or client 3.5-inch drives on the market.  But, let’s be careful and not assume that desktop or client drives can replace all enterprise drives in all enterprise applications.

Certain applications require higher levels of performance, reliability, endurance and data integrity that even a nearline class enterprise drive cannot come close to delivering, much less a desktop drive.  Such drives are commonly referred to as mission critical drives, and typically spin at 10,000 or 15,000 RPM and have for the last decade plus, defined what is enterprise-class.  The same can be said for solid-state drives (SSDs) which many believe are displacing 15K enterprise drives in the enterprise space.  There are also real differences between client and enterprise-class SSDs for mission critical applications, but that is another argument for another time.

For now, let’s just appreciate the fact that Backblaze is able to do something that many others have not been able to pull off.  Our hat is off to Brian and the team at Backblaze.


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