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Failure Rates of External Hard Drives and USBs: Do Your Backups Actually Have Your Back?

A business has lots of data to keep track of: client profiles and communications, historical sales records, job details, employee schedules, etc.

If you’re currently storing this information on your computer’s hard drive, then hopefully you have a backup in place in case anything happens to your computer.

USBs and external hard drives are two backup options that make us feel safe about our data. We’ve been taught that so long as we regularly back up our files, we’re safe. But what if something happens to that backup?

How long does a hard drive last?

Despite how important hard drives are to computers and information storage, we don’t have solid timelines around how long hard drives last. Even Google’s study only tracked hard drives over 5 years, and you can find personal stories of hard drives failing after 1 day or still going strong after 10 years.

Backblaze, an online backup company, undertook a project to track how long its 25,000 hard drives last. Whenever a hard drive broke down, they replaced it and kept track of when exactly a particular hard drive bit the dust.

 

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At the end of the day, a hard drive is a mechanical component that will eventually fail. When? That’s not something we can predict with certainty. Add in the possibility of losing or damaging your hard drive, or having it stolen, and the risk of losing your information is there.

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They found that in the first year and a half, hard drives fail at a rate of 5.1 percent per year. In the following year and a half the failure rate falls to 1.4 percent each year. But, after three years, the failure rate jumps up to 11.8 percent per year. And that’s where their failure rate data ends, so what happens after that?

At the end of the day, a hard drive is a mechanical component that will eventually fail. When? That’s not something we can predict with certainty. Add in the possibility of losing or damaging your hard drive, or having it stolen, and the risk of losing your information is there.

What's the story with USBs?

USB flash drives are more susceptible to damage, especially if you’re using one made by a low-quality manufacturer.

A specific USB’s lifespan also differs based on how exactly you use it. If you use it like a CD-R disc, its lifespan is longer and usually indicated by the manufacturer. If you use it like a CD-RW disc, the lifespan is a little less predictable.

So what does that mean?

You write to a CD-R disc only once whereas you can write to a CD-RW disc multiple times. If you use it like the latter, it gets worn out much more quickly.

Using a USB as a temporary back-up solution is okay, but it should not be your primary mode of storage for important files.

So how do I protect my files?

Repeat this over and over again: No piece of backup equipment is perfect.

Hard drives fail and USBs go missing. So as the saying goes, two is one and one is none.

You should back up important files to multiple pieces of hardware or in the cloud (more on that below).

That said, you should be careful about where you keep these pieces of hardware, especially if they contain sensitive customer information. Backing up your data to multiple devices decreases your risk of losing access to information, but it does increase the risk of that information falling into the wrong hands.

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When you store information in the cloud, you don’t have to worry about damages to a physical device. Additionally, your data is accessible from any device with an internet connection and you can access an unlimited amount of storage.

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Have you considered the cloud?

One alternative or supplement to physical hard drives is cloud storage. When you store information in the cloud, you don’t have to worry about damages to a physical device.

Additionally, your data is accessible from any device with an internet connection and you can access an unlimited amount of storage.

Jobber stores customer data in the cloud, backing it up multiple times per day, so that it’s safe, secure, and you can pull up current and past customer and job information on the go from your phone or tablet.

Cloud storage is what we use at Jobber, and what we recommend for keeping your information as safe as possible. Even if you’re committed to a hard drive setup, backing your information up in the cloud ensures an extra level of safety.

Curious about what it means when you hear something is “in the cloud”? We go over cloud technology 101.

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