Most major hard disk and motherboard vendors now support S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology), which measures drive characteristics such as operating temperature, spin-up time, data error rates, etc. Certain trends and sudden changes in these parameters are thought to be associated with increased likelihood of drive failure and data loss.
However, not all failures are predictable. Normal use eventually can lead to a breakdown in the inherently fragile device, which makes it essential for the user to periodically back up the data onto a separate storage device. Failure to do so can lead to the loss of data. While it may sometimes be possible to recover lost information, it is normally an extremely costly procedure, and it is not possible to guarantee success. A 2007 study published by Google suggested very little correlation between failure rates and either high temperature or activity level; however, the correlation between manufacturer/model and failure rate was relatively strong. Statistics in this matter is kept highly secret by most entities. Google did not publish the manufacturer's names along with their respective failure rates,though they have since revealed that they use Hitachi Deskstar drives in some of their servers. While several S.M.A.R.T. parameters have an impact on failure probability, a large fraction of failed drives do not produce predictive S.M.A.R.T. parameters. S.M.A.R.T. parameters alone may not be useful for predicting individual drive failures.
A common misconception is that a colder hard drive will last longer than a hotter hard drive. The Google study seems to imply the reverse—"lower temperatures are associated with higher failure rates". Hard drives with S.M.A.R.T.-reported average temperatures below 27 °C (80.6 °F) had higher failure rates than hard drives with the highest reported average temperature of 50 °C (122 °F), failure rates at least twice as high as the optimum S.M.A.R.T.-reported temperature range of 36 °C (96.8 °F) to 47 °C (116.6 °F).
SCSI, SAS and FC drives are typically more expensive and are traditionally used in servers and disk arrays, whereas inexpensive ATA and SATA drives evolved in thehome computer market and were perceived to be less reliable. This distinction is now becoming blurred.
The mean time between failures (MTBF) of SATA drives is usually about 600,000 hours (some drives such as Western Digital Raptor have rated 1.2 million hours MTBF), while SCSI drives are rated for upwards of 1.5 million hours. However, independent research indicates that MTBF is not a reliable estimate of a drive's longevity. MTBF is conducted in laboratory environments in test chambers and is an important metric to determine the quality of a disk drive before it enters high volume production. Once the drive product is in production, the more valid metric is annualized failure rate (AFR). AFR is the percentage of real-world drive failures after shipping.
SAS drives are comparable to SCSI drives, with high MTBF and high reliability.
Typically enterprise drives (all enterprise drives, including SCSI, SAS, enterprise SATA and FC) experience between 0.70%-0.78% annual failure rates from the total installed drives.