Do helium-filled hard drives have a lower failure rate?

Helium-filled hard drives offer improved power efficiency and increased density compared to air-filled hard drives. But what's the failure rate like for these drives?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

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Helium-filled hard drives are now all the rage. But how does their reliability stack up compared to regular air-filled hard drives? What better company to answer this question than cloud storage specialists Backblaze.

Why is Backblaze the perfect company to answer this question? Because it has a lot of helium- and air-filled hard drives in service.

A lot.

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In the 8- to 12-terabytes storage capacity range the company has 19,065 helium-filled drives in service, along with a further 24,281 air-filled units. Having this many drives in operation allows Backblaze to do some number-crunching and calculate the Annualized Failure Rate (AFR) for the drives.

Bottom line -- there's very little difference in AFR between helium-filled hard drives and their air-filled counterparts.

​Helium- vs air-filled hard drive failure rates

Helium- vs air-filled hard drive failure rates


So does this mean that their failure rate is the same? Andy Klein, Director of Product Marketing at Backblaze, thinks not, and that helium-filled drives will prove to be more reliable if we take into account usage:

My hypothesis is that after normalizing the data so that the helium and air-filled drives have the same (or similar) usage (Drive Days), the helium-filled drives we use will continue to have a lower Annualized Failure Rate versus the air-filled drives we use.

Another question people wonder about helium-filled hard drives is whether the gas escapes out of the drive? By using the SMART 22 data point, which records the status of helium inside of a hard drive, the company has been monitoring this for three years and has only seen one drive less than 100, with multiple readings between 94 and 99.

So the helium escaping doesn't seem to be a problem.

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