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Data Storage IT Hardware

Study Finds That Humidity Has More Effect On Drive Failures Than Temperature (rackcdn.com) 85

AmiMoJo writes: A study by Rutgers University and Microsoft has found that hard drives are more prone to failure due to high levels of humidity [PDF] than high temperature. With a view to 'free cooling' data centres (using low external air temperature for cooling to save power), the paper notes that humidity related malfunctions of the driver controller / adapter are the dominant cause of drive failure. The good news is that while the researchers found that high relative humidity was a significant factor in drive failures, "[S]oftware availability techniques can mask them and enable freecooled operation, resulting in significantly lower infrastructure and energy costs that far outweigh the cost of the extra component failures."
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Study Finds That Humidity Has More Effect On Drive Failures Than Temperature

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  • You're screwed, either way.

    • On the other hard, on the Gobi Desert you get the best of both worlds (as long you don't want to live there). It's a cold desert, so you get low temperatures and low humidity.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Isn't Louisiana considered the most humid US state? (Although, I imagine there's a lot of local variation.)

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2016 @10:06AM (#51699821) Homepage
    Based on the recent finding, the IEEE has issued new guidelines to augment its previous best practices on disks...some of these are to be expected:

    1. the classic practice of gently simmering disks in a succulent gravy is being phased out. gravy increases humidity, and its widely expected a dry rub will not only replace this practice in the future but help flavourful juices reach the surface of the drive
    2. RAID arrays should be basted no more than every 25 minutes now, up from 5 minutes. This is partly due to the fact that RAID arrays come infused with a 15% solution of brine. ZFS arrays, as per normal, can be allowed to reduce in their own pools.
    3. caching SSD's are unaffected by this finding. A light egg wash or light coat of melted butter toward the end of the partitions is still advised for best performance.
    • Where can I order that Jerk Seagate?

    • by bosef1 ( 208943 )

      I know this is a little off-topic, but for years I've been braising my magtapes at 375 for about an hour per pound. Do the new recommendations mean I really should be doing a high-heat / low-heat type cooking (like for DVDs), or would reducing the temperature and just planning to cook it longer give a more succulent cartridge?

    • Based on the recent finding, the IEEE has issued new guideline

      FFS - my company has just spent the last year designing and rolling out Drive Marination Process (TM), and now you're saying that's out of date?!!!

  • I mean Florida is pretty humid, right?

    Yes, I only read the subject, why?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 15, 2016 @10:26AM (#51699975)

    I run a server in my basement and have more trouble with its drives then any other computer I have ever owned. I have left notebooks in hot cars, outside in the sun, exposed them to extreme cold too. But my basement always maintains at least a 50% humidity level even with dehumidifier. Its temp remains between 60F in Winter and 70F in Summer. I noticed one day my router was failing and decided to tear in down, and also realized its soldered board was oxidizing badly which most likely caused the failure. I then wondered if that was the same issues with my server? I do think too little humidity can also cause spurious static charges too so you don't want to not have some. maybe its time to rethink what acceptable is in humidity? I always thought below 50% was OK? But maybe below 40% is the sweet spot?

    • Yes, relative humidity percentage matters to temp. Meaning, it's ok to have 50% humidity if it's 78F, but not between 60 and 70. So if you can't get rid of the water with an AC system, paradoxically having a higher ambient temp should in theory be better for your drives.

    • by jafiwam ( 310805 )

      Basements are also where a lot of noxious stuff is stored. A poorly sealed bottle of bleach will mess up a whole lot of metals over time.

      Getting rid of old chemicals or sealing them up better may help a lot. (Also, better air flow might help too.)

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2016 @10:30AM (#51700009) Journal
    What I find rather unexpected about this paper's findings is that higher humidity caused more controller failure, rather than causing more mechanical issues. Yes, the mechanical bits are inside the enclosure with a filter to keep out dust; but they aren't fully sealed(unless new enough to be the helium filled ones) and water vapor will go right through a dust filter. The driver board is outside; but a bunch of solid-state components on a circuit board usually behave pretty well unless they are literally dripping or showing signs of corrosion. Am I just overestimating the reliability of PCBs?
    • Am I just overestimating the reliability of PCBs?

      I'm really surprised too, because the drive electronics should be kept plenty warm by the spinning disc, and therefore there should be little or no condensation.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        I would think that the slightly increased local temperature of the drive would actually keep moisture away.

        They sell small heaters (which get no more than warm to the touch) for use in gun safes to keep the inside warm enough to ward off humidity. I have on in my safe and haven't seen any spotting problems on anything.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The relative humidity is a little less meaningful that everyone thinks. What matters is the availability of moisture to contribute to the corrosion process.

        Put another way, for a given starting point of temperature and humidity, raising the temperature decreases the relative humidity, but not the absolute humidity. It is not true that warmer air that is less saturated will "suck" moisture from an area with a lower *relative* humidity if the *absolute* humidity is the same. Osmotic influences work on absolut

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Am I just overestimating the reliability of PCBs?

      Yes. I design products that are permanently submerged for a living. Moisture always gets in slowly, even with a metal enclosure and rubber seals. It's a question of how long your PCB can survive before it starts to malfunction.

      The malfunctions due to humidity are quite subtle sometimes. Strange readings, data corruption, things taking longer than expected because some data line is now capacitively coupled to something else. You spend ages looking for the fault and find a tiny spec of corrosion between two I

      • Very interesting, thanks, I always appreciate stumbling across someone who actually knows what I'm speculating about.

        Out of curiosity: since you doing arduous troubleshooting of a failed part is presumably not the ideal outcome, I imagine that the answer is 'no'; but are the various conformal coatings and adhesives/potting materials helpful against moisture? Less so than I imagine? Would be very helpful; but cause their own problems with thermal dissipation or wonky capacitance changes?
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Conformal coating works wondering against moisture. We don't do it for a few reasons. Cost and the fact that boards become very difficult to repair or even diagnose (can't get on test points easily). Having said that, we have kinda decided that the boards are so small and sensitive now it's not worth even trying trying to fix them, so after testing is done we might start using a cheap coating.

          A metal case, desiccant and good seals is usually enough to get to the 5 year mark without issue though, and that's

          • Interesting, thanks. This would probably blow the BoM in a lot of cases; but now I'm curious to try a 'test point extender' to see if I could preserve the test points and us a conformal coating. I'm thinking a gold-plated copper cylinder, same diameter as the test point and slightly taller than the expected thickness of the conformal coating; possibly with a textured indentation located partway up the cylinder(similar to the indentation used in a pulley or belt drive to keep the rope/belt from leaving the c
            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

              The best option is usually to do the testing before applying the coating. Then have some self-diagnostic capability to tell you that the board has failed and needs to be replaced. Forget repairing the board once the coating is on, you just need to know that it requires replacement.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They do not get along. Corrosion in such a high silver material is easy to accomplish, especially in the presence of a high concentration of water vapor. Fine pitch BGAs are already a fucking nightmare of solderability. Add humidity and the resultant corrosion and you're begging for failures.

    I didn't even need a university study to know that. It has been known in manufacturing for years.

    • I didn't even need a university study to know that.

      A quick google search will show many university studies done show that lead-free solder has BETTER CORROSION RESISTANCE than the old lead solder. Even wikipedia said alloys containing copper or lead promote corrosion on the joints.

      Also solder isn't a "fucking nightmare of solderability". In fact lead free solder only needs a slightly different temperature profile during the baking process and a change in the flux used and any manufacturer who doesn't have an army of small immigrants in the basement hand sol

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So should I take those silica gel sachets that come with everything, dry them in the oven and put them in my external HDD cases?

  • Conductive atmospheric material is bad for electronics.

    Welcome to the EARLY 1990s, where we had already determined this before. Humidity kills most EVERYTHING.

    • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )

      1990s?

      Welcome to 1800. As soon as people made machines out of metal, humidity was fucking them up.

      I live in Hong Kong where for half the year we have humidity over 90% every day.

      Everything either rusts, corrodes or goes mouldy. Bicycles turn to piles of rust in a few months. Fungus grows in your crotch. The many and various colours of corroded metals on electronics are marvellous to behold.

  • This is very well known in military circles. They should conformally coat the drive controllers to protect them against moisture.

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