Hard Drive Failures and How to Spot Them
These days, the amount of moving parts in technology equipment has pretty much been eliminated and replaced by circuit boards and chips. However, there are still a few items left, of which traditional style hard drives are one (DVD Drives and cooling fans are the other main mechanical parts).
As the main data storage component of a Server, PC or laptop then it’s a very important component. Failure can cause data loss and malfunction of your device so it’s important to limit the risk of failure and also to be able to spot potential problems before they become serious or irreversible.
The first thing to stress is that it is important for you to have a backup of your data. This could be a copy on another hard drive or, as is more likely these days, a copy online using a service such as DropBox or Microsoft one Drive. This ensures that should your hard drive fail or your machine is stolen, your data can be recovered.
Where possible, if your company has a server, then all data should be stored on the server and backed up to a remote location using an automated Cloud backup solution.
User’s profiles should be redirected to the server and any remote users should be encouraged to use secure remote access to company data.
Servers should be installed with at least 2 hard drives in a RAID configuration. This either mirrors the drives or replicates the data across multiple drives to offer resilience. If 1 drive fails it can then be replaced without data loss.
Mechanical devices will fail eventually but there are some steps you can take to minimise risk. Hard disks are particularly sensitive to knocks or vibration, especially when they are reading or writing data.
Be careful when transporting Servers, PC’s, laptops or external hard drives. Take care not to drop or bash them.
Position your PC on a stable service, away from vibration and anywhere it could get kicked or fall. If you have a laptop, again, place it on a stable surface and use a proper carry case when transporting. Shut laptops down before travelling with them.
Spotting Potential Failure
There are some tell-tail signs that your hard drive may be starting to fail. Your PC or laptop may start to become slow, especially when opening and saving files. If the CPU and memory resources are OK but its behaving slowly this could be due to problems reading or writing to the disk.
If your device wants to run checks on the disk when you start it up then it has detected problems with the file system which may be due to damage.
Random crashing or blue screening of the system can be due to damage to the Operating System or applications caused by bad sectors on the hard disk.
Servers may become slow and unresponsive and users may have problems accessing data. It is important that servers have their monitoring software set up to alert of RAID problems, high disk use and other storage issues which can alert Technicians to potential problems.
What to Do if You Suspect a Failing Hard Drive
Backup! Before you run any checks or diagnostics on a suspected failing drive make sure you have backed up your data. Running checks and repairs on disks put a lot of overhead on them and this can be enough to cause a catastrophic failure in a damaged disk.
Run a check on the disk from within Windows or your Mac OS. It will need to reboot to do this as it cannot check the disk fully when it is in use. This should advise of whether any issues are hardware-based or just software related.
Run a system file check from within Windows or the Mac OS to determine if all the system files are present and correct.
If you suspect your drive is failing then it is best to get it replaced sooner rather than later. If a drive is not too badly damaged it can usually be cloned on to a new drive and any software damage repaired, which is far quicker than having to rebuild the system from scratch on a new drive and maintains your applications and data.
My Hard Drive Has Failed!
If your drive fails completely then the device will not boot. You will get a message to say that your boot device is not accessible or Windows may try to start but then report it cannot.
Don’t panic! You may still be able to retrieve your data if you do not have a backup.
In this scenario, it is best to speak to your IT Support company who will have tools and software available to try and recover your data. Depending on your contract, they should be able to monitor your systems and be alerted to potential disk failures.
In the worst-case scenario then your operating system and applications can be reloaded on to a new hard drive to get your PC or laptop working again.
It is also possible for data to be recovered from failed hard drives via forensic recovery services. These specialists can physically dismantle the drive, in special dust-free facilities to retrieve the data directly from the magnetic disc. Depending on the amount of data and the reason for failure this can take some time to do and can be very expensive so prevention and backups are always the best option!