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Heat the Silent Killer

The effects of heat upon the hard disk drives is undergoing constant research with data centres a vast resource of information. These reports reveal an intriguing and unexpected finding, which suggests that if the operating environment is too cold it may be even more detrimental to the lifespan of a hard disk drive than running at high temperatures. This may be due to condensation build-up at very low temperatures which could cause water to enter the drive mechanism, but for the vast majority of companies this situation will not arise.

As a cause of hardware failure, heat is the biggest problem faced within the computer industry, especially as it is almost impossible to predict exactly how heat will affect each individual component and where any hot spots may occur, as there are many factors which will determine their location. Unless a component on the controller board has burnt out, there are no other visible indicators that excessive heat has been the cause of the failure.

Maintain Airflow

Server systems often contain more multiple hard disks and may have external storage in the form of a RAID. It is also common for companies to maintain several servers, which is why they are often housed in a specially air conditioned room, containing a fire suppression system. However, even when housed in a server room, it is important that air is flowing across all the components in the system, otherwise hot spots may build up.

If you build your own server, or maintain a server at home, it is important to ensure the case used provides adequate airflow, especially across the hard disks. Many modern cases now feature fans built into the chassis which draw air inside which will help to ensure the hard disk drives are being cooked. If you intend to house several hard disk drives in your server or any computer system, this is an important feature for any case you use.

This airflow must be maintained, as even in a server room dust is in the air and will stick the surface of fans and heat sinks. If this is allowed to build up it can obstruct the flow of air leading to components slowly getting hotter over time.

Damage From Heat is Cumulative

It is fairly typical for the operating temperature range for any given hard disk to be around 5 degrees Celcius at the low end and in the region of 55 degrees at the high end. Running a disk within this range does not guarantee the drive won’t fail, or that outside it, the drive will instantly fail. Running towards the high end of this operating range makes a failure more likely.

Heat is almost like a silent assassin as it will go unseen until its affects lead to a failure or unpredictable behaviour. Once damage has been done, even under normal operating temperatures and good airflow, it is likely to increase, especially in electrical components, which are particularly prone to heat damage. The effect of running a drive continuously at high temperature can for example lead to failure of components on the controller board, read/write head failures or cause the fluid bearing to outgas leading to the spindle motor seizing up.

Cascading Failures

Erratic behaviour is most likely to occur due to a damaged component on the controller board and due to a phenomenon known as self-annealing even see damage to electronic temporarily repair. This could cause odd affects, such as the spindle motor fluctuating in the speed, which will not only cause reading or writing to be slowed down, but start a resonance with the platters whereby they vibrate and if it becomes too bad may impact with the read/write heads. Any drive which has been damaged due to heat should be turned off and sent to a professional data recovery company, such a DiskEng, who have the necessary experience and expertise required to rebuild the hard disk and recover your files.

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