[Beowulf] Consumer vs. Enterprise Hard Drives in Clusters

Jon Forrest jlforrest at berkeley.edu
Wed Jan 21 16:19:55 PST 2009

Many of us have lots of disk storage as part of our clusters.

One issue I always face when buying RAID storage is whether
to get the more expensive "enterprise" drives or to go
ahead and settle for the consumer grade drives. The
last time I checked, the enterprise drives were ~25%
more expensive than the consumer drives. This difference
might have changed since then.

I've tried to find out what the differences are between
the enterprise vs. the consumer drives. I've heard
different answers. One answer I've heard is that the
enterprise drives use "better" firmware than the
consumer drives. I wasn't sure whether I should accept
this explanation, especially since those famous papers
from Google and CMU said that they didn't see any
significant differences between the two types of drives.
Also, since (until recently) the manufacturer's warranty was
the same on both drive types, I was skeptical about the
differences between the drives.

In the last week or so, it has come to light that Seagate
has a big problem with their 1TB disk drives (and others).
and http://forums.seagate.com/stx/board/message?board.id=ata_drives&thread.id=3668
for coverage of the problem)
What's interesting about this is that *both* the consumer
(e.g Barracuda 7200.11) and enterprise (e.g. Barracuda ES.2)
versions of the Seagate drives have the same firmware problem,
or at least are suffering from the same firmware bug.
This makes me wonder about how different their firmware must be.

I'm glad I've been buying the consumer drives because, at least
as far as this problem is concerned, my life wouldn't have been
improved if I had spent the extra money for the enterprise drives.

Jon Forrest
Research Computing Support
College of Chemistry
173 Tan Hall
University of California Berkeley
Berkeley, CA
jlforrest at berkeley.edu

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