High Elevation (7500ft +) Shortening HDD Lifespan?

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High Elevation (7500ft +) Shortening HDD Lifespan?


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Has anyone else worked with Synology NAS / HDDs at high elevation? I'd be interested in hearing your experience with HDD lifespan - particularly arising from cooling issues.

Until recently, I lived in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming - I still remote-manage a couple NAS located there. Over the past six years or so, we tried a variety of "plus" and "xs" series Synology NAS with Seagate NAS-worthy HDDs or enterprise HDDs - 6TB and 10TB. The NASs were in a basement where the ambient temperature is constant at 68-degrees F. We soon realized that under heavy loads like data scrubbing or hours of copying, it was not possible to maintain HDD temperatures at or under 40-degrees C without using external fans. Strikingly, the majority of our HDDs failed within two years of relatively light use. I suspect this is because we didn't consistently mitigate the cooling issues with external fans. But I welcome comments from anyone who has operated a NAS at elevation.

I hasten to add that the current generation of Synology NAS appears to have much more robust cooling capability. But cooling and HDD lifespan is still a concern at high elevation.

This isn't something I'd considered but a very valid point. For me at 85m above sea-level this isn't an issue that's raised it's head. Looking up WD Red datasheet and they say 0-65degC in operation.

I'm trying to remember what my old 2007 iMac's HD operated at. Using iStat Menus to view sensor data, unless I adapted fan rules to 'noisy', it was consistently around 85-90degC around the CPU and the disk must have been over 40deg-C (probably 50degC or even higher) ... due to the display lamps always being on and, well, poor case ventilation and dust. The last HD (seagate SSHD) I put in must've been running 24/7 for 3 to 4 years and still is good, when/if I boot it up. Only the original HD died after some years and the next WD Blue was replaced for the faster SSHD.

Do you use UPS to protect from power spikes, etc., and run 24/7? Just wondering if there's any stop/start type of usage that could be corrupting the disks.
1. please, describe more your HDDs - vendor, model, year of purchase, model of operation (full time spin/periodically switched off, hibernation)

2. attitude & HDD relations
- basically each vendor have kind of disclaimer regarding the operation conditions, also for the attitude (operating, storage). Most HDDs are not designed to operate attitude over 10k feet / 3048m ... look for Seagate spec here
- Read/Write heads of the HDD float on really thin air layer.
- Specially for the "low cost" drives with normal air filled environment inside is valid, that the air pressure inside the HDD is maintained by the special hole (in the disk) for air pressure balancing (thermal increase in unmodified case size is enabler of air pressure increase.
- At high altitude mentioned, the air is too thin to maintain the head in right position from magnetic platter and it might scratch and destroy the disk surface = lifespan degradation.

Then for such environment is better to use HDD with Helium enclosed atmosphere. Reasons:
Physicists at this point introduce the concept of an “Ideal Gas”. The ideal gas is one for which for all temperatures you get same pressure, so helium is close to ideal over a very wide range.

3. Then we have defined a checkpoint of the gas leakage follow S.M.A.R.T metrics with ID#22 - attribute 22 is the status of the Helium in a drive. Problem is, that every single different drive model reports a slightly different set of attributes. This is a failure prediction based value that trips once the drive detects that the disk (internal) environment is out of declared conditions. They did not share the amount of He . Normal threshold value is different for each vendor HDD (you need to check it).

Here you can see some of Helium atmosphere based HDDs from Seagate, also based on CMR (better).

Be careful:
At temperatures close to absolute zero, Helium condenses to a liquid :cool:
Thanks for the comments and questions. While living there, we tried most of the DS "plus" and "xs" 8-bay and 12-bay Synology NAS models starting with the 2013 series. 8-bays generally provided the best cooling. In all cases, drives in the highest numbered slots typically ran 3 to 4 degrees C warmer than the others. The DS3617xs was the best of the 12-bay DS, so far, in terms of cooling. But we brought that one with us when moving to sea level. I didn't retain a detailed inventory of our first HDDs make/model; but most recently, we've used IronWolf, IronWolf Pro, and Exos.

Operation is 24/7 with a ZeroSurge Power Conditioner (highly recommended) ahead of a couple APC SMT1000C Sine wave UPS.

@jeyare has a good point about helium drives. Early indications were that they will last longer at elevation. Another feature of living at elevation is that there can be very abrupt (ear-popping) changes in atmospheric pressure when weather fronts move through. That has to be tough on traditional, non-helium drives.

Since moving to sea level last year, we have retired most of our IronWolf and IronWolf Pro HDDs; and replaced them with 16TB Exos. Thanks for the other comments and references to SMART parameters. Very interesting (I was a physics major in college days, 50 years ago).

One good thing came out of my experience at elevation... We became VERY mindful of the value of multiple backups - and the value of a very well documented recovery process.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the heavy workloads moved with me to sea level. So I won't have a fair comparison, given the handful of HDDs we still have at elevation. Wish I had done a bit more detailed HDD lifespan tracking previously; but such is 20-20 hindsight.

I've had a number of conversations with people who operate data centers or individual NAS at 5,000ft (Denver) or 6,000ft (Cheyenne NOAA Super Computer and a corporate data center). It seems the elevation related difficulties for humans and computers rise exponentially above 5,000ft. Hopefully a veteran of the high mountain country will eventually find this post and chime in with a few anecdotes.

Meanwhile, thanks very much for the technical input and thought-provoking questions.


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