Wandering Thoughts archives


Disk drive SMART attributes can go backward and otherwise be volatile

Recently, we had a machine stall hard enough that I had to power cycle it in order to recover it. Since the stall seemed to be related to potential disk problems, I took a look at SMART data from before the problem seemed to have started and after the machine was back (this information is captured in our metrics system). To my surprise, I discovered that several SMART attributes had gone backward, such as the total number of blocks read and written (generally SMART IDs 241 and 242) and 'Hardware ECC Recovered' (here, SMART ID 195). I already knew that the SMART 'power on hours' value was unreliable, but I hadn't really thought that other attributes could be unreliable this way.

This has lead me to look at SMART attribute values over time across our fleet, and there certainly do seem to be any number of attributes that see 'resets' of some sort despite being what I'd think was stable. Various total IO volume attributes and error attributes seem most affected, and it seems that the 'power on hours' attribute can be affected by power loss as well as other things.

Once I started thinking about the details of how drives need to handle SMART attributes, this stopped feeling so surprising. SMART attributes are changing all the time, but drives can't be constantly persisting the changed attributes to stable storage, whether that's some form of NVRAM or the HDD itself (for traditional HDDs with no write endurance issues). Naturally drives will be driven to hold the current SMART attributes in RAM and only persist them periodically. On an abrupt power loss they may well not persist this data, or at least only save the SMART attributes after all other outstanding IO has been done (which is the order you want, the SMART attributes are the least important thing to save). It also looks like some disks may sometimes not persist all SMART attributes even during normal system shutdowns.

This probably doesn't matter very much in practice, especially since SMART attributes are so variable in general that it's hard to use them for much unless you have a very homogenous set of disk drives. There's already no standard way to report the total amount of data read and written to drives, for example; across our modest set of different drive models we have drives that report in GiB, MiB, or LBAs (probably 512 bytes).

(Someday I may write an entry on fun inconsistencies in SMART attribute names and probably meaning that we see across our disks.)

PS: I don't know how NVMe drives behave here, since NVMe drives don't have conventional SMART attributes and we're not otherwise collecting the data from our few NVMe drives that might someday let us know for sure, but for now I'd assume that the equivalent information from NVMe drives is equally volatile and may also go backward under various circumstances.

tech/SMARTAttributesVolatile written at 21:51:50; Add Comment

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