BSVP On-Site: Tech – How to Tell when a Hard Drive will Fail

BSVP On-Site: Tech at NAB 2017

Smart Alec started in 2010 when Tim Standing, VP of Software Engineering at OWC added a feature to SoftRaid that allowed them to predict when a hard drive would fail.

Smart Alec can alert you that a drive will fail, even when it look like it’s working correctly, but still had some problem. The software is based on a 2007 Google study where they collected smart data on hard drives. It looked as several parameters, including how long the drive had been on, all the reallocated sectors it had. Google collected all this data every 24 hours. They then waited for a drive to fail, and when it failed, they looked back in time and they saw what parameters changed just before it failed. They use about 80 parameters and found 3 that were really predictive of disc drive failure. Tim used this information when he added the predictive failure monitor to SoftRaid in 2010. They’ve had it ever since.

Choosing best time to replace failing drive

The software has saved a lot of people by predicting when a drive would fail. Thousands of disc drives have failed in that amount of time. It has enable users to predict when a drive will fail so that they can schedule the replacement during a downtime. Without knowing when the drive will fail, it usually fails just at the wrong time. Whether you’re trying to get ready for a client, or in Tim’s case, it would be just before he released a new version of SoftRaid. It’s always the worst time. Imagine your client has just shown up and the drive goes down. You then need to scramble to find a backup copy. You find a copy, but it’s the copy from a few days ago. SoftRaid added the predictive drive failure feature in 2010. It was improved in the 2014 version.

Stand Alone Product

SoftRaid has been shipping for 7 years. The feedback has been, “Why do I need to buy the whole package when all I want is this little part of it. Which is the drive monitoring part, the predictive to fail part.” Smart Alec was created as a stand-alone product in the Fall of 2016. Essentially, all Smart Alec does is watch all your disc drives. When one of them gets to the point when it’s predicted to fail, it raises a red flag and says “you’ve got to deal with this”.

Smart Alec has 3 levels for each disc drive, green means that everything is fine, the drive is great. Yellow means that the drive is predicted to fail. It’s probably going to fail within 1 to 2 weeks, maybe a month at most. Red means that the drive has actually failed the smart test and you should replace it right now.

Easy Monitoring

With only 3 layers of indicators, it makes the monitoring very easy. Many tools overload you with data designed for computer engineers and is difficult to decipher. Smart Alec is designed for video editors, graphic artist and even business professionals. It’s designed so that it just gives you the information that you need. The drive is fine, the drive is going to fail, the drive has already failed.

The best thing about Smart Alec is that OWC is offering it for free. It is available on Apple’s App Store starting July 1, 2017. It’s currently available as a public beta from The Windows version will be available in Fall 2017.

See Status at a Glance

Smart Alec is designed to run in the background and not to have any impact on your computer or add any instability. It doesn’t have a driver or use tons of CPU time. It just sits there and quietly monitor your drive. When it detects a problem you get a small dialog box. You would then click on the Smart Alec icon in the menu bar, choose Open Smart Alec to display the user interface.

You can see at a glance the status of the system drive and external Thunderbolt drives. With a paid upgrade, Smart Alec will monitor connected Firewire and USB drives. If you have any drives on the shelf, you can plug those drives in and check the status of them as well. It will monitor individual drives in a RAIDs such as Apple RAIDs or SoftRaid volumes, however it is not currently compatible with hardware based RAIDs.

Sue Lawson is a feature film editor and owner of ChicagoEdit
Bruce Himmelblau is a video producer and YouTube content marketing strategist

Producer: Bruce Himmelblau
Host: Sue Lawson
Guest: Tim Standing, VP of Software Engineering at OWC