If car tires can keep going when they're damaged, then why not hard disks? Industry standards committees are working on this concept. Microsoft and others are starting to plan for its implementation.

Enterprise storage systems including Microsoft Azure are a year or two away from having the equivalent of run-flat tires to keep damaged hard disks in production.

SEE: Microsoft Azure: The smart person's guide

The idea is called logical depopulating and goes by "depop" in a system command set. It is being proposed by industry standards committees and would allow more efficient maintenance schedules in large-scale data centers, because a hard drive could keep most of its capacity available until its turn to be replaced comes along.

"Drives fail. They're reliable, but they are mechanical things. The question is how do you manage that gracefully," explained Joe Breher, a storage architect in Longmont, Colorado who is leading the standards effort. "We're seeing in a large percentage of cases in drive failures, when they do finally fail, the failure is limited to a single head in the device. What can we do to take advantage of that fact and extend the service life?"

Western Digital's Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, where Breher works, and Seagate Technology are both already shipping proprietary versions of offline logical depop mechanisms. A host device recognizes a bad drive, reformats it, and puts the good sections back into service at less capacity...

Read more: New standards may bring run-flat tech to hard drives in Microsoft Azure and data centers - TechRepublic