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Is this a sign of a failing hard drive, or does this just happen occassionally when a server has been on for a while? Or something else?
All hard drives have bad blocks. If there are only a few, then usually data is simply saved on certain blocks that are hidden just for that purpose. If you are seeing a lot of bad block errors, that is usually a sign the hard drive is on the verge of doing something bad. I would backup everything now, and start pricing out a new drive.
Further, if your OS is seeing bad blocks, this is particularly bad.
Most drives today manage bad blocks internally and transparently. There is some special software (depending on drive type) that will allow you to view both the original and grown defect list. (grown = after manufacture). These are NOT the bad blocks that your OS is reporting to you, as your OS is completely unaware of the internal bad block list.
If your OS is reporting bad blocks, it means that either you have a (very) old drive that doesn't internally remap bad blocks, or else the drive has exhaused it's pool of spare blocks.