Data recovery services -- a last resort
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If you have a damaged hard disk containing vital data, a data recovery service is often your last hope. These companies specialize in recovering data from disks damaged by everything from fires to viruses, which cannot be read by other means. Their services are not cheap, not always successful and almost never necessary if you have maintained proper backups. However, sometimes they are the only way to recover irreplaceable information.
Data recovery on this level is not a do-it-yourself project. A lot of the time it involves opening up the drive in a clean room and trying to read the disk sectors using specialized equipment. It is painstaking and requires a skilled technician. While some of the data on the disk is often unrecoverable, it is often possible to get back the 'target data' � the most important and irreplaceable files, such as data files. Typically the turnaround time is several days and the data will be returned to you on a CD-ROM or other media you specify. Because the process is so complex, most companies price their work on a case-by-case basis, providing the customer with an estimate once they have actually examined the drive. Many companies only charge if they are able to recover some or all of the target data.
There are a number of companies worldwide that specialize in recovering data from damaged hard disks. Since the process is so dependent on the skill of the technicians, the results can vary widely. Your best guide is the data recovery firm's reputation and the best time to select a company is when you have time to check them out -- before you need them, in other words.
MDS Disk Service of Riverside, CA, has a FAQ on data recovery on its Web site.
Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last twenty years he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.
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