What's the worst that could happen to your data?
By Hal Glatzer
Desktops roasting in an office fire.
Laptops road-killed by a truck.
Macs ship-wrecked in the Amazon,
And hard drives mired in the muck.
Think you're out of luck . . . ?
Wait -- there is hope.
When rainstorms flooded Caracas, Venezuela, a civil engineering firm sent 17 ziplock bags filled with soggy hard disk drives to CBL Data Recovery Technologies, Inc., in Armonk, NY. The drives held critical maps of streets, sewers and water mains that the engineers needed in a hurry to repair the city's infrastructure.
"The wet drives had been deliberately frozen in the (mistaken) belief that freezing would minimize damage," said president and CEO Bill Margeson, "but they'd thawed in transit, so the bags were half-full of water anyway. And someone on site had tried to power up two of the drives, but dirt had come in with the water, and particulate matter is especially troublesome. Still, we got data from all of the drives except two."
Facilities such as CBL and DriveSavers charge a hundred dollars or more for a preliminary evaluation, and their final tab for data recovery will be based on the time and resources a job consumes. They would be hard-up for business if everybody backed up their files securely. But even so, HDDs, tape and optical disk drives do, sometimes, just stop. "Every drive will fail, some day," said Gaidano, who noted that shrink-wrapped disk utilities are a mixed blessing. "Those programs have become very powerful, he said, "but that means they can wreak havoc, too. If you can't 'see' the drive...if it doesn't come up when you call it up...you probably can't pull the data off it."
"A recovery lab's first task," according to Margeson, "is to clone the problem drive. We?ll do a 'forensic' read of every physical bit of magnetic signal on the tape or disk and capture the data that way. Then we tackle the problems at the hexidecimal level. Rather than 'repair' something, we extract the data, and make it usable to the client, again."
It's more difficult, incidentally, to recover data from compressed files than from uncompressed files. So, if you normally save data files in compressed formats (as most tape systems enable and encourage you to do), make extra backup copies.
About the author: Hal Glatzer has covered the computer industry for more than twenty years, focusing on storage technologies, products and trends since 1990. He is also a jazz guitarist, and creator of the award-winning murder mystery "Too Dead To Swing".
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This was first published in December 2001