Users avoid disaster by undeleting files

File recovery software Undelete is bringing a warm, fuzzy feeling to users who thought they'd lost files forever.

Deleting an important file the day of a deadline or presentation is a universal nightmare. But usually, hope is not completely lost. There are file recovery products that can search for the last saved version of a deleted file, and there's always some version of it on a backup tape.

But Undelete, an instant file-recovery product for Windows from Executive Software International, simplifies and speeds up this process by replacing a server's recycle bin with a larger recovery bin that captures all deleted files, allowing them to be recovered instantly.

According to George Goodrich, product manager at Executive Software in Burbank, Calif., the Undelete technology uses what is known as a filter-driver -- a piece of code that sits between the operating system and the hard drive that allows Undelete to keep track of files that are open and could be deleted. In the final stage of the deletion, Undelete stops the deletion, renames the file and moves it to the Undelete recovery bin, which Goodrich calls "a recycling bin on steroids." And because deleted files are renamed rather than copied, there are few performance hits, according to Goodrich.

Peter Gerr, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, Mass., said that because user error is usually to blame for data protection mistakes, having an undelete button is a great idea. "But my only concern is how Undelete fits into a company's entire data management strategy," he said. "Sometimes files should be destroyed, and having them in limbo could complicate matters."

Gerr also pointed out that many companies are still using backup tapes to recover lost files or using Norton or Symantec antivirus software on their desktops. "Undelete seems to be a more efficient way to reduce user error," Gerr said.

Undelete's efficiency was the big boon for T.C. Waltz, information systems manager at SafeFit, a manufacturer of children's travel accessories such as seatbelts and strollers. The Freeport, Fla.-based company has 40 employees and 70 GB of storage and runs Undelete on its primary file server. "I can't imagine not having it," said Waltz.

Before Undelete, Waltz would use Norton antivirus software to hopefully recover lost data or he would rely on nightly tape backups. "With Undelete, we get all-day coverage on the server," he said. Waltz points to previous use of Executive's software and the reasonable price of Undelete ($300 per server) as reasons for buying the software.

Soon after purchasing Undelete, Waltz was reminded that files are not always deleted accidentally -- sometimes there's malicious intent. A disgruntled employee of SafeFit who was leaving the company burned all his important work files to CD and then deleted them off the server. With his CDs safe in hand, the employee hoped to use the supposedly deleted files as leverage to get his job back. "Unbeknownst to him, I had Undelete running in the background," said Waltz. "I was easily able to recover the data when he tried to blackmail us with it. It was quite a good feeling."

At the El Paso, Texas, office of airplane maker Boeing Co., system administrator Jose Rodriguez uses Undelete on the company's two main file servers. Before purchasing Undelete three years ago, the Boeing office would go to backup tapes to recover deleted files. "It was tedious. So many man-hours were wasted," said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez mentioned that even though Windows Server 2003 has drive shadowing built in -- where users can restore their own files -- Undelete is more effective. There is user training required with drive shadowing and it only backs up twice a day, at which point, the servers can't be used for 30 seconds. "With Undelete, the IT group has full control and it saves so much time. With IT budgets shrinking, there's no substitute for that," said Rodriguez.

As for plans to expand Undelete beyond Windows, product manager Goodrich said, "We have our eye on Linux. But only if our customers ask for it."

Undelete 4.0 runs on Microsoft Windows XP, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003.

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