When disaster strikes, your data…

by wonderfullyrich on May 1, 2008

To follow up my previous post on how to keep yourself safe, I felt it was only fitting that I also add a short piece on how you can recover from some data loss situations.

First and foremost, I’ll re-iterate, BACKUP UP YOUR DATA!

Look at this from a money point of view. The following three options are about the cheapest external drive you can find on the web as I write this. These are reliable drive and have warranties.

250 GB Really small and portable USB powered 3 Year warranty $109.99 + shipping

750GB Segate with 5 year warranty $168.49 + shipping

500GB LaCie $99.24 + shipping (or free w/ AZM prime)

On the other hand the cheapest place I could find to do a clean room based data recovery was still $279 (Aero Data Recovery, Inc) and that’s not including the replacement hard drive so it’s $279 plus at least $130. You can figure, roughly speaking, to spend at least 3 times the amount of money on recovery as you would if you just backed up your data in hardware cost alone. Extra time, stress, and energy of data recovery just icing on the cake. Indeed, this isn’t even a guaranteed recovery! Depending on how bad the failure it, you have a good chance the data is permanently lost.

If you are an average American and you’ve already spent 500-1000+ dollars on a computer, you can afford to spend $100 bucks and get a second hard drive that is dedicated to backing up your most vital data. Don’t use it for anything but backup! This is by far the cheapest way to backup stuff right now. (Don’t forget to encrypt it.) The same principle goes for a flash card, usb jump drive, PDA, still/video camera, MP3 player, etc.

Purchase or download software that helps you backup your data. There are many out there and most are very user friendly. Windows and Mac both have free and documented ways to backup your hardware.

If you want something that is geographically separate and secure, think about an online option. There are at least 9 different major providers of online storage, probably more like 20. (Watch and wait for this field to begin exploding and drop in price as they going the commoditizing route Amazon Web Services and others introduced.) The aren’t all as cheap as the hard drive option, but they’ll give you more flexibility in getting at a document or mp3 file next time you are on vacation or at your friends house.

Fine, let say you back-up your data but your jump drive, photo card, hard drive, or other digital brain failed and it’s got something that it’s worth some time and money to recover, what do you do?

Step 1: As soon as you start seeing signs of failure or problems, back up your data if you can. Copy the data some place that is not on the fritz so you have a chance to get it later.

Step 2: If that fails, stop using the device as soon after the failure as possible. Only use recovery techniques to touch the data and limit these as much as possible. The reason for this is that if it’s a hardware problem, you’ll just exacerbate and possibly destroy more by continuing to use the drive.

Step 3: Try a data recovery program. I highly recommend PhotoRec which is free and although a bit technical, does have many step-by-step guide (just start searching). It will recover your document, presentations, mp3 files, videos, and a lot more then just photos, although photos on CompactFlash/SD/XD and other photo cards were it’s original purpose.

Step 4: You’ve just reached the limit of what you should try. Ship it off to a data recovery service and let a professional recover it.

Step 5: Close the barn door.

This isn’t the only time you’ll like have this problem in your life. Technology will change and hopefully get better as will the recovery rate (7 years ago I was quoted $1500 or so to recover a drive), but new technologies will continue to challenge society and find new ways to fail so don’t depend entirely on any single piece of technology. As an IT guy, I recommend redundancy at all levels. (I also recommend simplicity, but they don’t always mix yet.)

Next time you look a that fancy new computer, cell phone, technological storage device, ask yourself how you are going to maintain this device. Make a calender entry to backup your data every 1-6 months. It might also be time to stop worrying about backup on somethings, start using Google Docs for your day to day stuff. They just made it so you can edit documents online or offline (i.e. when you are on a plane and don’t have internet) and guess what, they backup there data relentlessly so you don’t have to. There is a trade off in privacy, Google mines data, but it will make one part of your life a lot simpler.

Please, Please, Please don’t be the one who calls me up and is pissed off, tired, and has a deadline tomorrow and needs a document on a device that just decided that valhalla looked nice today.

UPDATE: Adam at Lifehacker did a great post that’s more comprehensive software wise on the same subject.

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