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Q: Hard drive disaster recovery ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Hard drive disaster recovery
Category: Computers > Hardware
Asked by: francois777-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 25 Feb 2003 09:04 PST
Expires: 27 Mar 2003 09:04 PST
Question ID: 166906
A friend  of mine's house burned down a few years ago and he told me he sent
his burnt hard drive to a place where they were able  recover some data even as 
the drive was "fried"

Do you know who offers such a service and how do they manage to recover data?
Subject: Re: Hard drive disaster recovery
Answered By: ericynot-ga on 25 Feb 2003 15:56 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi francois777-ga,

Great question. Losing data from hard drives is a depressingly common
problem which fall into two basic categories: logical problems or
physical disasters, such as that of your friend.

According to Ibas, a data recovery and data erasure company
headquartered in Norway, with offices worldwide, logical problems that
may be encountered generally are one of these:

  1) Erased files
  2) Errors due to installation/upgrade
  3) Errors in file system/overwritten
  4) Viruses

The physical problems the ones you specifically asked about) break out
like this:

  1) Crash       56% 
  2) Mechanics   17%
  3) Electronics 16%
  4) Shock        8%
  5) Water/fire   3%

There are many companies around the world that specialize in this sort
of disaster recovery. Here are a few of them (most of these actually
have multiple locations):

DriveSavers Data Recovery, Inc.
400 Bel Marin Keys Boulevard
Novato, California, USA 94949

ActionFront Data Recovery Labs Inc. 
3333 Bowers Avenue 
Suite 235 
Santa Clara, CA, 95054

DriveSavers Data Recovery, Inc.
400 Bel Marin Keys Boulevard
Novato, California, USA 94949

Total Recall
931 American Pacific Drive
Suite 100
Henderson, NV 89014

Data Recovery Group
1821 Marina Blvd
San Leandro CA 94577

Here's some information from the Data Recovery Group's website that is
specific to your question:

"Fire Damage 
Data can be recovered from many drives even if all plastic components
are melted, and otherwise the hard drive looks like a blackened mess.
The architecture of a hard drive has two main components - the
electronic board and the head assembly. The head assembly houses the
rotating platters which contain the data along with read/write heads
that do just that -- read and write data to the rotating platters.

There is a small hole in the head assembly (pin size) whose purpose is
to compensate for atmospheric changes (if the head assembly was
completely sealed the head assembly would need to be much stronger to
accommodate atmospheric changes). The amount of air that enters this
pin hole is negligible over time.
The second risk is water used by fire fighters entering the small
hole. In this case, speed is of the essence. If the platters are
accessed before the water dries, then there is still a chance of
recovering the critical data on the drive. If the water does dry, it
leaves behind minerals, dirt and other foreign materials throughout
the drive, most importantly, the head assemble and platter(s). The
chances of recovery at this point are less.

Another risk to the head assembly is that the heat was so intense that
the platters experienced melting. In this case there is no hope of
recovering data.
Our experience is, however, that even blackened drives have undamaged
head assemblies. The challenge in recovering data is to rebuild the
electronics to access the data.

Water Damage 

If the hard drive has been under water for only a short time, the
probability is that the head assembly has not been penetrated by the
water. While the data recovery remains difficult, it can be done.

If water has penetrated the head assembly, it is important that the
drive be kept wet. In requesting data recovery it is important to seal
the drive, as well as other media, in a container with a minimum of a
damp sponge. We have been successful in recovering data when we have
received drive shipped (delivered) in distilled water.

A standard technique used by companies specializing in restoring
damaged computer equipment is to bake components for a time to dry
them out. This technique has worked quite well for computer boards,
but can be disastrous for computer hard drives."

How are disk recovery operations accomplished? That, of course,
depends in large part on the type of recovery necessary. Is the
problem a head crash? An electronics failure? A fire? Did the computer
end up in the swimming pool? For some types of problems, such as
inadvertant deletion of critical files, the panicked user may be able
to recover by using commercially available software to salvage
"missing" files.

However, for more difficult problems, such as a hard drive damaged by
fire, the procedure is more complex. First, the user will need to
contact a professional data recovery company. Those companies all warn
on their websites that using software to try to recover from physical
drive damage, such as that done by a head crash or fire, may well
further damage the drive, making recovery more difficult. The recovery
company will assess the situation and tell the user what to do next.
Usually, the drive will need to be sent to a data recovery lab, but in
extreme circumstances, such as a large industrial disaster, some
companies my send technicians to the customer site.

Once at a data recovery facility, the hard drive is moved into a clean
room for disassembly and repair or data recovery. According to Data
Recovery Group a clean room is "an environmentally controlled,
dust-free facility, 50,000 times cleaner than normal air measured by
the number of particles of 5 micrometers and 0.5 micrometers (1 micron

Hard drive recovery firms advertise similar attributes:

  1) many began as simple hard drive repair operations
  1) they have personnel with extensive hardware and software
engineering experience
  2) they have certification by most or all major drive manufacturers
to allow opening a hard drive without voiding the product warranty
  3) they stock extensive supplies of hard drive parts, including
those needed to work on older drives - for instance, DRG claims that
they "maintain over 4000 hard disk drives and our disk drive
purchasing department can find virtually all older and obsolete or
hard to find disk drives. This complementing combination is a
requirement for data recovery. As manufacturers update their products
and their obsolete inventory is sold, the talents of our hard disk
drive purchasing team is necessary as cannibalizing working drives is
a normal procedure for our engineering staff to extracting the vital
data from your physically damaged hard disk drive."
  4) they have proprietary techniques for extracting data from damaged

Those proprietary techniques, of course, are not available to the
general public, but generally involve first copying all data that can
be accessed on the damaged drive to a new medium so that the original
drive will not be further damaged by the extraction and recovery
procedures. Then using a combination of hardware techniques and
software tools in a clean room environment, they recover as much data
as possible.

What does this type of service cost? That depends on the nature of the
problem and the amount of data involved. Be prepared to pay at least
$500 and, for some jobs, many $thousands.

It seems to me, the lesson from reading about all of this is about the
importance of regular backups with data being stored at a separate
site in case of fire or flood. If proper procedures are followed, even
in the most extreme of circumstances, hard drive recovery specialists
will never be needed. However, given the number of such firms out
there, and the prices they charge, insufficient backup procedures
obviously remain a major issue for both individuals and companies.

I hope you will never personally have need for any of these companies.
I thank you for your question because it reminded me that I was
overdue for a system backup of my personal hard drive :)

I also hope this answer completely meets your expectations. If you
need any clarification or have problems with any of the links
provided, just use the Clarify Answer button to let me know.



Google searches: 
hard drive disaster recovery methodology
hard drive disaster recovery
francois777-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00

Subject: Re: Hard drive disaster recovery
From: ericynot-ga on 26 Feb 2003 03:16 PST

Thanks for your rating and tip - very much appreciated. And thanks for using GA.

Subject: reWave Hard Drive Recovery Specialists, LLC
From: stlucia-ga on 25 Aug 2004 22:52 PDT

A company that is my favorite for disaster recovery is 
reWave Hard Drive Recovery Specialists, LLC.  They are located
in Charlotte, NC.  However, they also perform hard drive recovery
for Atlanta, Los Angeles, etc.

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