3/16/10

Data Protection - An Unhappy Story

The technical literature for computers has always warned that hard drives aren't perfect, and that when they go, they often do so abruptly.  Enough trouble-free experience with them can make a person complacent to the risks. I resemble that remark!

Trouble is: I tried to do the right thing.  Knowing that with a computer above six years old there may be vulnerabilities, I attempted to keep important data present both on my C: drive and on a (much newer) USB-attached external hard drive.  That worked until my main hard drive filled up. Then I moved several directories of family pictures to the attached drive to clear space.

So naturally, it was the newer drive that failed, as it now contained the sole copy of years of irreplaceable pictures.  Here is the tale of my journey out of perdition...

I googled "data recovery" and got several hits for companies that make that a business of doing that service.  From reading their web sites, I selected one that seemed to have a professional approach and a picture of a physical address that suggested a robust business.
I filled out a request for quote online and was gratified to get a call within half an hour from someone who spoke good English and who, on hearing the symptoms, immediately suggested the same failure mechanism I had figured occurred (firmware failure). I got a formal offer by email for services, laying out what would be done & when, and the likely charges - with a note that they try to make 80% of all recoveries for under $400.  (This was encouraging, because $400 is a number I had heard from friends who had had data recoveries before.)  So I packed my drive securely and shipped it off.

The company's communications with me were excellent! I got several updates by email and a link I could follow to get the chain of custody in real time, as the drive went through the diagnostics and recovery attempts. Then I got a call that the attempts to make the drive "talk" were successful, and an email containing a list of all files discovered on the drive - a list that went on many pages. It looked good!

I should mention that meanwhile I bought a Ethernet-equipped 1TB drive and hung it on the home LAN, and ran backup software on the family's computers. I hope not to be caught unprepared again!

With my assurance that the data I hoped to recover was included in the file list I received, then the company made its pitch: it would cost over $950 to get the data moved onto a replacement drive and sent to me! When I could breathe again, I asked why the steep increase in the expected price? Well, the technician had had to flash the firmware twice. Now, I've flashed EPROMs and I have an idea of the effort that cost. Believe me, it is not commensurate with the increase! And as a retiree, I didn't have an extra grand lying loose about. So, I had them pack up the drive and send it back to me.  That's it - no data recovery, no cost. For trying to skin me, they got nothing.

Discouraged, I let the drive sit in my garage over the winter.  After Brenda prodded me several times about the old family photos, I finally overcame my lassitude and looked into recovery services again. This time, I found a site comparing data recovery services, where I read many horror stories. My first company had a 1-star rating on a 1 - 5 scale! Arggh! Shoulda looked harder, first go-round!  So for my second attempt, I chose one* with mostly good ratings.  As the drive failed in September and it was now February, I said I had no pressing time limit for a recovery, which would help keep prices down. This company took more than two weeks, made no acknowledgments other than that they received the drive, but eventually I got an email with a file list. Still looked good; at least Company #1 hadn't screwed up my drive in pique at losing the paying part of the job. And with a telephone call, here came the pitch: $384 to recover what I wanted onto DVDs plus $8/DVD! That's it! Another week and I had the data in my hand.

The moral here is to choose your data recovery service judiciously.  Hah! No! That's not it! The moral here is to back up your data so you don't go through a story like mine... even if it did have a happy ending.

* Because you asked - Company #2 is called Gillware.

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