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Managing hard drive data loss

(Image credit: Image Credit: Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock)

Most PC users have at some point experienced a crushing data loss. Whether their laptop’s power supply failed or a program crashed without saving content, the loss of information happens. Unfortunately, for many users this loss is permanent because they have not followed best practices for backing up their data.   

When data is lost, an advanced recovery tool is often needed in order to extract valuable business or personal content. But this is a last resort, and users should proactively try to prevent situations where they put their data at risk, whether it’s exposing hard drives to the elements or IT picking an untested cloud provider. And unfortunately user error is still a leading cause of data loss, whether they are deleting files they meant to save or overwriting data by accident. Users should be taught to not compound any errors by following the right recovery procedures, which includes knowing when to call in outside help. 

Proactively Prepping for Data Loss 

Data collected from Backblaze studies point to failure rates for hard drives of around three years, with variation between manufacturers and hard drive sizes. This rate of failure should be a wakeup call for both personal and business users. They cannot rely on long-term viability of a single hard drive, and should have procedures in place to help manage inevitable drive failures. 

Even if backup procedures are in place within a business, they often become stagnant and outdated. There’s typically not someone internally who is reviewing the efficacy of the backups, and whether or not there are new procedures that should be instituted. This needs to change, as data is eminently important to the modern business, and the potential risks of data loss far outweigh the time and (minimal) expense of proper backups.   

Establishing a backup schedule is vital, with intervals at 15 minutes or less which can ensure data availability and greatly minimize loss. Users should also leverage S.M.A.R.T. [Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology] alerts by using them to spot impending drive failures. The S.M.A.R.T. tools and other disc monitoring tools can proactively tell IT when a drive is having problems, allowing them to provision a new drive and avoid any interruption in services or storage for the end users. IT should have procedures in place to warn users about these issues, along with how to move the data and if there are replacement drives on hand.   

Understand How to Power Down 

Every type of data failure event is unique, so users should have a broad understanding of what type of event is involved at a given moment, and then know what type of tech assistance should be requested. Users that receive formal training on “what to do if XYZ happens” are much more likely to remain calm and perform (or not perform) the right next steps that will boost their chances of retrieving their data. It’s not time for emotion and hot tempers, as that will introduce hasty decisions and the potential to lose data permanently or extend the reach of a loss event. 

After a failure, if the hard drive is still able to be recognized by the system/IT then it is possible to pull data using recovery software or the right system tools. If the drive isn’t recognized, then it’s best to remove it immediately and then send it along to an expert firm in data recovery. Again, IT should have a formal plan that encourages immediate action. If the drive simply isn’t responding, then IT needs to move quickly and not try an ad hoc approach to try to fix the problem. The majority of drive failures are logical, instead of mechanical failures, and each power-up runs the risk of damaging the platters and causing other internal harm. Other issues such as fire, water damage, and power surges are also likely to require outside professional help. Know when to “cut your losses” and call in the experts. Consistent and repeatable procedures in regards to the management of hard drives are a key for data loss prevention and recovery. 

Failure in the Clouds 

While the cloud offers protection and redundancies, they can still experience data loss. Despite the name, the cloud still relies on physical servers that are located somewhere. Cloud providers do take continuous snapshots of client data, but they can also have failing hard drives which might complicate their ability to restore recent snapshots and ensure 100% data recovery. This doesn’t mean cloud providers are unreliable – far from it. They just aren’t failure proof, and companies should discuss with providers their records on failures and the procedures they have in place to manage those “data snapshots.” 

Data failures at the cloud provider level require another level of expertise from a professional recovery firm. These jobs are highly complex and require the usage of proprietary tools that are necessary for pulling data from within virtual environments.   

Avoid the “Amateur Fix” 

A final word of caution is to avoid trying to fix a valuable drive with methods gleaned from the internet. For example, placing a water-damaged hard drive into a bag of desiccating rice might help dry it out, but it’s still not advisable to then turn the drive back on. The drive should instead be sent to professionals who can open it under controlled conditions and use advanced tools to remove moisture. This is especially important when dealing with salt water damage, as the drying process will leave salty residue on the various components, which can cause more problems than the actual wetness.   

Home remedies can make recovery more difficult, and in extreme cases they can make it impossible by irreversibly wrecking a hard drive’s components. Taking matters into one’s own hands can cause the loss of mission critical data and add a considerable cost to the recovery process. 

David Zimmerman, CEO of LC Technology   

Image Credit: Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock

David Zimmerman
David Zimmerman, CEO of LC Technology International, Inc., has been in the hardware/software industry for over 30 years, specifically in the data recovery software market for 18 years.