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Data Recovery Firms to the Rescue

Data Recovery Firms to the Rescue
By Reid Goldsborough

What’s the worst thing that could happen to your computer? It could crash, destroy your data, and — if the computer plays a key role in your business — force you into bankruptcy.

The above may sound unrealistically bleak and sensationalistic, but it happens more often than you might think, says Jon William Toigo, the author of 12 books, including the recently published Disaster Recovery Planning: Managing Risk & Catastrophe in Information Systems.

Toigo, who also is a computer consultant, estimates that 50 percent of companies experiencing a computer outage lasting more than 10 days will be out of business within five years.

Everybody who has been around computers for more than a week knows, or should know, that the way to prevent such a catastrophe is to back up data needed to keep you operating onto an additional, or several additional, storage media.

Knowledge doesn’t always mean action, though. It takes a confident person to own up to his mistakes, but that is exactly what Bruno Cywinski did while talking to me about his near catastrophe.

Cywinski, who runs a 12-employee graphics design studio outside Toronto, had a Macintosh computer crash on him about a year ago. “The information on that hard drive represented nearly a month of work. If we had lost that data, we would have missed an ‘unmissable’ deadline for our key client — and undoubtedly lost the account,” Cywinski says.

His story is a common one. Cywinski’s company had grown quickly. “We were always too busy to do backups regularly,” he says.

He was lucky. A white knight came to his rescue. A data recovery firm is the place to go when the bits hit the fan — when you lose data because of a hard disk crash, fire, flood and so on and there are no backups.

Cywinski called CBL Data Recovery Technologies Inc. , a data recovery firm with offices in New York and San Diego as well as seven other cities. CBL saved all of the company’s data.

CBL isn’t the biggest or most widely known data recovery firm. Kroll Ontrack Inc. , formerly Ontrack Data International Inc. and DriveSavers Data Recovery Inc. are both larger. But CBL just may have the biggest heart.

“We cry sometimes if we’re not able to recover crucial data,” says Bill Margeson, president of CBL. This happens relatively infrequently, which is fortunate for both customers and his employees’ emotional stability. Margeson cites a success rate of 83 percent, along with a plethora of other numbers that put into perspective the issue of data loss.

Hard drives have a 2 percent failure rate, he says, and as they increase in capacity and complexity, they become more prone to failure.

The most common reason for a hard drive failure, accounting for 65 percent of the problems CBL works on, is the hard drive heads physically crashing into the hard disk platters. This often can be prevented.

Be careful about bumping into a computer, particularly during the vulnerable period when it first boots. With a laptop, don’t walk around with it as it is starting up.

Fires, floods and mudslides account for 6 percent of the problems CBL sees. “Don’t give up on a melted computer,” Margeson says. The data on the hard drive inside may still be salvageable.

Viruses account for fewer problems than many people think — 6 percent of the data loss that CBL sees. Other causes of data loss include incorrectly reinstalling the computer’s operating system, incorrectly installing software upgrades and patches, inadvertently erasing files — even somebody maliciously smashing a computer.

CBL’s average invoice is $1,400, which is in line with the rest of the data recovery industry. “We see ourselves as the last resort,” Margeson says.

After his near-disaster, Cywinski learned an important lesson. “Everybody should follow a strict backup regimen,” he says. His involves burning data onto CDs and keeping one set off-site. If you keep all of your backups on site, those backups can be lost in a fire along with your hard-disk data. You also should periodically test your backups to ensure the data on them is accessible.

If you can’t access data from your hard drive, and you have reliable backups, you can first try using data recovery software such as Norton Utilities. But if you don’t have reliable backups, you should weigh the value of the data. In some cases, using a product such as Norton Utilities can make it more difficult for a data recovery firm to do its work later.

— Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] or .

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