Miracle Workers: rescuing data from the jaws of disaster

Even if you've dropped your laptop or your server has been set on fire, all hope is not lost. Data recovery companies such as Kroll Ontrack could still rescue your valuable files. Jim Martin dons a white lab coat and goes behind the scenes at a data recovery lab.

A logical solution

Once the data from the disk has been imaged, it passes to the logical recovery team to recover the files the customer has requested. As long as the file system isn't something obscure, the data can usually be obtained fairly quickly. Even if the data was stored in a virtualised environment, or a RAID, it can be recovered but it adds extra steps to the process.

It's possible to recover files which are either corrupted or written over a damaged area of the disk, but it isn't always possible to extract the full file. Ontrack has techniques to read individual records in databases and emails within Outlook PST files. Engineers can also search for the signatures of particular file types, such as Word documents, and as long as the filename is embedded, this can be restored as well, instead of leaving the customer with a slew of files with numerical filenames.

It's crucial to have a backup strategy in place to avoid having only one copy of your critical files.

Engineers rarely open files to see what they contain only when checking that the data has been restored correctly are files opened. However, should an engineer find a selection of suspicious filenames and suspect they may contain illegal material, they must report it to the police. An investigation can then be carried out and, if the customer is suspected to have broken the law, they can be prosecuted. However, this has only happened once or twice in Ontrack's history.

What's the damage?

As we've mentioned, there are various services depending on how quickly customers need their data back: Emergency (working round the clock), Express (your data has priority, and recovery work continues on Saturdays), Standard (data is recovered during normal office hours) and Home User (time isn't a factor).

To recover a single laptop hard disk for these services would cost:

Emergency 350 + 1,495 to 2,995 + VAT

Express 95 + 795 to 1,495 + VAT

Standard 75 + 495 to 995 + VAT

Home User fixed price 599 inc VAT

For a complex enterprise system, for example a four-disk RAID from a Microsoft Exchange server, the prices are proportionally more, due to the extra labour required:

Emergency 800 + 6000 to 8000 + VAT

Express 500 + 4000 to 6000 +VAT

Standard 300 + 2000 to 4000 + VAT

If you've simply deleted some files or have an operating system or file system problem, you could try Ontrack's EasyRecovery software, which starts at just 25. Of course, while it's remarkable that Ontrack can restore data from hard disks you may have thought completely dead, it's crucial to have a backup strategy in place to avoid having only one copy of your critical files.

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