Always Backup Data – And Have a Backup Plan

February 28, 2010


Most of us remember the old joke about Jesus and Satan in a computing competition (details available here).  At the last moment, the power goes out.  When it is restored, Satan has lost his data and Jesus completes the task.  Why?  Because Jesus saves (his data before the power outage).

And I have been forced to teach my daughter this lesson.  Two weeks ago, she started having trouble with her laptop.  Every so often, something would result in her Windows system configuration being corrupted.  And she was unable to even boot an OS to perform a system restore.  So I was forced to break out the repair disks, boot from the Windows install media and recover system files (and the boot sector) by hand.  I am so very glad that I remember how to do this.  I am even more glad that this data is readily available on the web.

So after the last failure, we bought our daughter an external had disk.  We then moved all of her personal files to the external drive.  Now she had a place to store her data in case her laptop’s disk drive failed.

Everything worked quite well – until the external drive failed.  OK, failure isn’t exactly what happened.  Actually, my daughter dropped the hard drive and then stepped on it.  She heard a crack and then realized had what happened.  But it was too late.  She could no longer access the drive.  And she had an important paper to turn in to her professor.

Of course, she should have backed it up.  But she didn’t.  So it was time for the backup plan: use some tools to get the data back.  I told my daughter not to use the computer lest she overwrite any data that remained on the hard drive.

So I had to get to work in order to recover data on the laptop and recover data on the external drive.  Getting back the data on the laptop was fairly simple.  I used Recuva.  I was hoping that I could open the app ad just recover the data.  But I had done a disk defrag since the first event.  So I was hopeful that the sectors we needed weren’t overwritten.  F0rtunately, they weren’t.  But I had to do a deep scan o recover most of the files.  I think a got about 98% of her files.  And at first blush, she had all the important files that she needed.

So it was on to the external drive.  And it was a mess.  Recuva could do nothing with it.  So it was time to move on to an industrial solutions.  I tried to use a trial copy of the Ontrack tools.  Their trial allows for analysis and recovery of one file.  Fortunately, she only had one file she really needed.  After spending eight hours assessing the drive, it looked like we could recover anything – including the one file.

So I recovered the one file.  And checked out the pricing of the tool.  And the full-feature tool was between $199 and $499.  This may be chump change for a business.  But I can’t afford that much money just for some miscellaneous files.

But this episode has taught me that I need to have a more robust series of tools.  So I’m off to the Internet to do some additional research on file recovery tools and services.  Do any of you have some recommendations?




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2 Comments on “Always Backup Data – And Have a Backup Plan”

  1. Anthony Accurso Says:

    I usually use dd to get the whole disk image, then dissect it with TestDisk. TestDisk works on Linux, Windows, BSD, MacOS, and SunOS, and supports many different filesystems.


    • cyclingroo Says:

      Thanks for the tip. I have been working with testdisk (though right now it is exploratory). And to make dd worthwhile, I’ll need to have a drive large enough for the image. So I may buy a HUGE 1TB or 2TB drive so I can make copies using dd. Do you recommend using noerrors and sync options with dd?


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