Article

An emergency data recovery service makes tracks

Meredith B. Derby, assistant news editor, and Beth Quimby, news editor

Disks damaged due to flood, fire or other natural disasters may seem unrepairable to you, but not to Bill Margeson. In fact, CBL Data Recovery Technologies, Inc. where Margeson is president, specializes in the emergency retrieval of lost or destroyed data. CBL's 42 employees in six labs have undertaken 4,800 recovery projects since its 1993 inception. SearchWindowsManageability spoke to Margeson for the dirt on this somewhat dirty service. We got the lowdown on why back up processes and products can be the culprits of lost data, too. Armonk, NY-based CBL's average service charge is around $1,800. CBL recently opened a new lab in San Diego, Calif.

sWM: What is the real reason why IT managers just don't back up when there is so much awareness of the issue lately, especially after Sept. 11?
Margeson:

There are a lot of reasons: they just don't have the technology, the money or the budget to implement the best equipment for their needs. We're seeing clients that have thrown money and intelligent people at back up. They've tried to buy off-the-shelf solutions for their very unique world, and they don't fit. Backing up doesn't happen if the procedure to backing up is complicated and time consuming. That's where human nature comes in. Someone will say, "I'll back up next Friday." Then they call us on Monday.

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sWM: Why is there a need for your service?
Margeson:

Our motto this year is "IT happens." It happens to the best minds in IT and to the home user. People don't back up, the hard drive crashes at the wrong time, or issues such as going to restore the back up and finding out an empty directory's been backed up for the past two years. The technology lets people down from a hardware point of view, too. Also, nowadays we have huge drives, but we don't have backup technology that can back up a 120 Giga byte drive conveniently. So, people end up doing a hodge-podge and don't have consistency.

sWM: How pervasive is this problem?
Margeson:

In the year 1999, there were 168 million disk drives shipped in the world. Quantum did a white paper analysis of what's called mean time between failure, and they were able to calculate that .0027% of those drives would fail in the first year of operation. We did an assessment of those failed drives and have determined that about 8.25% percent of failed drives are candidates for our service. We did about 148 projects last year.

sWM: What is the most common reason why customers will contact you?
Margeson:

About 65% are hardware problems. The device has failed or it's making new noises. That can be attributed to bad handling or bad technology. It's typically catastrophic failure where something has caused the read-write heads to crash and obliterated any magnetic signal, which is your code. Less than 5-6% of the cases are from fire or floods or other natural catastrophes. The industry does produce its share of Edsels. Some are not as good as others.

sWM: And how exactly is the data recovered?
Margeson:

Basically, our strategy is not to fix Windows, for example, it's to go in and get the data. We'll take the media and assess it to deduce what's wrong and find out what we've got work with. At that point, we can see whether not we can get the data the customer is after. If it's going to be contiguous, we'll then contact the customer and share our plan of attack. We'll then do whatever it takes to make the device achieve what's called its "ready condition." That means the device or media is ready to be read and written to. So, we'll trick the device into achieving its ready, and we'll then do a forensic quality cloning of the media. The process reads even lower than the ones and zeros level and reads the raw signal from the platters. It clones the signal to one of our host drives. So, we've now got a clone that should capture everything right and wrong with the customer's data. But, it's on a healthy disk drive, and it's one of our disk drives. Now we're liberated to do all kinds of work on the copy without ever worrying about the original. So we'll clone the drive, and then we're left with simply software issues, which for us is no problem. We're experts in every file system you can imagine.

sWM: Do you usually recover most of the data?
Margeson:

Last year our recovery rate was 83%. But that does also show you that 17% of the time the data's not there anymore. There's nothing but dust inside the disk drive.

sWM: Do you have any tips to minimize the actual need for your service to take place?
Margeson:

When devices start making new noises, people still try to work on them. They're just making the situation worse. New noises are a bad sign, and the only thing you can do is just power down.

Back up and do a random restore. I would guarantee that nine times out of 10 the restore would not take place as everyone predicted because they can't find the tape or get access to the tape readers. That's revealing the problems in the organization. If a random restore cannot be done in a reasonable amount of time, something is very wrong.

sWM: What is your company looking to for the future?
Margeson:

New disc drives have smart technology. It makes us redundant, but if you think of the millions of disc drives already out there, business is mushrooming in that regard. We also expanded when Windows 98, Windows 2000 and now XP came along. We love these because they bring new business. We love upgrades.

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