Geek Squad ‘on track’ with new data recovery services


It’s any computer user’s worst nightmare.

A sudden power outage, a system crash, a virus attack, a wayward cup of coffee, or even just striking the wrong set of keys…and your data could disappear in a flash.

But no matter how bad things might look “never give up”, is the advice offered by a Canadian data recovery expert.

“Just because your computer can’t seem to locate your valuable files doesn’t mean they are gone,” notes Jim Reinert, senior director, software services at the Canadian office of Ontrack Data Recovery in Toronto. Ontrack Data Recovery provides data recovery services to companies across the globe including law firms, government agencies and 98 of the Fortune 100 companies.

The company is a subsidiary of Kroll Ontrack Inc.

Ontrack was recently recruited by consumer electronics chain Best Buy Co. Inc. based in Richfield, Minn. to develop custom computer diagnostic tools and train members of its Geek Squad.

Ontrack services and software will be used in all Best Buy stores in the U.S. and Canada with Geek Squad teams. Geek Squad is the brand name for the 24-hour in-store and remote customer computer support teams at certain Best Buy stores.

According to the Best Buy Web site — Geek Squad precincts are located in every Best Buy store in North America.

Reinert said Best Buy decided to team up with Ontrack in response to a felt need. “I think Geek Squad recognized that a lot of their customers have been asking for data recovery services.”

The agreement between Best Buy and Ontrack has so far resulted in the development of BARDS (Basic Assessment and Recovery Diagnostic System) software specially designed to help Geek Squad “operatives” analyze customer data problems and identity recovery options.

Ontrack also supplies the Geek Squad with EasyRecovery, a more basic “do-it-yourself recovery software tool” that can be handled by less tech-savvy users.

Geek Squad members were unable for comment at the time of publication.

Under the agreement, Reinert said, Geek Squad technicians responding to a customer call for data recovery assistance will initially deal with the problem using the BARD tool.

If the situation turns out to be more serious, the case can be handed over to technicians at Ontrack’s so-called “clean rooms.”

Clean rooms are sanitized labs where Ontrack technicians diagnose and attempt to recover lost data from fried hard drives or damaged computers. The area is specially sealed off against even the minutest dust particles, because any foreign item that gets lodged on a hard drive can potentially destroy data on the drive.

Service to a customer’s hard drive is performed in a basic two-stage process.

First, technicians evaluate the extent of the damage, and submit a complete report to the computer owner, recommending all possible options.

The report contains information on the state of the data and what data can still be retrieved.

Reinert said a diagnosis and full report on a desktop unit can run up a US$100 tab.

If the client orders data recovery, Ontrack technicians move on to the second stage. They retrieve all the files specified and send it to the customer on a disk.

Pointing out that client privacy is protected, Reinert said, “Our technicians don’t even read the data. They’re only interested in recovering and returning it.”

He said depending on the size of the system and the nature of the damage, recovery fees can range from US$1,000 for a “typical system to tens of thousands of dollars” for high-end systems and servers.

The Ontrack executive said it is too early to determine how many Geek Squad customers’ computers or hard drives have been sent to the clean rooms.

Ontrack has 20 partner companies that refer cases to its labs. The majority of the jobs referred to Ontrack labs are considered serious.

Ontrack’s most unusual cases include the following: an artist’s laptop that was crushed when a five-pound sculpture fell on it; a U.K. research firm that nearly lost all its data when a fire broke out in the computer science department; a laptop that fell from a helicopter in Monaco; and a distraught husband who accidentally deleted all his baby’s pictures from his computer.

Ontrack has 19 clean rooms across Canada, the U.S., Asia, Australia and Europe. Last year, the company carried out more than 50,000 data recovery operations.

Recent analyst studies suggest that the demand “data recovery” services will grow dramatically.

This spurt in demand will be a boon for companies such as Ontrack in the near future, according to analyst firm IDC in Framingham, Mass.

“Customers are more concerned than ever about data protection strategies, and this spells opportunity for vendors in this market,” said Doug Chandler, program director, storage software program, IDC.

“The introduction of new technologies in this space, coupled with explosive data growth in customer organizations, means this market will see solid growth for some time,” he said.

Drivers for this upbeat forecast include the increasing role of electronic information in corporate litigation, and the growing adoption of disk-based data protection, according to Laura DuBois, research director, storage software program, IDC.

She said the growing need of small and midsized firms “to protect their data and have it available quickly following different types of logical and physical errors,” is also having a significant impact on the data recovery market trend.