What to do when you drop your hard drive

Eugenio Lopez is an acclaimed ornithologist (read: he digs birds), and a mushroom enthusiast on the side, his hobby inspiring him to discover over 100 new species deep in the heart of the Costa Rican jungle. Nowhere on that CV, however, is an in-depth knowledge of data back-up and recovery, which is what led the man to a unique partnership with data recovery firm CBL, courtesy of a Burlingtonian high-school teacher.

Teacher Warren Goldblatt has been taking student groups down to the Talamanca Mountains in Costa Rica for years now. There, they spend two weeks helping out the Durika Community, a small sustainable group of people who created and now protect the Durika Biological Reserve.

The Durikans have formed their own environmental police squad to ensure that no harm is done to the protected trees and species. Lopez helps out with these efforts, and acts as a guide to Goldblatt’s student groups, educating them about the process. An avid photographer, he often documents his fungal finds and uses his camera to capture evidence against those who mangle the environs.

Goldblatt gave Lopez an external hard drive on which to store his photos and documentation, but an unlucky fumble did some serious damage to the drive chock-full of important scientific documents and evidence against eco-infractors. He sent it to Goldblatt to see if anything could be done.

Sending important data through the mail might seem like a risky proposition (especially when it comes to sensitive corporate data en route), but Tim Margeson, CBL’s general manager, said the issue has never come up. “I don’t know if they’d want to (have that) expense (of extracting the data). And it’s damaged to begin with is enough of a deterrent,” he said.

After consulting with the school IT professional, Goldblatt turned to CBL for help. The company initially quoted a fee of between $4,000 and $6,000 to recover the lost data.

“It had been dropped, so it was physically damaged,” Margeson said. “The damage to the platter surface was severe—it was scarred.”

But, after a correspondence, CBL agreed to do the task pro-bono. Margeson laughed, “It’s good to do that every once in a while.”

This type of damage is getting more common in the enterprise, too, said Margeson, as more executives use laptops and other mobile devices, whose hard drives receive a lot of stress. Also contributing to this is the proliferation of external units, he said, which are enticingly cost-effective, but potentially breakable.

It can be easy for strict back-up maintenance to slip through the cracks, too. George Kearns, president and CEO of the Toronto-based back-up and recovery outsourcing firm Fusepoint, said that it can be tempting for companies to just outsource their back-up instead of dealing with it themselves—especially when it comes to the pesky integration of mobile devices into the enterprise security infrastructure. Said Kearns: “They’re not as interested in maintaining that skillset in-house.”

This means more business for Fusepoint and companies like it, but it will often leave companies in the lurch, said lead Info-Tech Research Group analyst Darrin Stahl.

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“At the enterprise level, (data loss) shouldn’t happen at all, what with RAIDs and SANs, but it does,” Stahl said said. “It comes down to two factors. First, the IT shop might be doing back-ups, but their recovery strategy is not analyzed with the actual recovery point objective and the (desired) granularity of back-up. Second, they are backing up, but they’ve never had to actually restore and never tested their system, so it doesn’t actually work and they have to go to that type of extreme recovery that comes at enormous cost.”

This is most common in smaller shops, although large enterprises aren’t impervious to these blunders (he cited a large Toronto manufacturer that had to recently splash out for a very costly recovery). Also at risk are the growing legions of road warriors, Stahl said: “In the olden days, the laptops would at least spend time in the docking stations and were hardwired to trickle back the data, but now they’re so disconnected that it’s a different issue—road warriors might go months before they get back to the mothership and move their information to the LAN.”

One solution to this issue could be the cloud. Stahl said that super-cost-effective cloud storage—like Amazon.com’s S3 service —could help out these workers in backing up their data.

Connectivity could be a problem for Lopez in backing up his data in the future, said Stahl, but, for now, Lopez has a new external hard drive, and is happy in his own cloud—the tropical cloud forest, that is.