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Data recovery: The option of last resort (Part 3 of 3)

Robert Palmer

Back to Part I: losing all the data on a hard disk, and Part II: the trials and tribulations of paying to get it back. Now we find out what happened, and what you can expect from a data recovery specialist.

Greg, the technician from Iomega Data Recovery, sent back two documents two days later: One was a Word document containing a list of files that were recovered from the disk.

The document had most of my files in it, but some were missing. Many of the files were grouped by file type in an "orphans" folder, meaning that the files were on the disk, but their place in the disk's directory structure was lost. Some files were only named according to their file type, such as "m4p-00195.m4p" and "InDesignCS-00003.indd" because their filenames were gone. I would find out later that some files were copied several times (sometimes as many as six times): once as part of the directory structure, and again in the "orphans" folder. Still: many copies are better than no copies.

They offered to return the data on a new hard disk, but the cost of it is not included in the recovery fee. The second attachment to the tech's email was a price list. I chose the cheapest bare hard disk at the necessary capacity, since I had an enclosure to put it in. They offered (more expensive) USB and FireWire hard disks as options for return as well. So add another $55 to the total price.

Greg also asked for a list of the 20 most critical files that could be used as a test for successful recovery. I emailed him a list of mostly files for work I had in progress during the failure, a brochure for a client of mine that manufactures propellers. He called the next day, walking me through the contents of the InDesign document and its support files. "This one appears to be a picture of a propeller blade. This one has a big headline that says 'simply the best.'" Relief. I was satisfied that everything was recovered, approved the recovery, and thanked Greg.

The next part was the hardest: Paying the invoice. The grand total wasn't as bad as I thought: I was prepared to pay tax on all $1,500, but (in California at least) services aren't taxable. So the only tax I had to pay was $4.54 on the replacement hard disk. The grand total was $1,559.54. I'm writing that off my taxes this year.

Once my payment was processed, which took a day, two drives were overnighted to me: the original (failed) drive, and the new replacement drive. I popped the replacement went into my enclosure, and -- tah dah! -- there were my files.

The most significant casualty of the data recovery, however, was the loss of 10 years of painstakingly collected Mystery Science Theater 3000 videos. Many were videos I had recorded originally on VHS, some had been, uh, acquired by other means -- as youthful indiscretions, shall we say. Thankfully, all my project data and purchased music was safe and sound. Everything that was lost could be replaced.

Files on the replacement disk were painfully disorganized, though, which gave me an idea of just how logically corrupted the volume was. Files that were added to the drive after it had been connected via the AirPort Base Station were mostly in the Orphans folder, apparently scattered hither and yon across the disk's platters. I spent the better part of a day copying files, reorganizing everything, and preparing my new backup strategy that included a brand-new, 1.5TB external disk to use with Time Machine.

I learned my lesson the hard way. I had a good experience, but paid dearly for it.

If this story saves anyone any amount of money for data recovery, then it's done its job. Please: Back up your data. The money you spend on a hard disk for backup is far less than what you'd spend on data recovery.

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