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Doing the Data Damage Drill

Data losses cost U.S. businesses an estimated $18.2 billion dollars annually, taking into account technical services, lost productivity and the value of the lost data. The unfortunate reality is that a company with an outage lasting for over ten days may never fully recover financially – 50 percent will be out of business within five years, and 70 percent close their doors within twelve months.

What causes data loss? Although hardware failure is often to blame – accounting for 44 percent of data loss incidents – human error is also a frequent cause, leading to 32 percent of data loss events. Computer users can cause unintentional data loss by accidentally deleting files or database records, reformatting storage, overwriting data, reinstalling software or making errors during disaster recovery efforts. Disasters can also result from project mistakes during data migration, server consolidation (virtualization) and equipment upgrades or migrations. Other culprits responsible for data loss include software malfunctions (14 percent), viruses (7 percent) and natural disasters (3 percent).

Data loss begins with file system corruption, including file system metadata and data streams. There are two types of data loss: logical and hardware. Logical data loss occurs when the partition (or LUN) fails. In contrast, hardware loss is a physical damage to the drive itself, such as by intense heat, water intrusion, forceful physical impact or electrical damage.

Surviving Data Disasters

Even when human error is not the cause of a data disaster, human intervention can compound the problem and cause further damage. Instead of saving lost data, ad hoc attempts to recover data can render the damage beyond repair.

When responding to any data loss incident, therefore, certain practices should be applied across the board. First, it is important to be aware of your organization’s disaster recovery plan, and be careful of adding to the disaster by forcing a hard disk drive into operation. Especially if you hear clicking or grinding noises, stop using the hard disk drive immediately. To protect your original data as much as possible, never restore a backup to the original system. Finally, if the system appears to be working fine but data has disappeared, turn off the system (do not shut it down) and diagnose the problem without booting the computer.

Another thing to be aware of is that many of auto-repair utilities available on the market may cause irreparable damage instead of fixing the problem. Avoid programs such as Scandisk, CHKCSK, FSCK, Disk Utility, Vrepair and other similar utilities.

Other tips apply to particular types of disasters. To avoid pitfalls if a disaster should strike, follow these practices:

Deleted Files

  • Turn off your computer – do not use “shut down”
  • If you are on a network share, contact an IT administrator immediately

Liquid or Spill

  • Turn off or unplug your computer immediately
  • Do not restart the computer or attempt to dry it out
  • Place the device in a sealable plastic bag and send it to a data recovery company

Server Crash

  • Diagnose without writing data
  • Be careful of volume repair utilities
  • If possible, copy HDDs before triage


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