The World's First Data Recovery

14 January 2014 by Sam Wiltshire

Almost 30 years have gone by since Kroll Ontrack performed the world’s first successful commercial data recovery.  How this significant milestone was reached can be traced back to 1985, when a company named Ontrack Computer Systems built a software program called Disk Manager®, which made it easy to install a computer hard disk.

Humble beginnings

At the time, due to operating system and BIOS constraints, computers weren’t able to maximise the full capacity of hard drives and could only store about 32 megabytes of data. Disk Manager caught the attention of disk manufacturers because it could override a computer’s BIOS, thereby enabling customers to install a drive in their computer, and, with a click of a button, obtain full storage capacity for the hard drive.  The manufacturers began to include Disk Manager with their products, and the software eventually went on to sell over 150 million copies. The alliance also helped to create a new career path for Ontrack Computer Systems, which became the first company to specialise in data recovery.

A new problem is experienced

Working closely with disk manufacturers enabled the engineers at Ontrack Computer Systems to become experts in how all disk drives read and write data to their platters and how different operating systems use storage. This expertise prepared the engineers for the world’s first commercial data recovery in 1987. That year, a US firm approached Ontrack Computer Systems after it lost the CAD drawings of a rubbish truck.  The business had spent all its time and money designing the new product when suddenly the server hard drives crashed.

The company used Seagate hard drives and the operating system on the drive was Novell. Both products were pioneering innovations that went on to redefine storage capacity and flexibility. Seagate developed the first 5.25-inch hard disk drive (HDD) in 1980 and became a major supplier in the microcomputer market during that decade. While many companies began using Seagate disks, very few understood the intricacies of how the hard drives stored data.  Even if they wanted to learn more about the disks, companies simply didn’t have the relationships with the manufacturers to keep up with the ongoing development and innovation of Seagate’s products. This was also true for the operating systems they worked on, notably Novell - which was the platform that was used when disaster struck for the rubbish truck maker. If the data couldn’t be recovered, the company would go bust because the company’s entire business model was based on bringing this one design to market.

Accidental data recovery experts

The firm initially contacted the hard drive and the operating system manufacturers for help but their attempts to get the data back failed.  The company began to panic. If the actual disk makers and platform manufacturers couldn’t recover data, what hope did the entrepreneurs have left?  Keen to maintain strong customer relations, both Seagate and Novell suggested that the company contact Ontrack Computer Systems for assistance.  The recovery engineers spent weeks on the crashed drive before they finally had a breakthrough and recovered the files.  The CAD drawings were restored, a business was saved and Ontrack Computer Systems became Ontrack Data Recovery® - the world’s first data recovery business.  The great relationship formed between Kroll Ontrack, the manufacturers and the OEMs helped to spearhead the company to new heights and before long, manufacturers began to include Ontrack Data Recovery’s contact details on the sleeves of the Disk Manager software they bundled with their own products. The software was distributed across the world and the business grew, resulting in the formation of Kroll Ontrack. The rest, as they say, is history.

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