Restore 5100 backup tapes damaged by sprinkler system contamination and freeze drying

Sep 14, 2022

The Client

A leading pharmaceutical company

The Situation

A customer of Ontrack, a leading pharmaceutical company, needed data management expertise when tapes were found in a basement partially flooded by fire sprinklers. No one knew what was on the tapes, and the data dates back to 1996 when the company in question had not yet been acquired by the pharmaceutical company. About 10% of the tapes had been damaged and contaminated by the sprinkler system before being frozen and thawed by a less knowledgeable data management provider. According to the insurer's requirements, the job had to be completed within 6 months. Since the insurance company financed the tape recovery, they were extremely interested in the amount of data recovered from the compromised tapes. If the data could not be recovered, the insurance company would have to fund the manual entry of the data!

The Solution

The customer shipped over 5,100 pieces of media (a variety of DLT, LTO, Exabyte, DDS, CDs, and other formats) to Ontrack. To clean and inspect so many tapes on time, not enough staff were on hand and no tools were available to automate the task. The team was unsure what to do next until an engineer, Thomas Hanselmann, went home to play with his son. While building a Lego bulldozer with his son, he realized that the Lego package contained a motor that propels the bulldozer. Hanselmann had a light bulb moment and realized that the kit could be converted into an automatic backup tape cleaner. The makeshift Lego backup tape cleaner worked. The Lego machine is still in use. This has been renamed a Lego moment: “Having a complex problem and finding a simple yet elegant solution”.

Ontrack recovered the data and copied it to several 2TB drives that were scanned with their IBM TSM backup software to determine if there were any patents or other valuable historical information in the data.

The Resolution

Ultimately, the extremely contaminated tapes were recovered with a 95% success rate, and 90% of all tape media were recovered within the stipulated 6 months.

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