Sunday, July 01, 2007

$1800 Data Backup Lesson

Last Saturday (June 23), a really funny thing happened. Out of the blue, for the first time in about a year, I decided it'd be a great time to backup my Tablet PC's hard drive.

Halfway through the backup process, I heard the drive make two distinctively (bad) clicking sounds, and my Tablet PC froze up. I tried rebooting, and was greeted by a 'NTLDR not found' error.


I take the drive out of the Tablet PC, and hook it up to my computer (via a 2.5 inch drive enclosure), hoping I can finish off more of the backup. Sadly, this attempt ended in vain too. I selected all my valuable files to backup, but the copy process died again after about 5% of the copy, and now the drive was completely dead. None of the files I really needed finished copying over.

I was screwed. All my e-mails and Tennis Canada files were on that hard drive. I needed these files back badly, so I took my drive to a local place (in Toronto) that specialized in data recovery (Kroll Ontrack).

Fast forward a few days, and they sent me a quote for the data recovery after doing the initial assessment. It cost me a mere $1800 to get everything back. Why did it cost this much? The answer is due to the following work that had to be done.

  1. The electronic circuitry, chips, or other electrical components have failed. Proprietary techniques are required to overcome the failure and access the data.
  2. The file system was structurally damaged preventing access to the data. The file system has been repaired to point to the file data.
  3. The device needs a temporary repair to access data/fix structures and back up.
  4. The media should be replaced.
  5. Ontrack Clean Room expertise was required to access the data.

Items 1 and 5 were what contributed greatly to the cost, as essentially, the platters from my hard drive had to be removed and placed into a recovery unit to retrieve my data. Fortunately, all the files were recovered without an issue, and the folks at Ontrack gave me a 10% discount and an 80 gig external hard drive to hold the recovered files.

Was it worth it for me to pay this amount of money to get my files back? Unfortunately, I'd have to say it was. It would have taken me about 7-10 days to re-create all the Tennis Canada planning information (and all this, without any of the historical data that I had maintained). With the tournament fast approaching, coupled with my full-time work status, this was time that I could not afford. As for my e-mails, I can't even begin to determine how much important data I had within them (Tennis Canada, Microsoft MVP/Beta testing info, all my contact information, etc).

The lesson here is to back up your data religiously. Some might say that if I had not bothered to back up my drive that fateful night, the resultant failure may not have happened. Well, given the way the hard drive failed, failure was very likely imminent.

For most people, backing up data files (your Word/Excel/PowerPoint/etc) ought to be easy. Outlook mail files might be a bit more difficult.

Here's a cool tool for backing up your Outlook PST files. Microsoft produced an Outlook Add-in called Personal Folders Backup during the Outlook 2002/2003 days. Don't be fooled by the listed description of the tool, as it continues to work with Outlook 2007. This tool will back up all the PST files of your choosing (both your Personal Files and your Archives). I'd recommend backing up all of those PST files to a separate hard drive, or better yet, a separate machine.

The PST files will contain all your e-mails, contacts, and calender items. Unfortunately, it will not have things like your Rules, Account information, Junk Mail Options and so on. Does anyone know an easy way to back these up? I remember with Office 2003, there was an included utility (Save your Office Settings Wizard or something similar sounding) to backup your settings in all your Office applications which would have included the abovementioned settings, but I can't seem to find this same utility in Office 2007. Perhaps Microsoft should create a one click easy method to backup all of the Outlook PST/settings into one file, rather than resort to multiple settings exports to get everything back up and running.

Anyways, this is a very expensive way to learn a lesson. I think it is safe to say that I'll never make this mistake again. Review your backup procedures and make sure all your vital files are covered by this procedure. Learn from my mistakes, and you'll be better off for it.

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LakeGator said...

The only time it is certain a normal human will create a backup is right after their hard drive has failed. It sounds like you tried to do the right thing, just one instant too late. Obviously some sort of routine backup is something performed regularly by anyone who stores any sort of valuable information.

You asked if there was a way to save the Outlook settings since the PST files don’t have them. An approach I use is to use the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard to save the settings to a file and then use this if I must restore. I use Karen’s Replicator ( to routinely and automatically copy My Documents to a second hard drive.

Anonymous said...

$1800?! Ouch, I feel for ya. I had a crash a few months ago but I went with CBL data recovery up in Markham since my company uses them. We used to use Ontrack but CBL was cheaper and most importantly gets our data back. I've been keeping duplicate copies of everything ever since. Check them out.