The other side of data loss is the
psychological and emotional turmoil it can cause to IT managers and
business owners. Despair, panic, and the knowledge that the whole
organization might be at risk are involved. In a sense, that's only
fair, since human error is one of the two largest contributing factors
in data loss. Together with mechanical failure, it accounts for almost
75 per cent of all incidents. (Software corruption, computer viruses and
physical disasters such as fire and water damage make up the rest.)
Disk drives today are typically
reliable. Human beings, it turns out, are not. A Strategic Research
Corp. study done in 2000 found that approximately 15 per cent of all
unplanned downtime occurred due to human error. A significant proportion
of that happened because users failed to implement adequate backup
procedures, either having trouble with their backups, or having no
backup at all.
How does it happen that skilled,
high-level users put their systems - and their businesses - at such
In many cases, the problem starts long
before the precipitating system error is made, that is, when users place
their faith in out-of-box solutions that may not, in fact, fit their
organization's needs. Instead of assessing their business and technology
requirements, then going to an appropriate engineered solution, even
experienced IT professionals at large corporations will often simply buy
what they're sold. In this case, faith in technology can be an vice
instead of a virtue.
But human intervention itself can
sometimes be the straw that breaks the technology's back. When the
office of a Venezuelan civil engineering firm was devastated by floods,
its owners sent 17 soaked, mud-coated disks from three RAID arrays to us
in plastic bags. A tough enough salvage job was made even more complex
by the fact that someone had frozen the drives before shipping them. As
the disks thawed, yet more damage was done. (After eight weeks of
painstaking directory-by-directory recovery, all the data from the
remaining fifteen disks was retrieved.)
Sometimes, the underlying cause of a
data loss event is simply shoddy housekeeping. The more arduous the
required backup routine, the less likely it will be done on a regular
basis. A state ambulance monitoring system suffered a serious disk
failure, only to discover that its automated backup hadn't run for
fourteen months. A tape had jammed in the drive, but no-one had noticed.
When disaster strikes, the normal human
reaction is panic. Because the loss of data signifies critical
consequences, even the most competent IT staff can jump to conclusions,
and take inappropriate action. A blank screen at a critical time can
lead to a series of naive decisions, each one compounding the preceding
error. Wrong buttons get pushed, and the disaster only gets worse.
Sometimes the pressure to correct the system failure speedily can result
in an attempt to reconfigure an entire RAID array. IT specialists are
typically not equipped to deal with crisis modes or data recovery
techniques. Just as a good physician is trained to prolong life, the
skilled IT specialist is trained to keep the system running. When a
patient dies, the physician turns to others, such as nurses or
counsellors to manage the situation. When significant data loss occurs,
the IT specialist turns to the data recovery professional.
Data recovery specialists are
innovative problem solvers. Often, the application of basic common
sense, when no-one else is in any condition to apply it, is the
beginning of the journey towards data recovery. The data recovery
specialist draws on a wealth of experience, married to a "never say die"
attitude, and a comprehensive tool kit of problem-solving procedures.
Successful recovery outcomes hinge on a combination of innovative
logistics, applied problem-solving, and "technology triage," the process
of stabilizing an affected system quickly, analyzing and treating its
wounds, and preparing it for surgery. The triage process sets
priorities, such as targeting which files are needed first or which are
absolutely vital to the functioning of the business, and establishes
whether files might be recovered in less structured formats (such as
text-only), which may be desirable when time is crucial.
The art and science of professional
data recovery can spell the difference between a business' success or
its failure. Before that level of intervention is required, though,
users can take steps to ensure that the probability of a data loss
disaster is minimized.
Basic to any business technology plan
is a regular fire-drill procedure. Back-up routines may be in place,
staff may assigned to specific roles, hardware and software may be
configured - but, if the user isn't completely sure that everything
works the way it should, a data loss event is inevitable. Having
adequate, tested, and current backups in place is critical. A hardware
breakdown should not be compounded by human error - if the
malfunctioning drive is critical, the task of dealing with it should go
to a data recovery professional.
Just as data loss disasters are rooted
in a combination of mechanical failure and human error, so, too, the
data recovery solution lies in a creative marriage of the technological
and the human. The underlying philosophy of successful data recovery is
that technology is something to be used by human beings, not something
that uses us.