Drive Rescue was recently at the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin 7 to make a donation towards the superb work which Brother Kevin and his team do to help the needy and homeless in Dublin. This excellent charity spends no money on advertising or PR campaigns and keeps administration costs to a minimum. All funding goes to where it’s needed most. An extremely well run charity, with dedicated staff and all for a very worthy cause.
The reliability of different hard drive brands has been an endless source of debate among computer enthusiasts and professional I.T. users for years. In the same way that golf enthusiasts extol the virtues of a certain brand of club – some I.T. users have their preferred brand of hard disk. Users will have stories of hard drive brands which have given them stellar performance over the years. Equally, they will have horror stories of hard drive brands which have failed repeatedly or unexpectedly on them.
The problem with most of this anecdotal evidence is that users develop a biased opinion of one hard drive manufacturer versus another brand based on a very small and statistically invalid sample set of hard drives. For example, an I.T. administrator might be dealing with 500 hard drives, all of the same model and all from the same factory batch. If these drives start to show higher-than-expected failure rates, it is likely that he or she might begin to develop a very unfavourable attitude towards their manufacturer. Likewise, personal users are not a great source of information about hard drive reliability either. Most computer users (apart from some of the Drive Rescue crew…), don’t get up in the morning saying “I must run CrystalDiskInfo to check the health of my Seagates this morning”. Users just expect their storage devices to work and that’s the way it should be. Users subject their storage devices to different usage patterns and environmental factors. If a drive does fail taking important data with it; the manufacturer’s name can get etched onto the user’s minds forever. So small sample sizes coupled with different usage patterns and environmental factors can make asking everyday computer users about their perceived reliability of certain brands of hard drive an exercise fraught with bias and statistical error.
Data recovery companies are not a good source of statistically accurate information on hard drive failure rates either.
Data recovery companies are not a good source of statistically accurate information on hard drive failure rates either. After all, they mainly deal with failed drives. The Derstein data recovery laboratory in Moscow (the Russians being world leaders in the field of data recovery) has been collecting drive failure information since the mid-1990’s and some of it’s failure statistics do make for interesting reading. But, as the old saying goes, there are lies, damn lies and statistics. Nowhere in the Derstein survey does it ask users about the usage type of their failed drives, nor does it take into account the environmental factors which the failed drive might have been subjected to. Usage and environmental factors can heavily influence the lifespan of a hard drive. For example, a laptop or portable USB hard drive (which can be subject to more power-up / power-down cycles) owned by a data programmer (higher usage) who lives in a hot country (increased risk of heat-related damage) and travels a lot (increased risk of shock damage) will have a much higher probability of failure than a hard drive sits in an air-conditioned data centre in suburban Dublin.
Data centres have been decidedly cagey about releasing failure rates of their hard drives
This leaves us with data centres as a more statistically sound source of information. Up until now, data centres have been decidedly cagey about releasing failure rates of their hard disks. They would like us all to believe that their disk drives never fail. But there have been some exceptions. In 2007, Google researchers released the results of their study “Failure Trends in Large Disk Drive Population” to the USENIX conference. Their study used a very robust sample of 100,000 S-ATA and P-ATA consumer-grade disk drives ranging in capacity from 80GB to 400GB from their own data centre. They were deployed in rack-mounted servers. The drives were put into service and left powered on for all their service life. The Google survey found that there was a high correlation between the triggering of the SMART early warning system and disk drive failure. It also found that disk temperature and usage levels are less correlated to failure than some people think. But the findings were not exactly ground breaking and failed to mention any relationship between specific hard disk manufacturers and failure rates.
Enter Backblaze, a US online backup company. With a disk population of 27,000 consumer-level drives (a smaller sample than Google but still fairly robust) and most interestingly a willingness to reveal failure rates according to manufacturer. (See figure 1)
As the above chart above suggests Seagate disks have shortest average lifespan of just 1.4 years and Western Digital drives giving the most longevity.
From April 2013 to the end of 2015 Backblaze undertook a similar study primarily with 4TB drives from HGST, Seagate, Toshiba and Western Digital. (Disk population size being a very respectable 42,301). For 4TB disks, which makes up the main size in their data centre, Seagate again had some of the highest failure rates.
In the context of everyday computing, disks are not always continually running in an air-conditioned data centre.
While the BackBlaze findings are interesting: it still does not give us the complete picture. Because in the context of everyday computing, disks are not always continually running in an air-conditioned data centre. In reality, disks in use outside of the data centre tend to have a lot more power-up power-down cycles. They are subject to more friction and more power abnormalities. They are exposed more temperature variability and tend to have a lot more extraneous software installed on them which can mean more read-write cycles.
It’s the nature of failure and not the failure rate per se which is important
But perhaps the most important insight from the Backblaze studies is their findings on the nature of hard disk failure. While they might have found that Seagate disks have a higher-than-average failure rate, they also found that they “generally signal their impending failure via their SMART stats” and noticed that “drive failures from other manufacturers appear to be less predictive via SMART”. As a data recovery company that liaises with IT administrators and end-users on an almost daily basis, “sudden death” failure of hard disks is what really catches users out (especially the users who haven’t backed-up). Some disks will experience this expeditious type of failure while other disks – if they do start to fail- will show a marked decrease in performance over a longer period of time before their final demise. In other words, some disks fail more gracefully. For example, sometimes the user will notice a marked decrease in disk performance. Other times, the SMART will get tripped or the disk will cause a “bad block” error to be registered in the host system’s event logs or a warning message will be displayed by the BIOS during POST or in the operating systems’ GUI. All of these warning signs can often be a powerful catalyst for the user or I.T. administrator to back-up the data or get the disk replaced.
Assuming that one brand of hard drive is relatively “safe” compared to another could lead users to a dangerous sense of false security
A treatise on the merits of one hard drive brand compared to another could go on ad nauseam. Worse still, assuming that one brand of hard drive is relatively “safe” compared to another could lead users to a dangerous sense of false security and complacency. Any storage device, whether that be a mechanical or solid state drive is liable to fail. There are too many variables involved that can lead to data loss. Even the most reliable drives suffer power surges, suffer fire or flood damage, get sabotaged by an employee, get accidentally overwritten, experience firmware / PCB failure or get crippled by a ransomware virus.
It all goes back to one thing…
So, it all goes back to one thing: having a good backup system in place and verifying your back-ups regularly.
Drive Rescue Data Recovery is based in Dublin, Ireland. We perform hard disk recovery from failed hard disks including those from Apple MacBook Pro, Macbook Air, iMac, Windows and Linux systems. We also recover from NAS and DAS devices such as Synology, Buffalo, Netgear, LaCie and G-Technology. Our customers hail from throughout Ireland including Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Drogheda, Dundalk, Waterford, Athlone and Kilkenny. We can be contacted on 1890 571 571 or find out more about what we do at: http://www.datarecoverydublin.ie/
Most computer users are now conversant about SSDs, multi-terabyte drives, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and a host of other backup mediums, however most seem to have forgotten about the simplicity and the reliability of the humble DVD.
Let’s say you have irreplaceable photos or video files of your first born, your round-the-world trip or of a loved one who has shuffled off this mortal coil. Where will you store these photos so in twenty years’ time they will still be intact? Would you really trust iCloud or Google Drive with these? Maybe. But the reality is that cloud-based storage services are prone to hacking, sabotage and in some instances have been known to corrupt or simply lose data altogether. More worryingly, you have to ask: will these cloud storage providers even be around in twenty years’ time?
There is of course the option of storing your photos on a mechanical hard drive in the hope that in twenty years’ time when connected to your computer (probably via some USB-to-god-knows-what adaptor), it will spin into life (for those familiar with mechanical hard drives… stop sniggering) It might do that – but the risk that you will be greeted with clicking noises or no noises at all are too high.
Or, you could put your data onto an SSD (solid state drive). They have no mechanical parts and storing all your photos or videos on one of these is a much safer bet right? Not exactly because if you have an SSD drive which you stash in a drawer (cupboard, attic, etc.) for a number of years it will eventually start to lose its charge in the same way that a battery loses charge over time. This can have grave repercussions for your data as it is stored using quantum electron tunnelling which is reliant on stored positive and negative electrical charges. Error correction codes such as the Bose-Chaudhuri-Hocquenghem algorithm can be very effective in rewriting failed cells, but there comes a point where the errors become so pervasive that drive becomes unreadable. SSD manufacturers know about this phenomenon, but don’t explicitly state it in their documentation. Maybe buried deep in the small print, they might recommend that their SSD drives are to be used on host devices “periodically” or “at regular intervals”. This basically translates into “if you don’t use your SSD drive regularly, you’re going to lose your data”. Great.
There are of course disk mirroring devices (such as a DAS or NAS) which can be used to replicate your data over two or more disks (mechanical or SSD). While these do lower the risk of data loss – these devices are still subject to same failure factors as standalone disks.
This leaves us with the humble DVD. It is compact, non-magnetic, does not need to be “recharged” and is cost-effective. For the long-term storage of photos, video footage or documents, it ticks a lot of boxes.
If your laptop or desktop computer did not come equipped with a DVD burner, an external USB DVD drive can be used. The actual recording takes place on the dye layer of the disk which is permanently altered by a highly focused laser beam. The DVD burning process can be tedious but it is time well spent if your data is in any way important to you. The main variants of DVD disk are DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW. For long-term storage, DVD-R has the best compatibility. These are usually available in capacities of 4.7GB and 8.5GB. Many archival specialists working for state archive departments and archive departments of broadcasters swear by the Taiyo Yuden brand (a Japanese company whose blank DVD’s are also marketed under the JVC and “That’s” brand). Verbatim also makes their UltraLife Gold Archival Grade DVD-R which are specifically designed for long-term storage are also well respected by archivists.
So, the next time you need to perform a backup of really important files which you would like to access in twenty years’ time, don’t forget about the DVD. When mechanical and SSD disks have long since failed and storage clouds have evaporated, the humble DVD will probably be the last man standing.
Drive Rescue Data Recovery is based in Dublin, Ireland. We recover data from external and internal hard drives (SSD and mechanical), servers, NAS devices and USB memory sticks. Brands we frequently work with include WD, Toshiba, Seagate and HGST disks. Our customers hail from the four corners of Ireland, including Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny.
We recently helped a Dublin medical practice recover data from their failed Buffalo Terastation RAID 5 NAS device.
It was being used as a file server between four workstations in their office. One month previously, they had noticed that something might be awry when their NAS started to display error codes its LCD. But as their NAS continued to function, they did not give the error codes much heed. Then last week, their NAS became inaccessible altogether.
We opened up their Terastation device. Inside we found 4 X 1TB Western Digital WD10EFRX-68PJCN0 NASware “Red” disks. We removed them from their bays and attached them to our recovery system. We discovered they were configured in RAID 5 (using a block size of 256KB) and the array was using the XFS file system. We performed diagnosis on each disk. Disk “0” had a problem with head “3” and disk “3” had extensive bad sectors. Disks “1” and “2” tested fine.
Data recovery solution
We would work with disks “1”,”2” and “3” to rebuild the array. We imaged all of these disks so we would be working with copies and not the originals. We now had the challenge of rebuilding the XFS volume. This took a few hours to manually reconstruct with the aid of a HEX editor. Eventually we had a mountable volume again but still no files were visible. This is quite normal after a reconstruction of an XFS array as there is a high probability that some allocation group header structures will still be “out of place” or some missing inode clusters may still exist. These needed to be rebuilt or corrected using XFS repair commands.
Once the volume’s files appeared, it was now time to extract them onto a 4TB external USB drive. Most of the files were .DICOM files (x-ray images, all of which were intact) which the client was very pleased to see again.
Beware of “warning fatigue”
Reflecting on this case, the client made two mistakes which eventually led to a data loss situation. Firstly, they had mistaken a file server for a back-up device. They believed that because it was a NAS device, it could not fail on them. This is a common misconception that users have about NAS devices. While they certainly do have a lower probability of suddenly and catastrophically failing, they can still fail, albeit slowly and with more warning than a standalone disk. But, in this case, they did not heed to the warning, namely the “I12” error message which they saw appear on the Buffalo’s LCD”. This is understandable. The average user is getting bombarded with warning messages about everything from their media player software being out-of-date to low-ink warning messages from their printer. When it comes to really important messages from, for example, back-up hardware or software, these can get “downgraded” in a user’s mind to “just another error message”. System administrators or IT support technicians have an important role to play in delineating to users the importance of acting on any messages relating to data backup. Hardware manufacturers also have a role in making their error messages on their devices less cryptic and more comprehensible for your “average” user. For example, Buffalo’s “I12” code to signify it’s RAID is operating in degraded mode means very little to the average user. A more succinct message such as “array failing” might spur a whole lot more users into action and help them avoid the costs of data recovery!
We were recently helping a corporate user from Cork recover data from their MacBook Air (mid-2013 model). He had been using this system without a glitch since he bought it in late 2013. However recently he turned on his system and received the dreaded flashing question mark on his screen. This ominous warning sign was made worse when he realised that his files were not being backed up to the company’s server and he was not using any local backup system such as Time Machine. His IT support department were unable to recover data from SSDs but recommended Drive Rescue for data recovery
The user couriered the system to us. After removing the underside cover of his MacBook, we removed the drive from the motherboard. Inside we found a 256GB Toshiba SSD with a PCIe interface. This is an interface which we are seeing a lot more of lately as computing devices get smaller. The PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) interface is a bus standard for many newer laptops, all-in-one PCs and desktop systems using ITX form factors. It overcomes the storage performance bottleneck of S-ATA III interfaces as it attaches directly directly to the PCIe host bus. For example, a third-generation PCIe four-lane bus can handle up to 4 gigabytes/second with ease (depending on drive spec.) Moreover, power draw and I/O latency rates are also reduced. Coupled with the compact size of PCIe connectors, it is no surprise that manufacturers are moving away from S-ATA. But Apple (being Apple) have added a slight twist here designing a proprietory connector (see fig. 2) which is not compatible with standard PCIe connectors.
To connect the drive to our data recovery system we used a proprietary adaptor designed to handle MacBook Air A1465 drives, but we immediately received the BSY (short for busy) status. When a drive is stuck in this state, it means it cannot receive or output data. To circumvent this problem, it is necessary to put the drive into what is known as “technological” mode. This can be achieved by physically shorting the drive using a laboratory-grade electronic tweezers. With the BSY status now cleared, we were now able to see information about the drive’s ICs (NAND chips). Next we uploaded some new Marvell microcode to the RAM of our recovery system. After successful upload of the microcode we could see his HFS+ volume and in our recovery tree along with it’s folders and files. We imaged these to a new hard disk drive.
Next, our customer was able to remotely log in to our secure servers to view his recovered data. The most important files to him included .XLSX, .PDF, .M and .MAT files. The latter two file extensions belonging to the MATLAB, a mathematical analysis software suite. Having to re-construct them would have been a time-consuming and laborious task. The next day, our more-than-happy financial analyst customer received all his recovered data on an external USB hard drive. He vowed that we would never again ignore Time Machine backup reminders!
Drive Rescue Data Recovery are based in Dublin, Ireland. We can recover data from most MacBook and MacBook Air drives including models such as the A1278, A1286, A1370, A1369, A1439, A1466 and A1502.
Recently Drive Rescue were at CeBIT in Hannover, Germany checking out some of the latest storage technologies. There was some new and not so new storage devices exhibited there and some interesting speakers. CeBIT, the granddaddy of Europe’s IT exhibitions has certainly changed in the last few years. The days of exhibition halls being filled with Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers and Chinese PC component suppliers with names like Golden Dragon appear to be coming to an end. While there is still some of this, CeBIT is now more about IT innovation, business software, cloud technologies and high-end hardware. Some of that hardware included some of the latest storage evices from manufacturers like Toshiba, Western Digital, HGST and Huawei.
Toshiba – is that an SLC or MLC SSD?
Toshiba were exhibiting their latest range of SSD drives. While their Q300 range uses TLC NAND chips, the Toshiba marketing department have come up with the clever new catergorisation of this range as using “SLC adaptive size technology”. Nowhere in their marketing bumf does it state that it’s actually TLC NAND…Anyway official read/write speeds are only mediocre. For example, the 480GB version it has read speeds of 86,000 IOPS and write speeds of 520MB/s.
HGST’s 10 TB Helium SAS drive
This drive was one of the few drives on display that had it’s own glass case! It’s a helium filled 10TB drive with a 7200 rpm, 256MB cache and speeds of 12Gbps. Helium goes a little bit to solving the “magnetic recording trilema” of readability, writability and stability in multi-platter disks as by reducing turbulence inside the disk as the platters spin. Are mechanical drives with helium drives just a stop-gap measure until HAMR (Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording) production techniques get scaled up? possibly. Helium does not really contribute much to significantly changing the disk read/write process nor does it result in massively increased areal densities. But expect to see these drives around for the next couple of years at least as Western Digital /HGST have invested significantly in helium drive production processes. And now Seagate have jumped on the helium bandwagon having unveiled their own 10TB helium SAS drive in January.
Huawei SSD Drives
Huawei might be known for their budget smartphones and telecoms equipment, but are now players in the hard disk market. They have leapfrogged the mechanical hard drive market altogether in favour of high-performance and high-capacity SSDs . Their offerings at CeBIT have been far from modest. Pictured above is this whopping size 3.2 TB SSD. It uses PCI express 3.0, NVM and employs smart FLT. It’s NAND chips are from the Samsung and Toshiba stables. Alibaba (a trading platform), Ten Cent (a Chinese internet portal) and AIDA have already deployed these drives for their operations.
German cruise ship operator throws their mechanical drives overboard
For the latter, AIDA a German cruise line operator, mechanical drives were proving to be too slow and too unreliable. Each of it’s ships generate massive amounts of data. Movements of passengers on-board are tracked. Most retail transactions onboard are cashless. Entertainment systems must be 24/7 online. All of this means requires very fast processing times. Previously, they deployed 10K SAS mechanical drives, but their IT administrators found these devices simply unable to keep up. And, because a ship is an environment which suffers from a lot of vibration, they were experiencing higher-than-average failure rates. So, they decided to ditch mechanical drives in favour of SSD technology from Huawei. To mitigate against data loss, they use disk-to-disk on-board replication but also have the facility to peform data replication to any nearby sister ships (within a 100 km radius). Overall, their SSD migration has meant faster online transactions, simplified maintenance and more protected data. All uber efficient onboard AIDA ships ja…
Phil Zimmerman and his journey with PGP Encryption
And talking of protected data Phil Zimmerman, inventor of PGP encryption and author of The Official PGP Users Guide gave an interesting talk on the journey of his well known PGP encryption protocol. His encryption journey intially started back in 1991 when he devised PGP as a human rights project. The strongest block-cipher available at the time was 56-bit DES which could easily be cracked by any nation-state hacker or large organisation. PGP was revolutionary at the time as it used a combination of data compression, symetric-key / public-key cryptography along with algorithms to encrypt session keys.
Back then, the demand for non-military encryption was relatively low. Companies operated in much less risky environments than today. Most business rivals did’nt have any crypto-analytic capabilities. In the the early 1990’s, the civilian internet was still mostly used by academics and an ethos of “gentlemen do not read other gentlemen’s mail” prevailed. “It was a much more benign environment back then” Zimmerman lamented.
“People would ask you why are you using strong encryption, are you a criminal?”
The end of the Cold War heralded a surge of globalisation. Companies were now moving into countries with oppressive regimes and environments of aggressive signals intelligence. PGP now started to become more of a business tool. But, even still, some perceived encryption as something sinister. “The [US] government tried to put me in prison, for three years I was the target of a criminal investigation” Zimmerman told the audience. “In the 1990’s, if you were using strong encryption there was a stigma associated with that… people would ask you why are you using strong encryption, are you a criminal?” But ironically the publicity surrounding Zimmerman and the criminal investigation surrounding him had the unintended consequence (for governments at least) of making PGP even more popular. When the early 2000’s arrived and the internet becoming more hostile, PGP became even more sought after. In this period, even with many alternative encryption products now becoming available, PGP Whole Disk Encryption became one of the most widely used encryption applications by government bodies and multinational organisations.
From nefarious software to an essential security measure
Leaving aside the issue of government “backdoors” in encryption applications, the legislative environment in most Western countries now “officially” favours strong encryption. In Ireland, for example, the Data Protection Act 2003 states that encryption “is considered an essential security measure where personal data is stored on a portable device”. In April 2010, Symantec bought PGP for approximately $370 million – a move which gave a company normally associated with anti-virus software a strong foothold in the encryption market. Today, PGP is known as Symantec Endpoint Encryption. It uses 128-bit or 256-bit AES block ciphers and is still widely used by organisations across the world.
Drive Rescue are based in Dublin, Ireland. We recover data from encrypted disks using applications such as Symantec Endpoint, Windows Bitlocker, Sophos Safeguard, McAfee Complete Data Protection / Safeboot, TrueCrypt, TrendMicro Endpoint Encryption, Checkpoint Endpoint and Apple File Vault. In most cases, data can be recovered even if disk has physical or electronic faults.
Ask anybody who works in an A&E department where the most accidents occur and they will invariably tell you that most happen in the home. Well, the same applies to hard drive-related accidents. Many users might assume that it takes fire, floods (and brimstone…) to destroy hard drives, but mundane objects found in the home or office can be just as destructive in causing the premature demise of your storage device.
Liquid Damage (cup of tea or coffee / class of wine or beer)
Accidentally spilled liquids are a perennial problem. When liquid spills onto the keyboard of a laptop, it will often seep down into the system’s hard drive bay. This can cause the electronics on the PCB to short out, corrode or in worst case scenarios, it will cause failure of the disk’s pre-amplifier (a tiny device used to amplify read/write signals from the disk heads). The effects of liquid damage can often be very insidious. After a spillage, the drive may work fine for a couple of weeks lulling the user into a false sense of security. But, the problem will only manifest itself after enough corrosion damage has taken place of the drive’s resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes, etc. to the point where the drive will no longer power-up or initialise properly.
The Smart TV / DVR box
More and more home users are coming to us with external hard drives which have been plugged into one of the USB ports on their Smart TV or DVR box. Then when re-connected to their computer, the drive won’t turn on. This problem is often the result of over-voltage from the TV’s USB port. It manifests itself in the form of a shorted TVS diode. In other instances, over-voltage can take the form of damaged capacitors, inductors or the motor controller (smooth) chip.
The AC Voltage Adaptor
External 3.5” drives normally rely on clean DC power to a specific voltage and amperage. Plugging in a 15V AC adaptor into your 12V external hard drive will more often than not, cause an over-voltage situation where the PCB or other components get damaged. Likewise, if your external hard drive requires 2 Amps but you’re erroneously using an 1.5 Amp adaptor, your drive is getting less power than it requires to run. Over time, this “amperage starvation” causes a strain on the drive’s components and can lead to failure.
USB and power cables
Don’t position your external hard disk’s USB or power cable anywhere near where it might get snagged by errant feet, hands or wandering pets. Tripping over the power or USB cable of a hard disk can often result in your drive taking a downwards trajectory – towards the floor. A “fallen” disk, usually means a head disk assembly replacement procedure has to be undertaken in order to recover the data. In worst case scenarios, especially for drives which were powered-up at the time of the fall will incur scratched platters. Some hard drive and laptop manufacturers have put accelerometers into their devices – which theoretically detect sudden motion and issue a “park” command to the disk heads – but this drive safety feature does not always work effectively in practice. Thankfully, failed drives due to accidental falls should be less of an issue in years to come as wireless external drives become more popular.
Burst Water Tank
Most of us don’t think about the water-tank in our home or office. It’s a classic case of out-of-sight and out-of-mind. But, over the years we have recovered several drives which were destroyed in burst water tank incidences. Old steel water tanks (over 30 years of age) are susceptible to bursting. But, even if your water tank is relatively new, it can still burst due to cold weather or due to ball-cock failure. In all these instances, a failed water tank can result in localised flooding in your home or office and render your USB external drives,disks inside your PC or other storage devices such as NAS boxes inoperable.
Drive Rescue based in Dublin, Ireland offers a complete data recovery service for any drives which have been affected by the above scenarios. Typical drives we recover from include, Seagate Backup Plus, Seagate Expansion, Seagate, Barracuda, Seagate Momentus, Western Digital My Book, Western Digital My Passport Ultra, Intenso external drives and Iomega Professional.
In the hullabaloo of daily life, it can be easy to forget those less well off than ourselves. This year Drive Rescue made a donation to the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin 7. Its founder, Brother Kevin Crowely runs an extremely lean and efficient operation, providing breakfast, food parcels, showers, clothes and medical services to almost 500 people a day. His centre gets €450,000 from the government of Ireland, but has running costs of almost €2.3 million. The funding shortfall is made up from the generosity of the Irish people. His centre does not spend money on advertising or PR campaigns. Administrative costs are kept to a bare minimum. Most of the funding they receive goes directly to helping those in need. It was a pleasure to help this very worthy cause.
(Pictured Above: Brother Kevin Crowley of Capuchin Day Centre and Robert Scanlon of Drive Rescue)
In the world of data recovery, you come across many interesting cases. One such case was last week when a professional genealogist visited us with a failed external Seagate Backup Plus drive. Her job involves researching family lineage and history as far back as possible. It’s a laborious and time consuming occupation. Interviews have to undertaken, church records, birth and death certificates and newspaper archives all have to be methodically researched.
For this genealogist, part of her job involves travelling the length and breath of Ireland photographing tombstones in the church grounds and graveyards. She would number the photos (.JPEG files) and then input data, such as family name, graveyard name, townland and other relevant information into a Microsoft Access database. This was all stored on her Seagate Backup Plus USB external hard drive.
When she connected the drive to her laptop and heard a strange noise emanating from inside the disk she knew something was wrong. Her son-in-law, an IT manager kindly offered to see what he could do. As a seasoned pro, he instantly recognised that the clicking noise indicated a serious mechanical problem with the disk. Having used our hard disk data recovery service before, for his own organisation, he recommended that she should contact Drive Rescue.
We removed the disk, a Seagate Momentus 7200.5 500GB, from its plastic shell and commenced our diagnostics. Heads 03 and 04 failed our disk-head read test. When these heads were attempting to read the Service Area on the platters they could not access any of the drive’s initialisation microcode thus causing the clicking noise. With multiple disk head failure, the best course of action to maximise the chances of a complete recovery is usually to perform a Head Disk Assembly replacement.
We had an identical Head Disk Assembly taken from another Seagate Momentus 7200.5 500GB in our storeroom which had the same (HDA) part number. This would be our donor drive. The failed drive was opened in our Class-100 clean room. We used a tool called a “head comb” (no, not the type that Boots sell…) which is a device specifically designed to safely remove a HDA from a hard disk. There are various types of disk head-comb customised for each hard drive brand. In this particular case, the head comb was designed for working inside Seagate Momentus 2.5” disks. It connects through the small hole on the head arm and can be secured into place using a locking pin. The underside screw which holds the heads in place was then removed. After the brake of the drive was disengaged, the HDA can be safely removed from the disk chassis by using an anti-static tweezers.
The donor HDA was inserted and all components reconnected. It was finally time to close the drive lid and initiate power to the drive. The drive spun into life, but this time no heads were being detected at all. Sometimes, this is normal disk behaviour if the HDA-securing screw on the underside of the drive needs torque adjustment. By tightening or loosening the screw with the turn of a Torx key, the torque pressure can be easily adjusted. In this case, we loosened the HDA screw by turning it around 180 degrees. We applied power to the drive again, and this time all the heads were detected. We then connected the drive to another recovery system to search for a volume on the drive. An NTFS volume showed up with a substantial number of. JPEGs and.MDB (Microsoft Access) files. These were all extracted onto a new drive. The user could now login remotely to our secure systems to view their recovered data.
To say that the user was happy would have been an under-statement. For them to retrace their steps in re-photographing tombstones and re-entering details into a database again would have been a costly, time-consuming and soul-destroying task.
Outlook is a popular email application for Windows and Apple platforms. For most users, it is more than just an email client as it performs as a calendar, contact manager and task organiser. It uses a message store file called .PST (personal store folder) as it’s native file format. We have been helping a number of our clients recently recover data from corrupt .PST files and recover .PST files from mechanically damaged hard disks. For some of these clients, their priority was the recovery of their emails. For others, it was their email, contacts and calendar.
Common Microsoft Outlook error messages
When Outlook opens with an error message about an inaccesible .PST it can be quite scary for the user and sometimes for the IT admin (who has no backup…). Common Outlook error messages in Windows include:
Cannot open your default e-mail folders. The information store could not be opened.
Cannot start Micorsoft Outlook. Cannot open the Outlook window. The set of folders cannot be opened. The operation failed.
The file C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\Outlook.pst cannot be found.
Cannot start Microsoft Outlook. Cannot open the Outlook window. The set of folders cannot be opened. File access is denied. You do not have permission to access the file C:\Users\USERNAME\Documents\Outlook Files\Username.pst
Some of these error messages are indicative that your .PST file has gone corrupt.
To understand how to recover .PST files, it can be helpful to know about the file’s architecture and format. In all versions of Outlook pre-2003, all .PST files were in ANSI (American National Standards Institute) format. From 2003 onwards, all .PST files are now in Unicode format which allows for 64-bit block IDs and absolute file off-sets. Typically, a .PST file is constituted of three layers. These include the Messaging Layer, the LTP layer (lists, tables and properties) and the NDB (Node Database) layer.
The structure of .PST files
The messaging layer contains the message store, folder structure, messages and attachments. The NDB layer contains the lowest-level information about the .PST file such as header file and metadata pages. The LTP ( Lists, Tables and Properties) layer collects file properties. Because of the .PST’s proprietory status, Microsoft have not disclosed the algorithmic functions which are used to maintain integrity between the layers (the lousers…).
Data recovery or repair of .PST files
There are many “PST recovery tools” available to buy on the internet. Most of these promise the beleaguered user in search of a quick fix a “one click solution”. Sometimes they do work. But most of these utilities cannot handle extensive LTP, NDB or messaging layer corruption. The SCANPST utility can sometimes be successful if there just low-level corruption. However, if the damage if more extensive Drive Rescue can help with a complete data recovery of your Outlook .PST file.
The .OLM connection (Outlook for Mac)
The relationship between Outlook for Windows and Outlook for Mac is rather tenous. In fact, in Microsoftland the developement teams for both aplications are not in the same building or even part of the same business unit. As a result, while on the surface they do share similarities, their underlying architecture of both applications is quite different. The common Outlook for Mac 2011 application has a measly upper size limit of only 2GB. When your .OLM file goes corrupt you can try rebuilding the file by using the Microsoft Database Utility or by rebuilding your identity. If all this fails, professional data recovery for your .OLM file might be needed.
How to mitigate against data loss with Outlook
Use IMAP instead of POP3 – If you’re using Outlook 2007, 2010, 2013 or 2016 try to use IMAP instead of the POP3 protocol for your email configuration.(POP3 was not really designed for era of mobile email use). Because IMAP syncs your .PST with your mail server, should something go wrong with it, – you should be able to access a copy of your emails on your mail server.
Don’t let your .PST file get too large. Outlook 2003 and 2007 has a theoretical file size limit of 20GB. From our experience, however, for these versions of Outlook, once you let a .PST go above 16 to 17 GB in size, Outlook can start to go awry and you run the risk of your.PST file imploding. For Outlook 2010 and 2013 the .PST file size limit is a very generous 50GB.
Use Microsoft’s PST Back-up Tool – This handy utility from Microsoft allows you to backup your .PST by using an Outlook plug-in. In turn, you can use its output .PST file for on-line or local backups. This can be extremely useful because when you have Outlook open, a substantial number of backup applications still refuse to back-up a .PST because it is a “file already in use”. Having a second up-to-date .PST file for back-up purposes is a great workaround to this common problem.
Use Outlook Office 365 – With this option your .PST is stored in the Cloud. This can mitigate the risk of data loss due to disk failure but does not protect against events like file corruption. For this, it is recommended that you use an Office 365 solution such as Cloudally or Backupify.
In the event that you or one of your users has lost access to their email store file, Drive Rescue offers an advanced .PST and .OLM data recovery service for corrupt files or files that are inaccessible due to disk electronic or mechanical faults. Call us on 1890 571 571.