Last week was one such case. A lady who was finalising her PhD thesis was getting into her car. Her phone rang. She placed her Western Digital Passport external drive on the car’s roof. She continued with her phone conversation and then proceeded to sit behind the wheel. After a few minutes, the conversation ended and she started her ignition and drove off.
The fact that her external hard drive was still resting on her roof had unfortunately escaped her. She drove on for around one kilometre until she reached the motorway. Just arriving onto the slipway of the motorway, she braked and saw a black object with a wire attached to it flying across her windscreen, bouncing onto the road and into the ditch. To her horror, she realised where she had put her hard drive, a half an hour previously. She drove up a little bit further to the hard shoulder, put her hazard lights on and started looking in the ditch. After around ten minutes of searching amongst the overgrown grass and ragwort, she saw a metallic object glistening in the undergrowth. Luckily, it was not a discarded Coke can but it was her hard drive. It had broken loose from its plastic enclosure. After some more searching, she found the plastic enclosure and the USB connection cable. She got into her car, and headed home. She eagerly connected the drive to her computer, but to her dismay heard only a clicking noise. She phoned a friend who works in I.T. in the south of Ireland. He advised her to take it to a data recovery company and recommended Drive Rescue.
We first performed a media test on the drive. Two of the drive heads had failed. The whole head disk assembly would have to be replaced. We now needed to find an exact-match Head Disk Assembly in order to transplant a new HDA to the drive. After a lot of phone calls and emails, one of our suppliers in Germany had the exact part in stock. We got it sent to us via express courier. The damaged drive was brought into our clean-room where the old Head Disk Assembly was carefully removed. The replacement Head Disk Assembly was now carefully inserted in our clean room. It took another few hours before we were satisfied that the torque pressure applied to the HDA was perfect to ensure the precise “flying-height” needed by the drive heads. We then configured the drive’s servo-adaptive parameters as close as possible to the old configuration. If the servo-adaptive parameters are not “tuned” right; PRML (the type of read/write encoding used) will not function correctly and the data will not be read properly. Once we were satisfied that these were accurate, we then imaged the drive. The imaging process took around 6 hours. Once this had been completed; we would be able to check the data. It all looked perfect. We got the client to email us a list of important files as confirmation. Our recovery set had everything on the client’s “most wanted” list and more.
This accident could have happened to anyone. We are all human. We are living in the “connected age”; we can now get distracted from even the most perfunctory of tasks. The PhD thesis (which took two years to complete) and accompanying scans of research documents were all recovered successfully. The recovered data was delivered to the client on a brand new USB drive. The lesson, as always, is: backup your data; expect the unexpected and never put your hard drive on the roof of a car!