Time for FAT32 to go to Storage Heaven

floppy disk irelandvhs data ireland    

The world of storage technology is littered with examples of out-dated technologies that have hung around longer than they should. Take the humble floppy 3.5” disk. Even when 128MB flash memory sticks were widely available, floppies were still being used. There was always one  curmudgeon user in every office who insisted on using floppies when everyone else was using USB flash drives or CDs. Tape backup is only now in its final death throes for most commercial uses. And even in the home, VHS tapes took much longer than expected to retire. Up untillast year, Argos the catalogue retailer was still selling VHS tapes.


There is one more piece of storage technology that is still hanging around, past its sell-by-date – the FAT driver. FAT was devised in 1977 along with MS-DOS and even then was a less than efficient file system. For example, a 45KB file which was on a drive that used 32KB clusters would use up 64KB of space. In 1996, an improved version of FAT called FAT32 was brought out to overcome some the file system’s deficiencies. For drives less than 8Gb, the cluster size is 4KB which means a lot less wasted space on a storage device.


But even with the improvement FAT32, it is still a poor and unreliable file system. Its performance starts to lag after 200MB. Its directory has no formal organisation. As files systems go, FAT32 is not really suited to storages devices above 20GB. Other reasons FAT32 does not make a great file system include:

 

1)      On the FAT32 file system, files will more likely “spread out” or fragment over the drive. For efficient storage, data should be contiguous as possible on a storage device.

2)      FAT32 has a very low fault tolerance. This can lead to data loss.

3)      FAT 32 was really designed to work with small partitions of under 20GB. Of course, it will still work with your 32GB Memory Stick or camera card but not optimally.

 

 

Only last week, we were dealing with a distressed PhD student who had all his thesis backed up onto a Kingston 8GB USB drive which was FAT32 formatted. It had a substantial number of Word Documents, AutoCAD, Jpeg and .PDF files stored on it. When he connected it to his computer, the device was registering as 0 bytes. We performed diagnostics on the device. The NAND chip seemed okay, the controller seemed to be functioning but the file allocation table had totally collapsed. Using  a binary editor we were able to manually rebuild the FAT32 file system. The data recovery process restored all of his data.


So with all these disadvantages that I have outlined, you would think that FAT32 would be rarely, if ever, be used with files over 20GB. I’m afraid that is not the case. If you buy a 32GB USB flash drive or standard SD camera card to-day, it will probably be formatted with FAT32.  The reason being is that FAT32 is freely licensed and has universal operating system support. This helps explain its popularity among flash drive manufacturers. (NTFS is a proprietary format and is heavily patent protected)

 

We will probably only see the demise of FAT32 coinciding with the demise of Windows XP. Once the prevalence of Windows XP in houses and offices across Ireland and the globe has finally ended, exFAT will most probably become the de facto standard for high-capacity USB flash drives and camera cards.

 


Why exFAT is better than FAT32

 

 camera card data recovery ireland

ExFAT is a file system specifically designed for flash memory devices of over 4GB in capacity. It’s file size limit is 16 exabytes. It allows for access control lists to set restrictions on certain files. More importantly, it uses free space bitmaps in order to reduce fragmentation. Using a more robust system such as exFAT should, in theory, reduce the probability of file system corruption and if this file system does go corrupt, thanks to bit mapping the chances of more streamlined data recovery are a lot higher.

The uptake of exFAT by flash memory manufacturers has already begun.   All SDXC (SD Extended Capacity) cards now use exFAT.

In the next couple of years, we will probably be saying goodbye to FAT32 and as the de facto file system for USB drives and camera cards.  It will be going to storage heaven to meet-up with some old tapes and old 3.5” floppy diskettes.

 

 


 

 

 

 

Top Five Human Accidents that lead to Data Loss and How to Prevent Them

 

 

Accident Risk # 1 : Connecting your Storage Device using the Wrong Power Adaptor

 

With the average office or home now awash with electronic devices, it is very easy to erroneously use the wrong power adaptor to power up your external hard drive. The average power adaptor for your 3.5” S-ATA external hard drive is 12V and 2Amps.

The problem is compounded by the rise in use of Ultrabooks (slimline laptops). These devices use very similar looking power connectors but their voltages differ (usually 17V to 19V). When a 19V adaptor is plugged into a hard drives’ 12V connector, fire and brimstone will not ensue but you do risk damaging your hard drive’s TVS diode or other components on the PCB such as the drive controller.  In certain data recovery cases we have seen, the over-voltage surged through the drive and fried the pre-amplifier chip mounted on the actuator arm. Our advice: Label your drive cables or use a sticker to differentiate them for other devices.

 

Accident Risk # 2 :Liquid Spillage

 

Of all the accidents that can befall a hard drive, liquid spillage is the most insidious. Most users who have spilled wine, coffee, cola or water on their laptop will frantically start a clean-up procedure with J-clothes, paper towels and even hair dryers. If their laptop powers up successfully and they see their files again – they are ecstatic. They ascribe their luck to their assiduous clean-up procedure, forget about their “near miss” experience and move on. But this is when the real damage happens. A proper clean usually involves a good knowledge of the insidious effect of liquid on a hard drive’s PCB, some cotton buds, a ballast magnifying lamp and some isopropyl solution. This might sound like overkill for a bit of spilt coffee but when liquid deposits meet the delicate electronics on your hard drive’s PCB – oxidation occurs. A oxidised PCB usually causes the board to short and the onboard chips to fail. Worse still, liquid ingress via your hard drive’s vent hole can mean some more serious damage if the liquid seeps onto the platters – the drive platters can become a veritable skating rink for your drive heads. Our advice: Place cups, glasses and bottles a reasonable distance from your laptop. If you did spill liquid on your laptop keyboard, remove the hard drive immediately. Even if it still appears to be undamaged – get your system checked out by a competent and experienced computer technician or electronics engineer.

 

 

 

 

Accident Risk # 3 : External Drives and NAS  – Accidental Trips over Power and USB cables.

 

Nearly twenty years ago, journalist Frances Cairncross writing for the Economist made the prescient prediction that the future of home and office technology would be completely wireless. A substantial number of homes and offices now have everything from wireless IP cameras, to wireless baby monitors to wireless internet. This includes wireless hard drives. But these are still in the minority. Most users still use wired storage devices. And herein lies the problem. Wires are a trip hazard. When a USB cable or A/C power lead gets in the way of a fast moving human foot, it can easily result in a laptop or storage device heading south. Some hard drives will come away unscathed from the impact. Other drives are not so lucky. A hard drive that is turned on  i.e. fully spinning that incurs impact damage, such as a fall from a table to a floor, usually results in a seized spindle at best and at worst misalignment of the head disk assembly.  In worst case scenarios, the HDA will misalign and the heads will then scour the surface of the platters. Data recovery is usually possible for the first two scenarios but not for the latter. Our advice: Position your external hard or NAS drive whereby it’s power and USB cables not trip hazards. Cable ties from any hardware store can be used to tidy up loose wires.

 

Accident Risk # 4 : Putting your Laptop or Tablet in your Luggage

 

When packing for a business trip or a holiday, it is tempting to just put your laptop into your suitcase. This can be a big mistake. Putting a laptop in a suitcase means it will go though a slalom course of potential shock hazards in the bowels of an airport. Human handlers, conveyor belts, automatic luggage handlers, airside luggage vehicles and aircraft holds are all potential areas for laptop shock damage. Our advice: Carry your laptop / tablet PC with you as hand luggage in a well padded sleeve or case. When travelling, treat your laptop in the same way you would treat a piece of antique Waterford Crystal – with extreme care. And of course, you will have it fully backed up anyway – won’t you…?

 

 

 

Accident Risk # 5: USB Key Drives: Flex or Shear Damage

 

There is an old Japanese proverb that says “it is the nail that sticks out that gets hammered”. Here at Drive Rescue, we believe “It is the USB stick that sticks out that gets damaged and will need data recovery”. The reason is simple, if you have a laptop that you move around, it is easy to forget that there is a plastic stick protruding out with a USB connector that holds a delicate NAND chip and controller inside. A protruding plastic part is a very likely candidate for any damage. For example, if your laptop falls, the first point of contact with the floor will very likely be your USB stick. This will incur significant shock damage and possibly the PCB of the device will be sheared off from it’s USB connector. Our advice: Transfer data to / from your USB memory stick and when complete, disconnect it from your PC. Do not leave it plugged into your computer for prolonged periods.

 

Following these tips and always having your data fully backed up can negate the need for the services of a data recovery company.

Professional Photographer: Data Recovery from a 1.8” MacBook Air Drive

Samsung 1.8" Drive from Macbook Air

 

We recently got a call from a professional photographer whose Macbook Air had experienced hard drive failure. Michael (not his real name) has been a professional photographer for the past sixteen years. He photographs everything from weddings to conferences to industrial ball bearings all around Ireland.

 

Last week, when he started up his Mac he got the dreaded question mark icon appear on his Macbook screen. His local Mac repair centre informed him that the drive had failed. They spent a couple of days attempting data recovery but this recovery proved to be beyond the scope of their expertise and they referred him to us.

 

Michael was devastated. He had three sets of trade conference photos and one set of food product photos for a new website that was launching soon. He had wiped his camera memory card and overwritten it several times over. He had not backed up because his external backup drive was full. He was kicking himself for his lack of backup. He was fretting over his reputation. It was a nightmare for him. We presented Michael with all his options and estimated price. We assured him that no stone would be left unturned getting all his photos recovered.

 

We took his 1.8” Samsung LIF drive into our cleanroom. Our diagnosis revealed that the drive had a stiction problem. (Stiction is where the drive heads stick to the drive platters). Using specialised Head Disk Assembly tools – the heads have to placed back to drive ramp with extreme care. But before this can even be contemplated, it must be ascertained if the drive heads are in anyway damaged before they are moved back. Otherwise, platter damage can easily incur.  This is where our rotatable electronic microscope came into play. We carefully examined the heads for damage. There appeared to be no evidence of any. Armed with this information, we now began the delicate process of lifting the heads back into position. Upon completion, we powered up the drive and it gently spun into life again. We then started the imaging process onto another drive as a precaution (a repaired hard drive can be an unpredictable and fragile beast).

 

The recovery proved to be successful. All his recovered data was extracted from the drive image to an external HFS+ formatted USB 3.0 drive. His photos (and reputation) saved.

 

 

 

 

 

Data Recovery from a Samsung 250 GB Laptop Hard Drive

 

We were recently helping the sales director of a multinational pharmaceutical company to recover data from his Samsung 2.5” laptop hard drive. His operating system has crashed and his I.T. support department passed the drive onto us.

 

A couple of days preceding his computer crash, the user had noticed his operating system (Windows 7 Pro) getting very sluggish and freezing intermittently. He was extremely busy in his office and on the road. He did not have time to get his I.T. department to have a look at it. Then one morning he turned his system on only to get the dreaded Windows “blue screen of death”. He restarted the system about a dozen times in the hope it might successfully start-up but to no avail.

 

His last back-up was almost five months old.  He had Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Visio files stored on it which he badly needed. Moreover, there was also a .PST holding the details of several important customers.

 

His I.T. department performed diagnostics on the drive to make sure it was not an errant driver or memory leak which was causing the blue screen. They slaved the drive onto another system but the host system froze immediately. They then knew they would need some extra help in recovering files off this drive.

 

We received the drive – a Samsung HM251HI. We had dealt with this type of drive before. We performed our own diagnostics. At least 2 of the drive heads appeared to have failed. We then brought the drive to our clean room to confirm what our software diagnostics were indicating to us. Two of the heads had “lifted” from the platters. We removed the whole head disk assembly. We had an exact-match replacement HDA already in stock.  After hours of some very intricate work, the new head disk assembly was now in situ. We now needed to calibrate the servo adaptive parameters of the drive so the new heads would synch smoothly with the platters. With calibration complete, we powered up the drive. This would be the moment of truth. The drive initiated and three seconds later the new heads smoothly touched down on the landing zone area of platters. Perfect! The drive was imaged onto another drive. The data was then all extracted onto a brand new USB external drive ready for delivery. Result: a one hundred per cent recovery and a very satisfied customer.

 

Seagate Barracuda Data Recovery for a Dental Practice

 

Recently, we got a call from a distressed office manager of a dental practice in South Dublin. Three days previous, their main office computer crashed. They called their I.T. support company who performed a diagnostic on the drive. Its status came up as “failed”. A new hard drive was then installed in the system along with a fresh installation of Windows 7. The backup device, a USB external hard drive was then connected. There was a file backup present but to their shock and dismay it was nearly 4 months out-of-date. The office manager got that sinking feeling that data loss induces in people. Their I.T. support company then resorted to the failed Seagate drive and tried to recover data off that but to no avail. The drive – a Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB just kept on clicking. No data at all was showing up.

 

We performed our own diagnostic on the drive. Sure enough, two of the drive heads had failed. A drive head is the tiny component at the tip of the drive’s actuator arm that actually reads and writes the data to the platters. We entered the drive part number into our database. Luckily, we had the exact match head disk assembly already in stock.

 

The drive was then taken into our class-100 clean room. The old head disk assembly was carefully removed. The donor part was then inserted. This is an intricate job taking years of experience and a very steady hand. The head disk assembly swap was a success but our job was not over yet. The drive was powered up and it spun into life with a nice healthy sounding spin. The data was still not showing up though. This is normal with some models of the Barracuda after a HDA swap. We then attached the drive to our recovery equipment where we edited the SAP (Servo Adaptive Parameters) and CAP (controller adaptive parameters) information. Editing these two parameters usually results in a better synching between the heads and the platters. The drive was powered up again and this time all their data appeared. To confirm a read/write integrity scan was performed which it passed. As an extra precaution, the drive was then imaged. The final stage of this recovery process was the extraction of  all their Sage accounts, dental records, JPEG files of X-rays, Word and Excel files onto an external drive.

 

The dental practice is now using local backup and online backup. The backups are checked by staff every week. It’s not just teeth that need check-ups.

RAID 5 data recovery from a Dell Poweredge 2900 Server

 

 

We were recently called to help a Dublin accountancy firm recover data from a failed 3 disk RAID 5 array.

 

Our diagnostics revealed that 2 out of their 3 SAS drives had failed. One drive had suffered component failure on it’s electronic assembly; the other had head disk assembly problems that needed work in our clean-room.

 

First of all, we fixed the electronic issues with the defective PCB. Then we performed a head disk assembly swap. (The donor parts we already had in stock).

 

Once the defective drives were fixed – it was now time to image them. Imaging drives before a RAID reconstruct is an important step to maximise the integrity of the data.

 

When the drive imaging process had completed we proceeded to reconstruct the RAID 5 array. This is time a consuming and intricate but rewarding process knowing that you are probably saving the client 100’s of hours of labour redoing work that has already been completed.

 

With the RAID rebuild finally complete – we transferred all their data onto a portable high capacity USB external drive. We then invited them to perform a check on their files using a remote file viewer. Everything was to their complete satisfaction.

 

Without a successful data recovery – they would have had to reconstruct month’s worth of accounting data. This would have been a serious drain on their productivity not to mention the harm it would have caused their reputation.

 

Lesson learnt? A lot of users still think that just because their data is on a “server” it is automatically safe. It’s not. Servers fail too. The accountancy firm is now backing up their data onto their new server and are using a reputable online backup service.

Seagate beats Western Digital Data in the Data Density Race

Seagate has beaten Western Digital to the post in breaking the one terabit per square inch data barrier on a disk platter. (Now we know why they were so anxious to acquire Maxtor and their R&D facility!)

Currently, with a data density of 620 gigabits per square inch, the maximum capacity of a 3.5 inch is 3TB. With this announcement from Seagate, we are likely to see hard drive capacities shoot up to 6TBs for 3.5” drives and 2TB for 2.5” models. All of this is possible by using lasers to heat tiny areas of the platter (a.k.a Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording, as discussed on this blog two weeks ago).

This sounds all very well in theory but from a data recovery point of view a defective drive head could now cause even more damage. Currently, a defective drive head can cause bit corruption. At worst, a physically damaged drive head can have a scouring effect as it moves across the platters. But having a defective drive head which also has a microscopic laser attached to it could compound or magnify even small drive head defects. Seagate have not mentioned anything in their press releases about how the laser will impact power consumption and more importantly has not mentioned anything about how the laser will impact read /write performance. We look forward to purchasing one of these drives to put it through it’s paces in our lab.

3rd Platters and the 228 Year Old Hard Drive

 

For most 2.5” inch drives (or simply laptop hard drives), 1 or 2 platters (platters are the actual disks where the data is stored) have been the de facto standard for a number of years now.

But, around this time last year, Seagate brought out their Savvio drive with 3 platters in it.  Now Western Digital have thrown their hat into the ring and brought out their own three platter 2.5” drive called the S25. This disk, like the Savvio, has a capacity of 900GB. On their website, Western digital claim the drive has a whopping 2 million hour MTBF (mean time before failure). Now, over the years I have heard some ludicrous claims proffered by drive manufacturers but claiming this MTBF figure (i.e. half the drives will fail within 228 years of operation) is farcical.

One of the largest hard drive studies ever untaken in the world “Failure Trends in Large Disk Drive Population” was conducted by the engineers at Google. It helps shed some light on some of the manufacturer’s claims. They noted “situations where a drive tester consistently ‘green lights’ a unit that invariably fails in the field” In other words, in manufacturer’s tests, they pass drives that would fail in real life.

Storage could be considered a critical area of the I.T. industry. Everyday we rely on hard drives from surfing a webpage, to storing a thesis and to companies storing whole databases on them.  Computer users (consumer and enterprise) want storage options that have reasonable performance coupled with a reasonable level of giga/tera-bytes at a reasonable price. They do not want spurious numbers or claims pulled out of the air so some marketing department can get their egos stroked. With realistic expectations of hard drive failure rates, users can formulate better disaster recovery plans. Forewarned is forearmed.

Trinity College Dublin and Western Digital working together to maximise the Storage Space of Hard Drives with Laser Assisted Recording.

The Trinity College based Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices is currently working with Western Digital on maximising the storage space of the traditional hard drive.

The areal density or amount of data that can be stored on a square inch of disk (platter) has been increasing every year. For example, 10 years ago, if you bought a standard desktop PC it would probably have come with an 80GB drive. Now, a standard PC will have anything from a 500GB or 1TB hard drive installed as standard.

The last great breakthrough in achieving even greater hard drive densities has been the use of tunnelling magneto-resistive heads with additional heater coils to improve storage efficiency and the recording of data to the platters.

The team at Trinity are now taking this technology one step forward. They are deploying a laser to heat a tiny area of the drive (1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair). By using a laser to increase the temperature of the magnetic material – data can be stored at higher densities with improved read/write functions.

It is great to see such revolutionary heat assisted recording technology which has the potential to change hard drive design being developed on our own doorstep.

All you need to know about NAS Servers

All you need to know about NAS Servers

a G-Tech (Hitachi) NAS Device


Why are NAS devices are replacing servers?

Many NAS servers have the same storage capacity as traditional server but without the administration overhead.

NAS are proving more popular than ever because of the flexibility they offer. If you have employees you are using iPads or Macbooks they can be much more easily facilitated by a NAS than a conventional server. Moreover, you do not need to buy Windows Server 2008 or client access licenses to use a NAS.

What NAS server to get?

The type of NAS you acquire will be determined by a number of factors.

  • How many users are in your office?
  • What sort of data will be stored – documents, application data, video etc?
  • What is the speed of data transfer needed?
  • What sort of network do you have in your office – wired or wireless?
  • Privacy – do you need certain files to have restricted access?
  • Will you need to access your data on the NAS remotely?

Synology Disk Manager User Interface


More specifically, you have to consider the following questions:

– Does the NAS come with standard or proprietary RAID? If your RAID does fail, proprietary RAID might be more expensive and time consuming to restore.

  • What is the user interface like? Is the user interface intuitive or  confusing to use?
  • Does your NAS integrate well with Active Directory?
  • Does the NAS have E-SATA support for fast local backups?

Other Things to Bear in Mind

Check your manufacturer approved list. Not all hard drives are accepted by NAS devices.

What software do I use to manage the NAS?

There are many different software options to manage your NAS settings and shared files. These include FreeNAS, Openfiler, Windows Storage Server or you can use the software that comes with the NAS itself.

Biggest misconception about NAS devices…?

A substantial number of people think that NAS devices are a turnkey solution for complete backup. They are not! A back-up is only valid if it is in two different locations. In addition to a NAS, it is strongly recommended that you backup your data online (the Cloud) or backup via external hard drive or DVDs. (Many NAS devices have USB ports for this very purpose)

What most I.T. vendors won’t tell you.

Many I.T. administrators of smaller businesses will actually deploy an old desktop PC or server with high capacity drives as a NAS device. This can be an inexpensive option for a simple NAS where speedy data throughput is not required.

Advantages of a NAS

– Lower power consumption than a conventional server. Some NAS servers use as little as 8 watts of power.
– Less administration needed. No active directory or domains to manage.
– Most NAS devices will support multiple operating systems. If you have a staff member with a MAC or Linux system – they will still be able to access shared files.
– A NAS is much smaller than an average-sized server. This means it can be easily tucked under a desk or put in cupboard.

Disadvantages of a NAS

– Does not give you the same level of administrative privileges as a server OS such as Windows Small Business Server. For example, for most NAS devices you can only set permissions per share and not per folder. This can make administration be more time consuming if there are some folders you want to keep private such Accounting and Management folders.
– If you’re company is using MS Exchange as an email application, it cannot be run on a NAS.


And Lastly…

Do not connect your NAS directly to mains power. Like with a conventional server, one power surge could damage your drives. To mitigate the risk of this happening, acquire a Uninteruptible Power Supply. A UPS acts as an intermediary between your mains power supply and your NAS. In the event of a power surge happening, the UPS should prevent the surge reaching your NAS and mitigating the need for data recovery.