The facts about remote data recovery

Losing data is an overwhelming situation. One minute, everything is working fine, and the next, everything is gone. Why did this happen? How did this happen? What are you going to do?

The good news is that lost data can be recovered. Once users understand that all is not lost, they want to know how fast they can get their data back and return to normal operations. There are several options for recovery, including restoring from backup, sending the media/hard drive to a lab for engineers to work on in a clean room, or do-it-yourself software. Another option that isn't used as often is remote recovery.

Remote data recovery is performed through a modem or Internet connection by engineers using technology to achieve the same results as if the hard drive had been sent to a lab, yet in a more convenient manner for the customer. Assuming the hard drive is still functioning, remote recovery can be achieved for a single file or for huge volumes of data.

However, many users don't consider remote recovery to be as reliable as sending damaged drives to a lab. They believe recovery can be achieved only by engineers with highly specialized tools in state-of-the-art clean rooms. Users also are concerned about the security of having their computer systems, and their valuable data, connected to a third-party system and any vulnerability that might create.

Depending on the scenario, remote recovery offers the same advantages as in-lab service, with the added benefit of faster recovery times -- often as short as one hour. The initial goal is to either make the original volume mountable -- meaning that the operating system can read and write data to that drive -- or restore the data to its previous location. If this isn't possible, the engineer copies the data to a different location on the customer's system. With no need to dismantle and ship the drive or hardware for service, many concerns about a traditional recovery are eliminated. Security isn't an issue, since each recovery is performed through a connection secured with proprietary communication protocols and encrypted packets.

Remote recovery can solve many data-loss problems because it works for all types of recoveries, including servers, desktops and laptops, across a wide variety of media, platforms and operating systems. In addition, the pricing structure is similar to traditional in-lab work. With remote recovery you're not paying more, but you're potentially getting your data back faster.

Requirements of remote recovery

The major requirement of remote service is that the hardware must be working for lost data to be recovered. In these cases where there is physical damage, the hard drive needs to go into a recovery lab so engineers can use special tools to get the drive running again for long enough to copy the data.

There are other hurdles with remote service for customers already shaken by their data-loss experience. Remote service requires some assistance by the customer so the engineer can connect with the system and produce a file listing. This process might be too intimidating for the less technically inclined user, as many people are afraid to even touch their computers after a data-loss situation out of fear that they might cause more damage.

Another requirement is the need for available staff to work with the remote-recovery engineers. If the circumstances surrounding the data loss are too hectic, sending the drive in to a reliable data recovery lab might be a better option.

Remote service requires a stable connection, which can be a challenge in a high-security environment. Many organizations have strict proxy-server or firewall policies and may not be able to connect with outside systems. Working with large amounts of data can also be a problem. Although remote recovery is capable of recovering huge volumes of data, sometimes the customer doesn't have the space available for the copied data. For example, working with some Unix or Macintosh systems requires special copy-out destinations to maintain data integrity.

Finally, the unique nature of the service can be a roadblock to using remote data recovery. Since it's a fairly new technology, many users feel that remote recovery is too good to be true and don't believe that it can deliver on the promises it makes. As the following examples show, however, remote data recovery is an option that every data-loss sufferer should always consider.

Remote recovery in action

Remote recovery is reliable enough for the most sensitive, high-security and isolated situations. During the current war in Iraq, for example, a U.S. field commander lost access to e-mail messages because of a corrupt file. Using a satellite phone in the middle of the desert, a remote-recovery evaluation was performed, and all critical messages were found.

Statistics provide further proof of remote recovery's effectiveness. Remote-recovery services have performed across the globe, covering distances from U.S. offices to locations in China, Russia, South Africa, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Enormous amounts of data have been restored with remote recovery, including 40 million files from a Windows NT File System (NTFS), 3TB, RAID storage system; 17 million files from a Novell Storage Service volume; and 1 million directories from a single Windows NTFS volume. Database servers are no exception, with 1.1 billion rows of data recovered from a single Microsoft SQL database. Remote recovery can also handle several jobs at one time, such as simultaneously connecting with 21 different jobs during the February 2004 MyDoom virus outbreak.

While some data-recovery companies promote online software rental or data delivery via FTP as remote-recovery products, you should only select data-recovery companies that offer remote service performed by data-recovery engineers. Thousands have successfully used this method to recover their data -- saving time, money and restoring their peace of mind as quickly as possible.

Jim Reinert is senior director of software and services at Ontrack Data Recovery. In this position since May 2004, Reinert handles technology and business development, as well as product-line management of the recovery services and software business lines. He joined Ontrack in 1987.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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