Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Data Recovery and Love Letters

E-mail didn't kill the love letter, the telephone did. I know this because I have a whole hard drive full of love letters I sent my girlfriend (now wife) back in college. Well, maybe they aren't love letters so much as correspondence that include everything from complaints about exams to my pledge of undying love.

There was only one itty bitty problem with this hard drive. About 7 years ago it crashed. This means that for 7 years it's been sitting on a shelf love, letters theoretically there, but inaccessible. Worse yet, when I did try to boot the drive it made this incredibly scary thunking sound. You know, the sound of data being scraped off disk platters.

Shira's been nagging me about getting this drive fixed, for, oh I don't know, the last 7 years.

Finally, as an anniversary gift, I decided to get the drive recovered.

I Googled around on the web, and for the life of me, couldn't find any recommendations for data recovery services. I found plenty of reviews for software to recover files. Unfortunately, what I needed was a hardware solution.

I finally settled on Gillware as my company of choice. Perhaps what sold me was the 24 hour phone line they offered. I called them at midnight as I was shopping around on the web. The person who answered was little more than an answering service which would read me the website and take down my contact info. But still, it sent the right message to me: we are going to be here when you call.

I filled out a contact me form on the web, and the next day they called me back. When we spoke, they said all the right things. They wouldn't charge me if they couldn't get the data back and they could provide a clean room if necessary. Most importantly, I got a generally warm and fuzzy feeling that they knew what they were doing. Data recovery is all about trust; I'm shipping off a drive to them, and I need to feel confident that they'll either get the data back or return me my drive in one piece. Oh, and I shouldn't get screwed financially in the process either.

Gillware gave me enough confidence to send off the drive. A few days later they let me know they received it. A few days after that I got a list of files that they thought they could recover from the drive.

Here's the tricky part: in order for Gillware to get that list of files they no doubt needed to do the data recovery (or part of it). But, they were still giving me the option to back out if I wanted to. It's a pretty safe bet that most people who get that far in the process are going to buy. However, I really like that they are willing to take on the risk and let the consumer have the final say as to whether or not they want to pay money for a specific set of files.

Before they started the recovery process, they required that I give them a call to talk it over. Again, the conversation was one that inspired confidence in their skills. I gave them the go ahead to get me my love letters back. A few days later, the drive and a couple of CD's (maybe DVDs?) were returned to me. All the files on the drive were there, just like I left them 7 years ago.

The only aspect of Gillware that I can't vouch for is price. I know that they originally told me that clean room time may be involved, which would cost extra. And, in the end, they didn't need to do this. They could have easily added that charge, and I would have been none the wiser. As for the actual price, I'm not sure if I could have had the work done cheaper elswhere. At the end of the day though, I wasn't looking for a bargain - I was looking for my data to be recovered. If you're price sensitive, you might want to shop around. If you just want your data back, then give Gillware a try.

As for those love letters - well, that's another story altogether. When I got the data back, I couldn't wait to scan through my writings to Shira. I was expecting to see e-mails that were somewhere between a clever blog post and a Shakespearian sonnet. Oh how wrong I was. The e-mails were awful. I mean, what syruppy, schmaltzy, mooshy trash. Seriously, it's like a love sick 13 year old girl was at the keyboard (who was also complaining about CS 141 and Turing machines.). Did I actually write this stuff?! I was hoping to post a snippet or two on the blog, but I have to say, none of the e-mails I saw were even remotely printable.

So how's this for irony. I just got done paying a company a significant amount of money to recover these files. Now I need to turn around and pay another company a significant amount of money to destroy the very same files.


  1. Anonymous5:06 PM

    I have had some success recovering data from drives that were failing. It requires plugging it into my linux box and using dd and a few dd based utilities to recover whatever blocks I can. I wonder if that's all they did as well...and I wonder how much I should be charging when I do it for others... :-)