Easter Backup Tips

Easter Backup Tips

The long weekend is only hours away, so if you’ve got a few spare minutes over Easter, why not get your data in order & sort out some backups. Save yourself the dread of losing all your documents or photos, and then sit back and eat some chocolate eggs!

Simple Start

First, when people talk about backups, they actually mean just make copies of your files. It sounds obvious, but this is often misunderstood. If you have a few really important files, you can make a backup of them my copying them somewhere else. That could be a memory stick, SD card, CD, DVD, Dropbox, whatever. The important thing is when you’ve copied the file, do not delete the original. For a backup to be useful, it must be a copy of some data.

The Plan

If you want to take things a step further, you probably want a way to automate the backup process. That way, your computer keeps track of new & updated files, and you don’t need to think too much about it.

Step 1

You ideally want to have enough space in your main computer to hold all your important data. This may mean investing in a larger hard drive or SSD, but is by far the easiest way to stay safe. Now whenever you use the computer, you always store the files on the large internal disk. This means any backups you make can simply be copies of this main disk.

To sidetrack slightly, imagine if you instead stored photos on one external disk, documents on your laptop, and movies on another disk. This would be a nightmare to keep backed up, as you would constantly need to attach and reattach different disks.

Step 2

Now all your data is stored on the main disk inside your computer, backups are simple. On a Mac, point Time Machine at your external disk. On a PC, point Windows Backup to your external disk. Both will create a copy of your main disk, and then take care of scheduling future copies to keep you up to date.

Never store files manually onto the external disk, as you will lose them if the disk fails. Now, when you make new files on your computer they will eventually get backed up to your external disk too. Just remember to either keep it plugged in, or plug it in regularly to catch up.

Step 3

Once you have a single backup sorted, you might think of a few ways you could still end up losing data. For example, if the external disk is always plugged in, any spike through the power lines could kill off both disks in one go. It does happen, even if you have a surge protector! Also, what if there was a fire or flood. Both disks side by side could get damaged. Then there is also the risk of the computer and all the surrounding equipment being stolen.

Luckily, there are also ways to protect yourself here too. A simple way would be to use another external disk to make a backup, but then unplug it and store it in a safe somewhere. It could be in a family member’s house, or at work, or anywhere really. Ideally not in the same building as the other disks, to cut down the chances of all disks being lost at once.

There is another way to avoid the worry of storing another disk outside your house. Online backup. Sometimes known as cloud backup, online backups give you storage on a server somewhere, and a small program on your computer to send the data over. We’ve heard great things about Backblaze for online backups. Their ex-Apple engineers have created a really simple service, that’s super cheap with unlimited storage.

Done

So now, with your backup disk humming away on your desk, and your files beaming over to a Backblaze server online, you can relax and stop worrying about losing all your files.

If you’re reading this too late and have already lost data, get in touch and we’ll see if there’s any way to get it back.

When Backups Go Bad ~ Revisited

I was recently going through some old posts on here, and found the one with the clickbaity headline When Backups Go Bad. Despite the title, I thought it was worth looking again at some of the common ways backups can go wrong. A bad backup can be as useless as no backup at all. There is an old phrase that applies perfectly to backups. “One is None. Two is One.”

RAID Instead of Backups

This is a common one. Although RAID can protect against some hardware failures, it does nothing to protect against corrupt partitions, virus attacks, accidental deletion, formatting, multiple disk failures. The list is endless. Add to this the fact that you can have 12, 24, even 48TB stored in one massive array, and you stand to lose an awful lot of data in one go if the whole thing goes south.

Same Disk, Different Day

There are ways to partition a disk so it appears to the computer as multiple disks. The danger is, if you don’t know there are two physical disks inside the computer, you could be making backups to the same disk. When it fails, both partitions will go with it. Best backup to an external drive and then you know for sure.

Break the Encryption

Encrypting any data is risky without careful consideration. By design, your encrypted data is not accessible without the password, or perhaps a recovery key that was created during the original setup. If you don’t have either of those keys, you can wave goodbye to the data.

Inbetweener

If you’re ever left with a single copy of your files, you’re on thin ice. If something goes wrong, you’ve lost one copy of the data already. We always suggest multiple backups for this reason.

The Space Maker

New computers can have painfully small storage, (hey Apple) so a common solution is to start dumping files off to an external disk. This is fine if you just move over replaceable movies & music, but you have to be prepared to never see those files again. Don’t store all your photos & documents on an external drive unless you keep another copy somewhere. External disks are no more reliable than internal ones and can fail at any time. If anything, the risk of dropping or losing an external drive is higher as they are so small and portable.

I’m sure there are more ways backups go bad. I could probably make this into a regular feature. Remember, when it comes to backups One is None, Two is One…

This drive has a hardware problem that can’t be repaired

This drive has a hardware problem that can’t be repaired.
Back up as much of the data as possible and replace the disk. See an authorised Apple dealer for more information.
S.M.A.R.T. Status : Failing

If you see the message above, your hard disk or SSD has started to fail and has reported faults to the Mac. If caught early enough, these disks can usually be recovered. You can try to copy important data to another disk but if the copy process gets stuck for a while, it’s safer to stop. If you leave a failing disk in that state it can deteriorate until the disk is ruined.

If the data is really important, and you’d rather not take the risk, you could have a look at our Mac Data Recovery Services. We have been dealing with these sorts of problems for years and have a developed a really safe way to get the data off in good condition.

This drive has a hardware problem that can't be repaired

Whatever you decide to do, don’t ignore this message. The broken disk cannot repair itself, and will only get worse. In many cases, the disk won’t even be readable by the time you see this warning.

It doesn’t matter if the disk is still inside your iMac or MacBook, we can remove it for you, and even replace the drive at the end of the recovery process if you want. Ask about our Mac Setup service if you are interested.

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Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2015

Christmas Header

Just a quick post today to wish everyone a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2015. We will be setting up some new equipment over the Christmas break to keep up with the latest hard drive failures. We will also be enjoying some much-deserved time off. If you have an urgent data recovery problem then please get in touch – we will still be taking calls & e-mails over the break. For anything less urgent, enjoy Christmas & New Year and we look forward to hearing from you in 2016!

Windows 10 Upgrade Problems

Windows PC Data Recovery

If you’ve had a disaster during the Windows 10 Upgrade, don’t panic. Chances are your data is fine, but whatever you do next could change that!

If You Have a Backup

If you made a backup of the data before the upgrade then check the backup files on another computer. If the backup is good, the safest way forward is to restore the backup onto a fresh drive. Then if you find a problem with the data later, or if the restore fails, you still have the original “broken” drive to send to us for recovery. A common mistake is to restore the backup onto the failed disk, but if that goes wrong you’re left with nothing!

Windows 10 Upgrade Problems
Windows 10 Upgrade Problems

If You Don’t Have a Backup

If you don’t have a backup you need to be really careful what you do next. If you send / bring the computer or disk to us, we can safely recover the data using the techniques we’ve developed over the last 15 years.

Whatever you decide, give us a call first, and we can warn you against doing anything that could harm the data.

Bitlocker Data Recovery

For the last few years, newer editions of Windows have the ability to encrypt the whole disk with bitlocker. This means far more users are experimenting with encryption. We have seen an increase in recoveries from drives secured with bitlocker.

When Backups Go Bad

Is Data Recoverable From Bitlocker Drives?

In many cases the data is recoverable. It is important that we get the recovery key or password, as bitlocker security has not been compromised.

Common Issues

The most common problems we see with bitlocker encrypted drives are when the disk starts to fail, or when Windows becomes corrupt. This can prevent the built-in decryption process from working correctly and leave users locked out of their data. These drives can fail like any other, but the encryption adds an extra layer of complexity to the recovery process.

Solutions

If using bitlocker on your drive, it is important to keep a copy of the decryption keys in a safe secure place away from the computer. It is also extra important to keep a constant and regular backup process. Although recovery is usually possible from a failed bitlocker drive, it could take a number of days. You probably wouldn’t want to live without your files for that time.

If you have a failed bitlocker drive that needs recovery, (and if you have the recovery key) get in touch.

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2: Data Recovery

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2
OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2

This OWC external enclosure is a common sight on the desks of Mac users with big storage needs. It’s a pretty standard 4-bay box, styled somewhat like a cousin of a PowerMac G5 or 1st generation Mac Pro. Inside are the usual options of RAID 0 to RAID 5 with a few additions like JBOD & RAID 10 thrown in for good measure. There are a few variations of this device but the back panels commonly have USB, Firewire, and eSATA ports for direct connection to a PC or Mac. There is no ethernet port on these drives which makes the Qx2 a DAS (Direct Attached Storage) rather than NAS (Network Attached Storage).

Aside from massive name, the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2 also comes with a potentially huge amount of storage. Currently up to 32TB on the OWC store, but also available diskless or BYOD (Bring your own disks). With so much storage space, these drives often become the one and only repository for vast lumps of important data. The benefits of RAID give a false sense of security that the data is safe from drive failures. Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why the RAID array alone will not protect from certain failures. Most of  these failures can be overcome by us in our workshop, but they are not one-button fixes. It is helpful to understand why a seemingly rock-solid platform can be even more risky than a simple external USB drive.

Redundancy

Under common settings, the Qx2 will use RAID 5 for the array. With four 2TB drives this gives you a 6TB volume on a Mac or ~5.5TB on a PC[1], and can cope with a single disk failure. There is a lot of debate about how good RAID 5 really is for such large drives[2]. In our example this means that if a single disk fails, it will need to be replaced, and then the new disk rebuilt with 2TB of data calculated from the other disks. This will take many hours, even under optimal conditions, but if anything goes wrong before it completes the array could stop showing up all together. At this stage, the data is probably recoverable but don’t panic. One wrong move and the data could be gone for good.

If the data is crucial then get assistance from a RAID recovery service now and you should get back all or most of the data.

If any disks are removed or replaced at this point the array could get reinitialised and either make the recovery more complicated or wipe the data completely.

Other Failures

Aside from all the problems with a RAID setup, the volume could also fail in the same ways that a standard hard drive can. There could be deleted files, a reformatted or corrupt partition, or even the RAID controller failure. RAID cannot protect against those types of failure at all.

Recovery

Our first step would be making read-only copies of each disk in the array. This protects against further disks failing, and also allows us to work from copies without risking the original disks. In fact, once the disks are copied, we put the originals to one side and don’t touch them again until all the data is recovered and supplied back to the user.

Once we have our copies, they are loaded into our own hardware where we recreate the RAID in a virtual environment. Again, we don’t use the original hardware, as that may have been the root cause of the problem.

When the virtual RAID has been loaded and all the data extracted, the files are supplied back on whatever alternative storage is suitable, (not the original device!) Once the data has been delivered to the user, and backups made, the old unit can then be destroyed, or returned and reused.

Avoidance

Anyone using RAID on a regular basis should know that RAID is not a replacement for backups. If anything, the increased number of disks makes failure more likely. This needs to be addressed by either making backups to another device, or an online service (preferably both). You ideally want backups that keep historic versions of the files, so that inadvertently deleting a file or changing a file by mistake will not also replace the backup version.

If you are having problems with an OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2, give us a call or send a message via the form on this page. We give free advice and could help you avoid permanent data loss.

1. Macs now use 1000 bytes for 1KB but PCs use 1024 bytes.

2. Even RAID 6 does not solve the long time required to rebuild a disk, even though it allows for two disk failures.

Data Recovery from Fire Damaged Hard Drives

Data Recovery from Fire Damaged Hard Drives
Fire Damaged Hard Drives

Following a fire at a science lab, five hard drives had sustained damage. Although hard drives often survive a fire, they can sometimes be damaged more by the water used to bring the blaze under control. Fortunately for the lab involved, somebody had managed to extract the hard disks from the scene and quickly bag them. It is critical to work fast with fire and water damage, before corrosion takes hold.

The lab have been using our data recovery services since 2005 so the technical department knew exactly where to send the disks.

Cleaning and Decontamination

Data Recovery from Fire Damaged Hard Drives
Data Recovery from Fire Damaged Hard Drives

To maximise the chances of recovery, we have a strict procedure for fire and water damaged disks. First the outside covers of the drives are cleaned of any loose soot and all electronic components are labelled and removed. The hard drive carcases then get thoroughly cleaned and inspected for signs of water ingress or damage to the protective seals. If the damage has transferred inside the drive then it will be taken into our cleanroom for internal decontamination and cleaning. The electronic parts of the disks are dealt with separately. First they are dusted of loose debris, and then immersed in a chemical bath. This removes contaminants from any connectors or contact surfaces, and also helps remove anything that could cause the electronics to malfunction when powered on. The circuit boards are then dried and tested for faults before being reattached to the hard drives.

Recovery

Once cleaning and decontamination is complete, the drives are reassembled and attached to an imaging machine. The drives are copied as fast as possible, as they may have been exposed to temperatures outside of their specified design. This process means that each sector is only read a single time and then the disk is powered off and returned to storage. We are then free to work on the copies. It is part of our standard data recovery procedure, but all the more important in this case.

Success

Our strict and thorough process for fire and water damaged drives meant that we had a 100% success rate from these drives. Failure to follow any part of the process could have meant the difference between the data being recovered or not.

Fire Damage Data Recovery

Battle Cards

For a limited time only we have produced collectible battle cards, complete with hard drive portraits and battle stats. There are 10 to collect. Some are based on common hard drives, but others are a bit more obscure.

Classic Hard Drive Battle Cards
Classic Hard Drive Battle Cards

We’ve also got plans for a few new ranges, so get these new cards while you can. These cards are not for sale so contact us if you want some.

Death Star Battle Card
Death Star Battle Card
Classic Hard Drive Battle Card
Classic Hard Drive Battle Card