Over the years we have seen stacks of LaCie Big Disks (and quite a few LaCie Bigger Disks too). With their designer looks and an abundance of different interfaces, it is no surprise that they are so popular. There is however one main reason that people send us their drives, and that is because they are not working.
Those of you familiar with hard drives will be aware that these LaCie drives are substantially larger in physical size and storage capacity when compared to a standalone hard disk drive. The reason being is that the LaCie Big Disk contains two hard disks (and the LaCie Bigger Disk contains four hard drives). Of course when you attach the drive to your computer you only see one volume. This is due to a RAID controller inside the LaCie drive which allows for multiple disks to appear as one large, usable disk. The main advantage to this setup is that read and write speeds can be very fast, as the reads and writes are spread over multiple disks. Another bonus is that the capacity of the volume is as large as the two drives. So two 500GB drives will give you a 1TB volume. There is however a massive downside to all of this clever RAID business which boils down to some simple mathematics.
The larger the number of hard disk drives used in this particular striped (RAID 0) setup, the more chance that one of them will fail, therefore a higher chance that you will lose all of the data stored on these drives. The way a RAID 0 stripe works is to distribute the data across the disks at block level. The amount of blocks used for each stripe is determined by the RAID controller and varies between different manufacturers. What this means, from a data recovery point of view is that in order to extract data from a LaCie Big Disk, you need to figure out the block size, and read the data from both drives in sequence, in order to extract usable data. This sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is and is often explained with the analogy of a filing cabinet.
Imagine the LaCie Big Disk is a filing cabinet. The cabinet has two drawers (disks) with an index in the first drawer. Now imagine that when you save a file into the cabinet, all of the odd numbered pages are put into the first drawer, and all of the even numbered pages are put into the second drawer. Once saved, the files location is stored in the index. In order to read back the saved file, it must first be collected from the relevant drawers, one page from each drawer at a time, and arranged into the correct order.
This is all great until a problem occurs. What happens when one of the drawers becomes damaged and can no longer be opened. Sure you can access all of the pages in the other drawer but having every other page is not much use to anybody! So until you can access both drawers, the documents are worthless.
Special Hard Drives?
The hard drives in a LaCie Big Disk are much the same as any other hard drive on the market. This means they are just as likely to have the same failures as a standalone drive. They suffer from electronic problems on the PCB, firmware corruption and also internal component failure and head crashes. These are problems which need to be overcome before any attempt at a recovery is even possible.
Aside from the usual hard drive problems, we have also seen other problems such as failed power supplies or damaged circuit boards within the LaCie Big Disk, which prevent access to the stored data.
This is why we have spent a lot of time researching the process of recovering data from RAID systems such as the LaCie Big Disk. We follow the same precautions with RAID as we do with single volume drives.
- We make binary images of all of the individual hard drives on a read-only basis to protect against drive failure.
- We don’t use the original hardware to read the RAID data, as this may be part of the problem.
- We never write the recovered data back to the LaCie Big Disk, as this would prevent any further recovery process if it was required.
As with all data recovery, the most important thing to remember is that any attempts to access the data without following strict precautions could result in the data being either lost forever, or extremely expensive to get back.
The best advice is to keep these drives backed up as regularly as possible to avoid future headaches.