I had an issue in searching for content within Apple Mail. Every time I tried to search for any particular phrase the Mail application crashed and closed instantly. So I decided to Rebuild the Mailboxes. Before doing this I checked that my latest Time Machine backup had carried out successfully. (It had.)
Once confirmed I clicked Rebuild from the Mailbox drop down menu. Instantly all the mail disappeared and I was left wondering whether it was doing anything. I was patient and waited to see what would happen and sure enough after a couple of minutes all my mail re-appeared intact.
What worried me was that there was no indication that the rebuild was being done. No progress bar or spinning wheel, just an empty window. If I had been impatient I could easily have force quit the rebuild process thinking the application had crashed. That would have resulted in an Apple Mail restore to be sure.
On the Apple Website details are very basic. So, be patient, go for a walk and then come back and see if the rebuild worked.
We’ve been hearing reports of data loss with certain external hard drives after an upgrade to the latest Mac operating system Mavericks. The blame seems to fall to the disk management software that Western Digital bundle with their external hard drives. In response WD has removed WD Drive Manager, WD Raid Manager, and WD SmartWare from their website until they figure out the problem.
We have already had first-hand data recovery enquiries for such disks, so it remains to be seen if these issues can be resolved, or if the data is permanently damaged. One notable case involved a 6TB RAID with two 3TB drives in a mirrored array. After the update to Mavericks, the volume appeared as an empty 3TB drive.
It’s worth noting that even if you use a Western Digital RAID drive set as a mirror, this problem can still cause data loss. Both disks in the mirror are susceptible to the same problem. Remember that RAIDs need to be backed up even more than single disks!
We’ve now completed the recovery process for one of these hard drives. It appears that the drive we received had been formatted to an empty MyBook volume. The way the Mac filesystem stores data means although most of the files can be recovered, it is not possible to restore the original file and folder structure. This causes issues for files like InDesign which link to external files by name when you add graphics to the document.
We’ve not yet seen enough of these disks to know if this is a common outcome for all affected disks.
It’s a common problem that as we generate more data each year we start running out of space to put it. This is now even more of an issue in the smartphone market, where built-in cameras are generating increasingly large photos and videos, without providing much in the way of additional storage. The most common iPhones are still 16 & 32GB but the photos they now produce can be megabytes in size, with videos easily reaching 1GB.
It’s tempting to take that data and put it somewhere else, so either a laptop or external hard drive. Then once you’ve copied it all you delete it from the phone and gain back all that space. Problem solved.
Not So Fast…
If that copy on your laptop is now the only copy, then you could be one spilt coffee from disaster. If the laptop goes up in smoke, gets stolen, dropped or any of the myriad other ways of failing then it’s bye bye data.
The key to making backups is redundancy. The key to making backups is redundancy. The key to making backups is redundancy.
You need to make extra copies of your data to different types of storage. This could be an external hard drive, NAS, USB Pen, SD card, anything. But don’t just pick one of those. Make a few backups. Put one in a locked safe somewhere. Send photos off to the cloud. Store a copy of your music at your nan’s house. If any of those copies gets lost or broken you can just replace it with another copy.
So let’s run through an example. All those photos on your iPhone have filled it up. Here’s what I would do:
Copy the photos to my computer. Check them.
Backup the computer as usual. (You’re already doing that, right?)
Make another backup, or copy the photos to an online storage service like Dropbox.
Now it is safe to delete the photos from the iPhone and revel in all that fresh space.
Note: Deleted photo recovery is virtually impossible for all modern iPhone versions due to encryption.
Here’s another example for when your computer runs out of space instead:
Is it possible to upgrade the internal storage? If it is then you should do that.
If this is not possible, or too expensive then you will have to get creative. It will be more fiddly but copy all data to two external hard drives.
You always want to avoid just leaving your data in one place. All electronic devices can (and will) fail, and they have a terrible habit of doing so at the worst possible moment.
So, just remember that no single copy of your files are safe. Making extra copies is cheaper and easier than waiting until something fails.
The other day I got an error message from Time Machine that it wanted to start from scratch with the backups on my Time Capsule. As I only use the Time Capsule as one part of my backup routine that was no big deal. I made sure my other non Time Capsule backups were up to date and then clicked Start New Backup. But what if the Time Capsule had been my only backup? I’d have been running without a backup for as long as Time Machine takes to backup my machine from scratch. Somehow I’ve trimmed my work laptop down to 78GB but it still estimated 6-14 hours until completion. (Yes, over wireless. No, I can’t relocate my office for the day.) What if my laptop died in that time? I’d have a dead laptop, a deleted Time Machine backup and an unfinished Time Machine Backup. In other words I’d be stuffed!
Now don’t get me wrong, I think that Time Machine has been brilliant in getting people making regular backups and I applaud the ease of use. The problem I have is that the language they use in their warnings is not strong enough. People should be more scared of losing their precious family photos or business files. There’s no need to sugar coat it. Also instead of deleting the old backup first, Time Machine should start a new backup and then delete the old one after the new one is verified. As long as there is enough free space of course. In my case there was plenty of free space.
I have included the original warning text below, along with my own version. I’ve not gone totally overboard, and sure it could use some work, but little details like this could really costs somebody some important data. It’s worth spending some time on.
Original Message Text
Transcript: Time Machine completed a verification of your backups on “Time Capsule”. To improve reliability, Time Machine must create a new backup for you.
Click Start New Backup to create a new backup. This will remove your existing backup history. This could take several hours.
Click Back Up Later to be reminded tomorrow. Time Machine won’t perform backups during this time.
Transcript: Time Machine has found a problem with your backups on “Time Capsule”. First backup any important files, then click Start New Backup. This will create a new backup and then delete the old one. This could take several hours and you will be at risk of data loss until it completes.
Click Back Up Later to be reminded tomorrow. Time Machine won’t perform backups during this time.
There are a few interesting things to point out here. As you are starting from scratch with the backup, you lose any old versions of files that Time Capsule had stored. It’s bad practice but some people will happily delete files from their computer, safe in the knowledge that Time Capsule has a copy. In that scenario, deleting the backup would be a disaster!
I still don’t know exactly what caused the problem with my Time Capsule backup, but since starting again I haven’t seen that message.
We often hear from people that have lost their data, despite having some sort of backup. It’s important to remember that your backup is no-longer a backup if it becomes the only copy of your data. We usually suggest having at least two forms of backup to cover this problem.
An example of a failed backup strategy came recently. A user had one server, and at the end of every day would duplicate the whole server to another server. This is OK for some scenarios and gives you a day-old server ready to bring out if your main server fails. We would have also suggested a second backup routine to run at the same time to some other storage. Preferably an external drive, accessible from a standard computer.
The system worked fine for over a year, until server 1 failed one day. Instead of replacing the disks and then restoring from the backup, it was decided to reuse the original disks and then load them from the backup. They overwrote server 1 with the backup from server 2.
When the restore was complete, it was discovered that the data on server 2 was actually corrupt. This corrupt data had also been written back to server 1. The client ended up with two corrupt servers, and no good copies of the data. Worst case scenario.
You will often hear that deleted data isn’t really deleted. This is kind of true, but only until you overwrite the data with something else. By writing server 2’s data over server 1, that effectively overwrote the original data, and left no possible avenues of recovery.
Another common problem we see is with external RAID cases like the Netgear ReadyNAS. These can be setup in a mirror mode which keeps the same data on both disks. Theoretically when one disk fails, the other can still be accessed. In reality the failed NAS will often end up in an unusable state where access to the data is not possible anyway. Even if you plug the hard drive directly into a PC, the NAS drives use a non-standard format so the data is not accessible.
The best way to avoid getting caught out by your backups is to never trust them. Be more paranoid. If you think you have a solid backup system then add another backup, just in case. Then next year add another. Most of the time it will seem irrelevant, but when your server and backup drives all get struck by lightning or end up flooded under six feet of water, you’ll be glad you spent the extra few pounds on an extra backup.
If you’re already using a Time Machine backup on your Mac then why not supplement that with a monthly whole-disk copy to a different drive. Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper! can take care of it. This also has the advantage of being instantly bootable in an emergency and can even be stored in a locked safe, or at a friends’s house.
Many hard drives we see have been more damaged by a failed recovery than they were in the first place. We have released the Data Survival Guide to help people avoid some of the common mistakes. This first version is for Mac users but we have more on the way.
Why not print this out and keep it in your laptop bag in case of emergency!
Like most external hard drives, Buffalo external drives are simply a wrapper around a regular hard drive. Aside from the protective shell they also have some electronic parts to convert between the internal hard drive and the external USB, Firewire, eSATA or Thunderbolt connections.
If you have problems with an external drive, you can perform a relatively simple test to check where the fault lies. Be aware that opening the external drive case will probably void your warranty, and if there is crucial data on the drive you should seek professional data recovery. That’s the obligatory warning out the way, so lets have a look at some troubleshooting.
First check all cables are plugged in securely, and not damaged or frayed near the ends.. If you have an identical drive with spare cables try them, but make sure you don’t plug in a power supply with different voltage! Hard drives don’t handle extra voltage well so you’ll end up in a worse position than you started.
If you know how, you could remove the hard drive from the external case and attach it directly to a PC to see if that allows access to the data. If it does, you should copy the data off straight away. The drive could still be faulty & fail again soon.
Whatever you do, don’t dismantle the actual hard drive. Hard drives are built in controlled clean-air environments and even the smallest spec of dust can cause permanent damage to the drive.
Since the introduction of unique ROM chips on the hard drives, it is often no longer possible to exchange circuit boards with another hard drive to access the data. In our experience circuit board problems are far less common than they used to be.
Apple have recently announced a recall program for all iMacs with internal 1TB Seagate Hard Drives. These hard drives fail unexpectedly with no prior warning. We noted the failure of these hard drives in a post back in 2009. You can check whether your iMac has an internal 1TB Seagate Hard Drive by entering your iMac Serial Number at this link.
This recall program has now ended. If you have one of these hard drives that has failed you may be interested in our Mac Data Recovery Services.
As somebody recovering data from RAID arrays, my view on them is a little different to the norm. In most cases I would say avoid RAID wherever possible. Simplicity is key.
Below are my answers to some real questions I have received from clients about RAIDs.
Why did this RAID disk fail?
Hard drive failure is not unusual and is often not avoidable. The truth is that all hard drives fail eventually, whether they are used in a RAID or not. Even though a RAID system can provide some fault tolerance from physical drive failure, they do have limits. A RAID5 on three disks for example can only handle a single drive failure at any one time. It is common for a second disk to fail whilst the other disk is being replaced. This is when RAID recovery is required; to first access the failed drives, and then rebuild the RAID. The best protection against RAID failure is to make backups. Backups in as many formats, in as many different physical locations as possible.
Why did the server fail so badly? Isn’t RAID meant to prevent this?
A 3-disk RAID5 can only cope with one bad disk. This doesn’t help when two drives fail at the same time. Although a RAID array can provide some leeway when it comes to disk failures, it doesn’t always help when you have multiple failures in quick succession. Adding more disks to the RAID can provide more redundancy, however this costs more money, and also adds complexity when things go wrong. Also you could be in a similar position if three disks happen to fail next time. A live system could fail at any time so prepare for the worst. Backups are cheap, and take a relatively short amount of time. RAID recovery can be expensive and cause unnecessary downtime.
Why couldn’t our IT support recover this?
We are a specialist data recovery company, with access to tools and resources which are not available to IT Support staff. We have spent the last fifteen years perfecting the process of extracting data from failed & failing hard drives and RAID arrays. For the best chance of recovery, we like to get the drives as soon after failure as possible. If more work gets carried out on the drives, things can be made much worse.
How can we avoid this happening again in the future?
To avoid similar problems in the future, the best way forward is some form of regular backup. The backups should be verified and then tested / restored as often as possible. This is where disaster recovery comes in, which can involve simulating certain types of failure and making sure you can get up and running again from your backups. At the very least, it wouldn’t hurt to put the really crucial business files onto an external hard drive every few weeks and store it in your company safe. It’s low-tech but at least you could plug it in to any PC and access the important business data if required as a last resort.
I’m not against RAIDs. They do have their place, but cannot be relied upon as a replacement for regular backups.
It is common to hear of hard drive problems happening as a result of a system update, or operating system upgrade. We have a theory that could possible explain this.
First of all, you should always make a full backup of your system before installing an update. It’s not unheard of for updates to go wrong, so this is crucial.
During a software update, a large amount of data gets read and written to and from the hard drive. If the hard drive is functioning fine, this happens without issues. Installing updates is a normal (and necessary) part of computing.
If the hard drive is not quite 100%, then maybe running a software update is the last straw. It puts the failing drive under a bit of extra strain and bang. The hard drive fault which had been lying dormant for months, now rears it’s head and the hard drive gives up, leaving you stranded from your data. Bear in mind that the drive would have failed eventually anyway, but the heavy disk usage probably accelerated the failure.
There are a couple of things to look out for, that may predict an imminent hard drive failure. (Please don’t wait for these signs before backing up. Do it now!)
Warnings or messages during boot up
Computer being unresponsive / slow at times
The dreaded beachball animation (On the Mac)
Clicking / chirping noises
If you are running any computer with important data, you should back up immediately and as often as possible. That way it doesn’t matter if your hard drive fails; just throw in a new drive and reload it from your backup.