Every year Ontrack Data Recovery posts a list of the top 10 data disasters they’ve had to clean up after, and every year I write something about them. I noticed a big difference between the 2006 and 2007 lists, though. Four of the 2006 Top 10 disasters were damaged laptops, two were external hard drives, and three were internal hard drives from desktop machines. Only one of last year’s dramatic tales involved data stored on something other than your typical spinning-platters hard drive: the SD card in a camera that wasn’t as waterproof as advertised.
In 2007, only one dropped laptop made it onto the list. Instead, Ontrack was busy rescuing data stored on USB sticks and inside of cameras. There were also three external drives, up from last year, and one set of nearly-melted CDs.
So what can we learn from this change, apart from the fact that Ontrack can recover data from all kinds of storage media?
The first lesson is that data is easier to lose than ever before, because it’s more portable. USB sticks are extremely handy devices, but because they’re small, they’re easy to lose–or to put through the wash or drop into the baby’s applesauce.
The SD cards used by digital cameras and other portable devices are even smaller, so easier to misplace. (The 1 GB card that the Ur-Guru got for his MP3 player was so small it practically required tweezers to insert.) At least people are in the habit of thinking about cameras as fragile, and there are probably a lot of ways to seriously damage a camera without actually doing any harm to the data on the card.
USB sticks, on the other hand, often take the form of key chains, and people drop or throw their keys all the time, when not actually sitting on them or tossing them to the bottom of a bag. Flash drives are far better equipped to survive being dropped than drives with moving parts, but that doesn’t make them invulnerable.
As for ordinary hard drives, their lives are full of danger. ION Backup’s Howie Hard Drive series of videos shows a human-sized hard drive dodging traffic at rush hour, hanging out with the punks after school, and escaping the office. In 2007, Ontrack rescued data from drives that were infested with ants, dunked in acid baths, and soaked in WD-40. (No, that was not all the same drive.)
The moral of the story is, as always, treat your data with care. In particular, be kind to your backup drives. Carry external hard drives in padded cases. Consider keeping USB sticks on lanyards or clips so they can’t fall onto the pavement or into the sink. (Come to think of it, this might be a good idea for your cell phone, too–my mother dropped hers in the dishwater once.) And always check your pockets before doing the laundry!