A couple of years ago, an associate of the Ur-Guru’s in Europe bought a 1 Tb Buffalo DriveStation Duo to back up his business data. Last week it stopped working. “I’ve been using it in a RAID 1 array for the past two years, and it’s just failed,” he wrote. “Three different Windows PCs here see it as unallocated space.”
Bad news. And while Buffalo offered to replace the hardware, since the DriveStation was still under warranty, there was still the question of the data.
You see, our European colleague had made the mistake of confusing RAID with backup. The DriveStation was configured in RAID 1, meaning the two 500 GB drives inside mirrored each other’s content. If one drive failed, the data would be safe on the other drive.
But if something else happened to the data—corruption by a virus, say—the damage would also be duplicated on both drives. And in this case the problem was not that awful grinding clicking noise that indicates a dead drive, but something else, perhaps a problem with the circuits in the box that tell the drives how to communicate with the PC. And there was no backup of the backup.
The down side of these convenient, reasonably-priced, consumer RAID boxes and NAS drives like the Buffalo DriveStation or the Quattro and the Maxtor Shared Storage II that I’m looking at on my own computer table is that, unlike traditional enterprise and power-user RAID, you can’t just swap out disks yourself when one goes bad. (With the MSS-II you really can’t; I couldn’t have opened it if I’d tried. With the Buffalo models you just aren’t supposed to.)
And the problem with sending your entire drive back to the manufacturer for repair or replacement is the vulnerability of your data. In this case, there was proprietary business data on that drive, but almost everyone is going to have some kind of data in their backups that shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Even if you trust the manufacturer of your drive to restore your data without actually looking at or copying it, there’s the problem of getting the drive to them. There have been several big scandals involving stolen backup tapes with financial information on them. The tapes don’t get stolen while they’re at the banks, or while they’re at Iron Mountain. They get stolen out of the trucks while they’re in transit. You don’t want your drive lost or stolen while it’s on the way to the data recovery specialists. You especially don’t want it to show up on eBay or end up in the hands of your competitors.
So RAID Troubles in Europe (as Dear Abby might call him) got permission from Buffalo to remove the drives from the case in order to attempt to recover the data. This meant that he had to go out and buy a dock to mount the drives in. At first they showed up there as “unallocated space,” too, which was baffling. The Ur-Guru suggested some software tools that might help him. (I know, I know—DriveSavers and other data recovery professionals say you should never use them.)
In the end, it was a product called Active@ UnDelete that did the trick. According to its website, the product does a good deal more than file recovery, including making system partitions. The particular feature that must have attracted R.T.E. is “Damaged RAID data recovery and reconstruction.” There was much rejoicing in the offices of R.T.E.’s business when this message appeared at the end of the restore process:
Much chastened by his experience, R.T.E. has realized that he needs to develop a real backup plan, preferably automated, with more redundancy than just RAID. Your backups need backups, and you need to make them consistently.
But you should also think about what will happen if you do need to get a drive replaced or send it in for data recovery. Delivering the drive personally would eliminate one level of risk, but that may not be feasible. It’s possible, of course, that if you can’t get data off your drive, thieves can’t, either. But you do want to work with data recovery and computer repair people who have a reputation for integrity, security, and trustworthiness.
And if you don’t need to get your data off the drive, then you should have the drive degaussed before recycling it. (That means subjecting it to really strong electromagnetic fields that completely erase any data remaining on it.) There’s no reason your business should be the next one making headlines because of data leaks.