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A company can be brought to its knees when precious data is lost.  Lost data can be retrieved provided hard disks are not too severely damage.

 If 140,000 computer hard drives fail each week in the United States as claimed by a leading data backup service provider, perhaps 1,500 can be expected to do so in New Zealand.

A portion of the owners of those hard disks will have no backup, despite constant reminders of the need to keep copies of important computer files in case of just such an eventuality.  Another portion will have made backups but, for one reason or another, they won’t have worked.

Computer users might be getting more savvy, and backup systems more sophisticated, but data loss remains a great money-spinner for those in the business of recovering the contents of damaged disks or helping avoid disaster in the first place.


“People do extraordinarliy silly things,” says Brian Eardley-Wilmot, director of Auckland company Computer Forensics.  “Often they put the backup on the computer’s internal hard drive.”

If the drive fails, the backup copy is going to be of little use.

Less stupid, but barely less risky, is making a backup to a secondary internal hard drive.  The chances of two drives giving up the ghost might seem remote, but Eardley-Wilmot says if the computer’s power supply fails, an electrical spike could erase the data on both.

“It’s not uncommon for a power supply to generate spikes, and spikes can come from the mains through the power supply.”

In a decade of dealing with customers’ data dramas, Computer Forensics has brought thousands of hard disks back from the dead.  Its customer list reads like the Yellow Pages.

Indeed, Yellow Pages can be found there — along with Air New Zealand, DB Breweries, Lincoln University, Auckland City Council and dozens of others — so if you find yourself in the embarrassing position of needing the firm’s services, you’re in good company.


You’re also in pretty good hands.  Eardley-Wilmot says the seven-person outfit can generally revive a drive that has suffered an electronic or mechanical fault.

“Most times we are successful but it is a matter of what has happened to a disk.  The times we can’t get data are when there has been massive physical damage to the extent that the read-write heads have collapsed on the spinning surface of the disk.”

Commercial customers can expect to pay from $900 to $2,500 to get their data back, which will take up to four days.

“Their concern is ‘we’ve got to get this data back’, and really, in the big picture, $2,000 is irrelevant,” Eardley-Wilmot says.

For customers whose need is dire, Computer Forensics will work around the clock for double the fee.

Eardley-Wilmot thinks most organisations recognise the need to do backups.  But two groups within businesses — those on the road, and senior managers — struggle with the process.

“You’ve got road warriors — how do they backup?  The fact of the matter is it’s very tricky.  It requires tremendous discipline, but the very last thing they’re going to think about is backing up.

“And then you have senior management — some think backups are for staff, not for them; that sort of syndrome.

“There’s a lot slips through the net even in the largest corporations.”

Other organisations believe they have a data security regime in place but get a rude shock when disaster strikes.

“There are many cases where people come in and they’re shattered; they think they’ve been backing up and they haven’t.

“What they’re forgetting to do is fire drill — at the end of every month, say, taking a document and seeing if they can recover it.”

If Computer Forensics is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, Auckland company Plan-b offers a service that is a safety barrier at the top with paramedics down below.


Its BackupNOW service uses the internet to transfer a daily copy of your data to a secure Plan-b facility. The service is automatic and saves any capital outlay on backup hardware or software.

Rather than make a complete copy each time a backup is done, Plan-b technical director Symon Thurlow says the system only transfers new files.  That means it’s efficient, and minimises data volume costs.

Customers can choose how long Plan-b keeps backups of their data, and pay according to the amount kept — from $2.50 a gigabyte — and for how long.

Data restoration is also via the internet, with customers logging on to a Plan-b web portal to recover files. Alternatively, it can be done at the Plan-b data centre.

If multiple computers need to be restored, that can be done concurrently, Thurlow says, taking only as long as the slowest computer to restore.

BackupNOW is one of several services Plan-b sells that are designed to protect organisations’ “nerve centres”, Thurlow says. Even greater security is provided by ServerNOW, which keeps a near-replica of the customer’s computer.

“Online backups in various guises have been available here and there, but it has never been this efficient and affordable,” says Thurlow.

Using the internet, such services can be provided from anywhere in the world. US company Mozy, which puts weekly hard disk failure in that country at 140,000, aims its online backup offering at small businesses and consumers.

The fee for backing up a single PC is US$3.95 a month and US50c a gigabyte a month. As with BackupNOW, after the initial backup, only changed files are transferred.

The crucial thing with any backup, of course, is whether you can restore what you need when you need it. On that score, Mozy reviewers at US magazine PC World give the service the thumbs-up. They point out, though, that a backup system in your office will do the job faster, if less conveniently.


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