No matter how
well a computer system is set up, no matter how expensive the
hardware or how extensive the software, that system will someday
fail. Through no fault of your own, despite all precautions, no
matter what- a system which remains in use eventually will fail.
It's not a matter of if, but when...
For businesses that rely upon the data that a computer system
holds, a simple power failure can be as catastrophic as any
fire, flood, or tornado. Fortunately, since system failure is a
known and quantifiable risk, there are steps which can be taken
to minimize its impact.
The following eight points
are some factors we consider to be important. In some cases,
they may exceed generally accepted practices. Nonetheless, you
may wish to consider them in minimizing the effect of future
It is a very good idea to establish data storage areas
which are entirely separate from those which house system
software. If problems arise in the operating system, you can
replace the afflicted component without impacting your data.
2. Back up
Data files must be duplicated and stored in multiple
locations. This must be done frequently on a regular basis. Any
data which is not backed up is subject to loss. The backups must
be complete and durable. They must be self-contained and readily
accessible from multiple machines. Moreover, since fire, theft,
and other physical disasters are a threat, you should maintain
copies of these backups outside your offices.
3. Back up
In the event of an individual system failure, it can be
very time-consuming to reinstall and reconfigure all of its
software. Each system should have a "disaster" backup which
would enable quick and reliable restoration of the system
software, settings, and configuration. This is particularly
important with a central machine on which others must rely.
Computer systems are very complex devices that rely on an
appallingly convoluted storage and retrieval sub-system. They
require periodic intervention to assure that the storage and
retrieval sub-system remains fully functional.
A business computer system should be configured so that
the failure of a single component will not disable the entire
system. Individual components should be readily and economically
replaceable and interchangeable.
Although personal computers can be set up to do almost
anything, they cannot be set up to do everything. A business
system should be no more complex than the actual work requires.
The fact that a computer can do something does not necessarily
mean that it should.
Your system must enable you to do the things you need to
do as easily as possible. The more you expect from it, the more
complex it becomes. The key is to decide which features are
essential and which ones you could do just as well without.
Any computer system requires some degree of technical
expertise. In general, the more complex the system, the more
costly it is to properly maintain, and the fewer choices you
will have in obtaining services. You must strike a balance
between the required complexity of your system and the expense
of maintaining it.
tools for the job
In setting up hard drives for improved operating system and data
security, we have found software tools from PowerQuest to be
invaluable. If you're serious about your computers, find
out more about PowerQuest's
PartitionMagic, as well as Symantec's
Things to take care of
Top of computer section...
Recovering lost data:
When your data files are inaccessible...
Your office is suddenly shut down. Your data files have
vanished. Depending on the circumstances, the effect may be a
minor inconvenience or a full-blown disaster. With an adequate
backup system in place, it may not be that big a deal. But what
if, like many small and home office operators, your backups are
incomplete, out of date, or non-existent?
Sometimes missing files have
merely been misplaced. If your system boots up normally and only
a few files or folders have disappeared, try using the FIND
function from the START menu in Windows 95 and later . This can
locate files by date, size, or text content. If a file has been
inadvertently moved or renamed, this is the easiest way to find
If the search is
fruitless and the missing information is not in the recycle bin,
stop. Exit Windows and shut down your computer. Utilities from
OnTrack (Easy Recovery) or Symantec (Norton Utilities) can
recover inadvertently deleted files that have not been
overwritten. Do not install this software on the affected
computer after files are lost. Doing so is likely to destroy all
chances of recovery. Instead, arrange to run the software from a
floppy disk. Read, understand, and follow the instructions
Of the two utilities
we recommend for this purpose, Norton is less expensive and you
get more for your money, but is primarily intended for
preventative measures. The OnTrack package is much easier
to use when the data's already lost, and is capable of dealing
with more serious data recovery problems.
Missing files are one thing,
but a computer that tells you that there's no operating system
or to insert a boot disk in drive A is something else. Hard
drive failure is the most serious problem an office computer can
If you're still
using an older system and you're lucky, a dead CMOS battery can
make a hard drive seem to disappear. When the power's off, the
system "forgets" that it even has a hard drive. Try running
SETUP at system boot and instruct the BIOS to install the hard
drive. This could put you back in business.
If not, or for newer
systems which automatically detect a hard drive at system boot,
your problem's not so simple. It is likely that your hard drive
has suffered a mechanical failure or corruption of its logical
structure. If the data it contains is important and you do not
have a backup, you could be in for a major expense.
If possible, try to ascertain
that the hard drive and not some other component is at fault.
Temporarily install it as a second drive in another system. If
it's properly installed and the contents remain inaccessible,
it's time to consider data recovery.
recovery is an expensive proposition, it pays to be certain the
drive is really at fault. Sometimes the problem isn't as
bad as it seems. Don't rely on the office computer geek.
Before you pack up your drive with the typical $200 diagnostic
fee, get a second opinion from an expert.
A drive that does not make a
soft whirring sound when powered up (or one that emits a series
of clicking noises), most likely must be sent to a qualified
repair facility. Hard drive repair is an expensive proposition,
one that requires specialized equipment, "clean room"
facilities, and technicians dressed in space suits. Be prepared
to spend up to several thousand dollars to get your data back.
A drive that is physically
functional (one that spins normally when powered but reports no
contents or claims to need formatting) provides more options for
recovering your data. Here, the likeliest problem is corruption
of the data structures that keep the hard drive organized. Your
options range from hiring a local technician to sending your
drive to one of the national companies equipped to handle
virtually any hard drive problem.
If the data is
there, the top-tier companies will recover it, generally at an
average cost in the neighborhood of $2500. A local computer
technician, on the other hand, may be able to repair the damage
for a couple of hundred dollars. Or, depending on the tools and
techniques employed, he may render your data irrecoverable at
services generally have more dedicated recovery tools,
equipment, and experience than a local technician, particularly
in the smaller markets. Since they do not have the huge
investment and service range of top-tier companies, their prices
can be much lower.
Do it yourself?
If your own equipment
is adequate (you have access to a second hard drive and plenty
of system RAM), you might try
from ONTRACK DATA
INTERNATIONAL, leaders in
the field of data recovery.
The program requires
minimal technical knowledge and can deal with a wide range of
data recovery needs- from single files and floppies to hard
drive partitions & more. You'll find a link to Ontrack in
our free software
Another product that
may help is Hard Drive Mechanic Gold, which provides a
relatively easy interface and corrects a wide range of "crashed
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Hard Drive Mechanic Gold
Although you may very well not
need the resources of a multi-million dollar facility, we
believe they should remain an option. There are many variables
involved in recovering data from a malfunctioning hard drive,
and the extent of damage is not always immediately apparent.
Sometimes you do need top-tier resources. We strongly recommend
that any service you employ anticipate this possibility.
The main thing is to
ensure that recovery attempts do not make matters worse. We
recommend "cloning" the original drive and working with the
duplicate. If the damage is sufficiently complex to need
more extensive procedures, these will not be complicated (made
still more expensive) by prior efforts at recovery.
We like PowerQuest Drive
Image for this purpose. In addition to enabling preservation of
your drive "as-is" before attempting data recovery with
something like Norton Utilities' Disk Editor, this package now
includes real-time data protection to guard against future
More about Drive Image...
If your problem is
within the capabilities of their equipment and if their
procedures include these safeguards, an alternative recovery
service can be an economical and viable option, potentially
saving you thousands of dollars.
Whether you decide to go straight
to the top-tier services or opt for a more affordable solution,
you should be aware that recovery efforts, no matter who
provides them, may not be 100% successful. Depending on the
nature and extent of the damage, some files may contain minor
errors, some may consist of garble, some may have vanished
completely, while others may be perfect.
recovery service will charge a non-refundable diagnostic fee for
examining your drive, and provide a list of recoverable files
with a confidence factor for each expressed as a percentage. You
will then have the option to proceed with the recovery at an
agreed price for the service.
recovery is not a substitute
At best, the recovery of lost
files is time-consuming and expensive. At worst, the files you
need may be simply and irretrievably gone. You must weigh the
price of the recovery against the cost of replacing your data,
or trying to do without it. A regular, scheduled program of
backups and maintenance will help ensure that you never have to
make these choices.
More about backups...
protection and recovery services
are provided by