DriveSavers turns data recovery into a science

Several months ago, Jeffrey Colvin, a senior physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, came into his office after a planned power outage at the agency to discover that somehow he had lost vital data on his computer.

Colvin's hope to retrieve the information began to fizzle after he learned that the information service department at Lawrence Livermore did not keep backup copies of his work, as he had believed.

"That's when I panicked," Colvin said.

Colvin said the damaged hard drive stored detailed laboratory schedules and information about various laser experiments.

"My boss was angry because I hadn't been doing manual backup," Colvin said. "I was criticized for not having a backup."

But Colvin learned about a Novato, Calif.-based company called DriveSavers Data Recovery Inc. that specializes in retrieving data seemingly destroyed by all sorts of computer disasters.

The company, small but increasingly popular in the federal IT market, uses software tools to recover data from virtually all operating systems and rotating media, including hard drives, floppy disks, and removable and magneto-optical cartridges.

DriveSavers is on the General Services Administration schedule.

The company counts NASA, the Army and the Navy among its past customers.

As summer heats up, federal IT users face an increased likelihood of unscheduled power outages from brownouts or summer storms - and therefore an increased possibility of losing data.

But DriveSavers has faced worse scenarios than having data lost because of outages. Almost every time the phone rings at DriveSavers, the person on the other end is in crisis. DriveSavers handles computer emergencies: coaxing lost data from a hopelessly corrupted hard drive or rescuing files from a laptop that has been submerged in 50 feet of water.

High Success Rate

Scott Gaidano, president of DriveSavers, said the company has specialized in recovering lost data for more than 14 years and has a success rate of more than 90 percent. In less than 24 hours, DriveSavers can recover data from "severely traumatized" drives using a specialized team of engineers along with customized software, he said.

"It's a great business because we make people happy," Gaidano said. "After we recover lost data, they are happy even when they have to pay for the service."

At Lawrence Livermore, the company had to open up Colvin's drive completely to remove and replace various parts to prevent the drive from sticking to the disk like a stereo needle stuck to an old 45 rpm record.

"Most of the time, the data can be recovered," Gaidano said. "When a drive starts squealing, turn it off immediately and don't touch it. Millions of data [bits are] lost on the job because people think it's gone. The data is there."

Colvin was happy that the data was there for him and that he was able to have it recovered quickly.

"From the time I sent the damaged disk until the time the information returned from

DriveSavers, [it was] less than a week," Colvin said. "I put my disk in the computer, and voila, there was all the information."


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