Without the data being available in a backup, what’s to be done? At that point it's time to turn to data recovery specialists. In relatively simple cases, data recovery software can be purchased online to resolve logical data loss issues such as accidental deletion or deleted partitions.
The next tier up is comprised of vendors – see below – that offer general in-lab data recovery. Failed drives are sent in to see what data can be extracted. Above that grouping sits the top tier of data data recovery specialists, comprised of Ontrack, DriveSavers, and Gillware. These data recovery experts can deal with data loss problems that others can’t. In fact, they often have business referred to them by lower tier providers who can’t fix the problem.
What kind of problems cause companies to contact data recovery companies? Any and all physical and logical failures. These include:
- OS upgrade failures
- Failures from faulty soldering, faulty components and other manufacturer defects
- Damage caused by disasters such as drops, breaks, water, fire and power surges
- Human error such as accidental deletion or dodgy DIY repairs
- Head crashes and other physical or mechanical failures
- Deletions, file corruption, viruses, and other logical failures
- Bad sector failures
- Firmware failures
Many of these data recovery companies service the PC, laptop and server markets. But some extend those services to include tablets, smart phones, external drives and other devices. Those doing in-lab recovery of physical media dismantle a device such as a hard drive in a cleanroom to examine the platters and salvage what they can. In many cases, they can recover a surprisingly large quantity of information that was thought to be lost. But not always.
What Can’t Be Recovered
Files and deleted data can often be easily recovered. However, if data is erased and then overwritten to the same physical storage space, it cannot be recovered. What other situations can’t be resolved:
- In the case of a head crash, the data that once lived where the platters were physically scraped is no longer recoverable.
- When a smart phone has been factory reset, the data cannot be recovered.
- Apple password encryption: currently it is not possible to recover data from any iPhones and iPads that have iOS6 or above installed on them due to Apple’s password encryption. The data recovery firm must have the passcode to be able to recover the data. If the passcode has been forgotten, it’s currently impossible to get access to the media.
- Device firmware damage: HDD have an operating system. Seagate drives run a Seagate operating system, WD drives run a WD O/S, etc. This is termed firmware or the HDD O/S. This operating system is not the same from drive to drive. There is some common application code, but there is unique data on them that is critical for user data access. The drive is calibrated in the factory after assembly, and it is measured for uniqueness. These calibrations are known as adaptives. Many of them live on the platter in a low density area of the disk that also contains the bulk of the HDD O/S. Damage to this area can make recovery of part of the disk impossible.
There are a few recovery specialists who claim recovery rates nearing 100 percent. But according to the top tier providers, such figures are impossible to achieve even with state-of-the-art equipment. Buyers are advised to stick to vendors that don’t make outrageous and unqualified claims.
Another point to note is that pricing varies considerably. Flat-rate pricing isn’t very common as each data recovery incident has unique aspects. Some vendors will charge nothing if its efforts are fruitless. Others will charge even if nothing is found. Most services, though, offer a drive evaluation for free or a small fee. After that, they give a quote for what they think they can recover.
The best labs have ISO cleanrooms and some provide evidence of certification. This shows they can meet rigorous standards concerning the maximum amount of particulate in the room. ISO 5 Class 100 allows 100,000 particles per cubic meter and 4 Class 10 allows 10,000. But services in such facilities are typically pricier.
Top Data Recovery Specialists
- Ontrack Data Recovery
- Seagate In-Lab Recovery
- Secure Data
- Disk Doctors
Ontrack one of the biggest names in data recovery. It has performed over 500,000 successful recoveries and offers a full range of services ranging from recovery software to well equipped labs. It sits in the top tier of data recovery specialists and can be counted on to take care of most kinds of data recovery. But as it offers a wide range of software-only recovery services, too, it may lack enough focus on in-lab recovery of competitors such as Gillware and DriveSavers.
See our in-depth analysis of Ontrack Data Recovery
The services of DriveSavers range from HDD recovery for individuals to complex RAID projects for large enterprises. It sits in the top tier along with Ontrack and Gillware in terms of in-house capabilities. But there are likely cheaper options available for less involved recovery projects.
See our in-depth analysis of DriveSavers
Gillware sits along with Ontrack and DriveSavers in the top tier. It specializes in hard drive recoveries that no one else can resolve. But also offers RAID recovery, as well as solid state drive recoveries, including flash memory drives and memory cards. Its recently added hard drive burnishing technology gives it an edge over others in that area. But its pricey nature means that it has less appeal to the consumer market than other services.
See our in-depth analysis of Gillware
Seagate, a legacy name in data storagey, offers in-lab as well as software-based services. It has the ability to recover data from PCs, laptops, external drives, tablets, and smart phones, as well as RAID and NAS arrays. In-lab services can take anywhere from two business days to three weeks. Those with serious issues with devices not under a Seagate warranty may wish to consider other in-lab specialists.
See our in-depth analysis of Seagate In-Lab Recovery
SalvageData offers recovery from physical and logical damage via its cleanroom in New York State. It also adheres to SOC Type 3 security standards and is a GSA-approved government contractor. The company appears equipped for relatively straightforward recoveries to mid-level recoveries. But for extreme cases such as severe damage from flooding, fire, or badly damaged equipment, one of the top tier providers may be a better choice.
See our in-depth analysis of SalvageData
Secure data has a top-of-the-line cleanroom, a good reputation for customer service, and a consistent track record of success on hard drive recovery. It is one of the more expensive services, but gets results. But its services may be overkill for simpler recovery tasks. In addition to hard drives, it also has experience in other media.
See our in-depth analysis of Secure Data
WeRecoverData can handle basic repairs for a reasonable price, so if that's all you need, this could be a good option. Particularly for users in the New York region. While it has good reviews, there also some negative ones claiming failure to deliver in the expected time frame. Based on that, it appears the company is competent at basic repairs, but users needing more complex work – and willing to pay for it – may want to focus on a tier one provider.
See our in-depth analysis of WeRecoverData
Disk Doctors offers both software and hardware recovery solutions. Its lab services are good, especially for hard drives and tape. But it doesn’t emphasize lab SSD and flash recovery. It looks to be a good candidate for home and enterprise HDD recovery, but users may be wise to consider other options for flash recovery projects, or more complex HDD crashes.
See our in-depth analysis of Disk Doctors
ISO 4 Class 10
HDD, SSD, tape, RAID, flash
HDD recovery for consumer and business
Starting at $1,000
Top of the line cleanroom
ISO 5 Class 100
SSD, HDD, RAID, phone, tablet
Consumer and business, all media
Handles complex RAID projects
ISO 5 Class 100
HDD, RAID, tape, external drives
Recovery software with added hardware recovery business
$350 to $3,000
Good for home or business HDD recovery
ISO 4 Class 10 and ISO 5 Class 100
HDD, SSD, mobile, external, flash
Home, small business, healthcare, government
Starting at less than $1,000
Lower price, New York region
ISO 5 Class 100
HDD, external, flash, RAID
home, SMB, gov and enterprise
$300 to $2,000
ISO certified workstations
HDDs, flash, RAID
Mainly business, but some home users
$1,000 to $2,500 approx
Can handle the toughest jobs
No evidence of clean room certification
HDD, external, SSDs, phone, RAID
$50 to engage and then pricing based on damage level
Well known name brand, handles all hardware
ISO 5 Class 100
HDD, SSD, smart phone, RAID
OEMs, enterprises, SMB, consumers.
A market leader, handles tough jobs