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 recovery specialists, including 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 is one of the biggest names in data recovery. It has performed over 500,000 successful recoveries and offers a full range of services 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. However, as it offers a wide range of software-only recovery services, it may also lack enough focus on in-lab recovery of competitors such as Gillware and DriveSavers.
- Data recovery for accidental deletion, media corruption, fire and water damage, dropped media, performed by security-cleared engineers
- Data recovery services designed for storage media and platforms that have suffered from both physical hardware and logical software failures as well as clean rooms for mobile recovery
- Remote Data Recovery (RDR) Services: performed remotely through an internet connection
- Do-it-yourself data recovery software to recover files instantly on devices ranging from SSDs to RAID volumes (Windows and Mac).
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.
- Proprietary techniques, tools and technologies that aid in data recovery, thanks to alliances with Toshiba, Samsung, Seagate, Western Digital, Intel, Kingston, and others
- Data recovery of all physical (SSD, HDD, RAID, smart phone, tablet) and logical failures
- HDDs are recovered in its Certified ISO 5 cleanroom
- SSDs, camera cards and many smartphone and tablet data recoveries are performed using chip-off and other technology.
See our in-depth analysis of DriveSavers.
Gillware sits alongside Ontrack and DriveSavers in the top tier. It specializes in hard drive recoveries that no one else can resolve.The platform 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.
- More than a dozen engineers with over 10,000 hours of experience, as well as five computer scientists on staff
- Digital forensics, incident response and risk assessment services
- A network of over 2,000 active partners in the United States
- Specializes in the handling of damaged HDDs due to embedded particulate.
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.
- A range of services to recover data from PCs, laptops, external drives, tablets, and smart phones, as well as RAID and NAS arrays
- A tool for consumers and enterprises when the storage device is not physically damaged
- In-lab service with no haggle pricing.
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.
- Data recovery from hard drives, external drives, SANs, SSD, memory cards, and RAID arrays via ISO-5 certified cleanrooms
- Adheres to SOC Type 3 security standards
- Onsite recovery team to deal with a hardware failure and other types of emergency recoveries
- Repair of physical hard drive damage
- A supply of spare parts from various manufacturers to allow drives to run well enough for data transfer to a new drive
- Remote recoveries
- Software that can recover data from Windows, Mac and Linux OSes.
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.
Secure Data offers:
- Top security certifications and well-equipped labs
- A fast evaluation process
- Priority and emergency service offerings for hard drive repair and recovery
- Partnerships with WD, Seagate, Toshiba and Samsung that allows its service to never void active product warranties
- Digital forensics, remote diagnostics and repair, emergency repairs, and on-site recovery.
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 are 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.
- SO 4 Class 10 and ISO 5 Class 100 clean rooms for its media recovery services
- GSA-approved government contractor and is SSAE16 Certified and HIPAA compliant
- Encrypts recovered before returning to the client
- Services for physical or logical damage due to mechanical and electrical failure, software corruption or human error
- Litigation support services designed for attorneys and individuals.
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.
Disk Doctors offers:
- Data recovery from damaged, corrupted, and dropped drives, and a variety of failed storage devices
- Hard drive recovery, Mac recovery, server recovery, RAID recovery, remote recovery, and more
- Software solutions that enable users to recover data due to logical failures.
See our in-depth analysis of Disk Doctors.
|Service Name||Clean room||Media||Lab location||Core markets||Pricing||Key Differentiator|
|Secure Data||ISO 4 Class 10||HDD, SSD, tape, RAID, flash||LA||HDD recovery for consumer and business||Starting at $1,000||Top of the line cleanroom|
|DriveSavers||ISO 5 Class 100||SSD, HDD, RAID, phone, tablet||California||Consumer and business, all media||Around $2,000||Handles complex RAID projects|
|Disk Doctors||ISO 5 Class 100||HDD, RAID, tape, external drives||Georgia||Recovery software with added hardware recovery business||$350 to $3,000||Good for home or business HDD recovery|
|WeRecoverData||ISO 4 Class 10 and ISO 5 Class 100||HDD, SSD, mobile, external, flash||New York||Home, small business, healthcare, government||Starting at less than $1,000||Lower price, New York region|
|SalvageData||ISO 5 Class 100||HDD, external, flash, RAID||New York||home, SMB, gov and enterprise||$300 to $2,000||GSA-approved contractor|
|Gillware||ISO certified workstations||HDDs, flash, RAID||Wisconsin||Mainly business, but some home users||$1,000 to $2,500 approx||Can handle the toughest jobs|
|Seagate||No evidence of clean room certification||HDD, external, SSDs, phone, RAID||California||Mainly consumer||$50 to engage and then pricing based on damage level||Well known name brand, handles all hardware|
|Ontrack||ISO 5 Class 100||HDD, SSD, smart phone, RAID||UK||OEMs, enterprises, SMB, consumers.||Around $1,000||A market leader, handles tough jobs|