Data Recovery Requires Special Skills When Storage Server Suddenly Fails

NEWS ANALYSIS: Suddenly and unexpectedly you can’t access your storage server. When you try to start it, it won’t boot up. If you don’t have backups, you are looking for a data recovery miracle.

A blinding light crossed the Texas sky shortly after dawn on Feb. 1, 2003. Those who knew what it was gasped in horror as the Space Shuttle Columbia burned during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, leaving a trail of debris that stretched from central Texas into Louisiana.

In that debris was a Seagate hard drive containing irreplaceable scientific data. The drive fell to earth and came to rest on a dry lake bed where it would remain undisturbed for six months.

Eventually someone looked closely at what appeared to be a burned chunk of metal and discovered that it was a hard disk drive. Eventually, NASA sent the drive to Kroll Ontrack in Minneapolis, Minn., to see if the data could be saved. In a few days the engineers at Kroll Ontrack did just that, recovering 99 percent of the data.

The event that sent me to Kroll Ontrack was far less tragic, but still important to my work. My adventure with data recovery began in early July when I suddenly was unable to access the Buffalo Linkstation Quad NAS server where I stored copies of photos. I walked into the lab and saw that the power and drive lights were lit, I checked the network cable, and it was attached with the link lights showing a connection. But nothing I could do would let me get to the data on that server.

Of course I did the obvious things, including cycling the power, checking to make sure the drives were firmly seated, but nothing worked. So I called the support number at Buffalo Technologies for help. Unfortunately the company’s product support specialists didn’t provide much help. One support tech didn’t understand what a RAID 5 array was. Another one thought there might be a network problem.

Finally, I got a tech support staffer who at least understood the question, but the news wasn’t good. It seems that this Buffalo NAS device uses an embedded Linux that operates the server and that also handles the drive controller and the LAN interface. The firmware was obviously corrupted, I was told. There is no fix. My only choice was to try to find and buy a server just like the one I had.

Sadly, servers just like the one I had aren’t available in the United States, although I could have imported one from Australia. I was told that it was possible that I could buy a new, similar server and it might work, but that there were no guarantees. The thought of spending $600 on a solution that might work (or might not) was unappealing. So I looked elsewhere.

First I went to a data recovery company recommended by Buffalo and found that I’d have to ship the server to the West Coast, potentially spend several thousand dollars, and be without the data for a couple of weeks. So I looked for a better solution.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...