DriveSavers Sees Return on Data from the Great Beyond

Scads of physical evidence and new operational growth help prove that there's growing demand for this company whose workers attempt to recover data that customers fear lost forever.

NOVATO, Calif. — The lobby at DriveSavers serves as a miniature shrine to the sheer misfortune and pure stupidity suffered by those among us who have attempted to own computers.

In the foyer at DriveSavers headquarters here, youll find a statue of KFCs Col. Harland Sanders, signed pictures of celebrities including Adam Sandler, Keith Richards, and Ben & Jerry. And along with the other famous faces of the companys customers hanging all over its walls and stairways, you find a collection of crumpled bits of tortured plastic that used to be some of these peoples laptop computers and hard drives.

Since its founding in the pre-Cambrian era of information technology that was 1985, DriveSavers has promised to help businesses and individual customers regain information stored on devices that have been infected, burnt or otherwise mangled. All these years later, a visit to the companys offices finds the firm preparing for growth and betting that now, more-than-ever, people are willing to pay to get their data back.

The 80-person operation hasnt ever exploded in size because it remains a "lifestyle company," with employees that work sometimes unorthodox hours on exacting tasks of physical repair or data recovery, explains Scott Moyer, the companys director of business development. While the company has been able to retain a large number of its employees over the years, he said, the set of skills needed to work in one of DriveSavers clean rooms or customer service centers arent necessarily easy to come by.

But the company is growing. While the privately-held firm doesnt publicly disclose its revenue, Moyer points to the new floor being added to DriveSavers three-story headquarters—which will serve as a massive clean room where devices are tested and repaired—as proof that the business is humming along.

Along with a company-wide upgrade to a new, more secure network made up primarily of Cisco Systems equipment, the expanded facilities will give the company ability to hire new staff and handle more customer inquiries faster, the executive said.

"This isnt easy work these guys are doing, most of these jobs have been attempted in some way somewhere else, and sent to us after they cant pull it off," Moyer said. "We already try to handle each customer as quickly as possible, but the additional space should help increase productivity for every area of the business."

And DriveSavers staff points out that while many of its most colorful data rescue stories revolve around celebrities water-logged laptops or companies back-office hardware that got melted in fires, an increasing portion of its business revolves around recovery of important information from infected or corrupted data storage drives. Most of these belong to large businesses, not consumers, they said.

"Were seeing a lot of multi-array RAID systems, thats been one of the fastest growing areas of our business over the last five years," said Michael Hall, director of PC engineering and chief security officer at DriveSavers. "We have a lot of banks and financial services companies as customers; our business is historically founded on people who dont know exactly what information is on the affected device they send us, but they know theres a very good chance theres something on there they really need."

DriveSavers services dont come cheaply, starting at $500 to $2700 to inspect and recover a typical PC hard drive, and heading further upwards based on the volume of memory a customer is asking the company to test and remediate.

According to Ed Sit, clean room manager at DriveSavers, the process of helping companies get their information out of complex newer enterprise software and storage systems is only getting harder based on the sophistication and high-degree of customization in those technologies.

"The unique parameters of some of these highly-customized drives are hard to recreate," Sit said. "And we cant swap components in-and-out of some of the newer equipment because the parts arent readily available."

So while DriveSavers most famous rescues revolve around mashed or virus-ridden laptops—such as the one it handled belonging to Bill Oakley, executive producer of Fox Networks "The Simpsons," which held scripts for twelve yet-to-be-produced episodes of the longtime hit, including a season finale—its growth is being fueled largely by corporate mishaps.

Potential customers could easily avoid the need to acquire the companys services if they simply employed remote back-up storage technologies, points out Scott Gaidano, the 62-year-old president and co-founder of DriveSavers, as he highlights some of his more colorful customer stories.

But if it were really that easy, then there would be no company museum, he said, as his workers busily fielded customers phone calls in the background.


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