Data Loss – Understanding and Preventing It Before It Happens

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Data Loss – Understanding and Preventing It Before It Happens

The thought of losing precious data from your computer or hard drive is a very tangible fear that has probably kept most of us awake at night at some time or another. If you’re very lucky, it has never happened to you. Most of us have experienced some kind of data loss in our lives. Often it can mean little more than slight frustration and inconvenience, but in some cases it can be seriously damaging economically or emotionally. And it can happen in the blink of an eye.

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I’m a wedding photographer. Some weeks ago I was in my apartment burning the midnight oil, editing photos I had taken from a recent ceremony. I decided to continue my work in bed, so I took both my laptop and my hard drive through to my bedroom where I was going to carry on until my eyes began to close. As I was entering my bedroom with my hard drive balanced on top of my laptop, the cables got caught on the doorknob and the drive was sent crashing to the floor. I immediately knew this was going to be very bad news.

My worst fears were swiftly realized when I tried to get the hard drive to work. My laptop just wouldn’t recognize that I had reconnected the drive, no matter how many times I tried. I then downloaded a data recovery program, also to no avail. Obviously I was now beside myself with worry at the thought of losing not only all my hard work but the irreplaceable memories of the best day of a couple’s life.


I took the only logical next step and called a data recovery specialist. Luckily, I was able to recover the data I thought I had lost, but it cost me plenty of dollars and way more stress and anxiety in the process. What I learned – the hard way – is that it is much cheaper to try and prevent data loss – and it’s way better for your blood pressure too.


Three Common Types of Data Loss – and How To React When It Happens

Logical Failure

One very common pitfall is when your computer’s BIOS (the system in place to initialize new hardware) recognizes the device but cannot navigate the stored data. There isn’t anything wrong with your drive, but due to something like a corrupt file or incorrect file formatting, you won’t be able to access the data on your device via your laptop. Luckily, in instances of logical failures, it is reasonably straightforward to diagnose exactly what problem is occurring. However, misdiagnosis could end up causing real problems for the data on your drive. It’s always best to consult a specialist if you are not sure.

Physical Failure

Whereas logical failure is an issue with the way your computer has read the drive, physical, or mechanical failure is a problem with the hard drive itself. Of course, it may appear to be a logical failure because your BIOS almost certainly won’t be able to recognize or navigate your damaged device. A classic symptom of physical failure is unsettling noises coming from your device that sound like it is in pain.

When you suspect there has been physical damage to your drive, the most important thing to do is to leave it to the specialists to repair – trying in vain to open the device might result in long-term damage to the stored data. It goes without saying that opening up the drive with a screwdriver and attempting to repair it yourself is also a bad idea. When specialists repair hard drives they do so in what are called ‘clean rooms’; professional spaces where there is no risk of contamination from anything that might be floating around in the air. These devices are sensitive objects!

Another big no-no is to attempt to run a data recovery software when a physical failure has taken place. This could mean you have just signed a death warrant for your all-important data. As before – leave it to the specialists!


Accidentally Deleting Files

Perhaps the most common way of losing data is to delete it accidentally. Most of realize our mistake soon after, and retrieving it from the Trash is a simple and painless operation. But what if we also mistakenly delete the file from the trash? Is it then, as it sounds, lost forever?

Deleting a file from the Trash doesn’t mean the file is permanently irretrievable. The drive will basically hold the free spot where the data once was until more data comes along to take it’s place. Of course, filling that vacant space with more data really does mean the file will be deleted and no computer repair company or wizard will be able to recover it.

The best course of action is not to use the computer at all until you have tried to recover the trashed data. A data recovery software run might be the best option in this particular case. One important caveat: do not download the recovery software in same place where you are trying to recover the data!

IT happens - brain explosion

Seeking Prevention Over Cures

Like most things in life, your wallet will thank you more for taking steps to prevent disasters before they happen than to try to fix things after disaster has struck. Whether your data is for business or for your personal life, the most important thing you can do is to assess your data storage needs and devise a data storage and recovery strategy. The more data you have, the more complicated your assessment is likely to be.

Take the time to consider what your data means to you personally and financially. How much is your data worth? As a wedding photographer, you will definitely not be getting paid for your troubles if you can’t present an expectant couple with all the visual evidence of their special day. As well as the financial cost, there is also the emotional value of this data to consider. Yes, you might lose out on a day’s paycheck, but you are also likely to gravely damage your reputation as a wedding photographer and might find getting more work becomes harder and harder when words spreads that you have a habit of losing all your photos.


Back Up Regularly

One very shrewd way of minimizing the risk of data loss it to ensure that you frequently take the time to backup your data, on a variety of devices that are well worth investing in. Of course, the technology you should invest in will depend on the scale and nature of your data. There are a whole host of options to choose from. You can consider rewritable discs, an external hard drive, a NAS (Network Attached Storage), or a cloud/online storage alternative.

The good news is that there are so many options for backup plans now that it is a relatively inexpensive endeavour to backup your data. Devices are increasing their memories while also managing to become smaller and lighter. However, as it is becoming progressively cheaper to backup your data, the costs for data recovery services are going in the other direction.

One important consideration is to ensure that your computer’s backup software will regularly scan your data to ensure that backup is taking place. Both Windows and Mac OS offer free software for this very task. Mac’s Time Machine will ensure that your data is backed up onto an external hard drive and will minimize the risk of losing data to system crashes or accidental file deletion.


Use Online or Cloud Backup

Another highly recommendable alternative is to copy all of your data onto a cloud service. The biggest advantage to this option is that your backup data will not be physically kept in the same place as the original data. This can help minimize risks in case of theft, or a natural disaster. If your apartment floods while you are on vacation, that hard drive you left on the desk is likely to be just as unsalvageable as the laptop it was sitting next to.

A cloud service will regularly check for backups, ensure that the files are encrypted and safe, and send them off to the online space you have secured. If disaster strikes, you will have the simple task of recovering the data and you will not have lost anything. You can specify when the cloud service runs your scans for backup, or you can allow it to run continuously through the day, although it is worth bearing in mind that the latter option may well slow down the performance of your laptop.

Most online backup services are not free – the ones that are normally only offer a free trial period. It is worth paying a subscription and, more importantly, ensuring that subscription doesn’t come to an end because you forgot to pay – possibly incurring avoidable data loss in the process. Some recommended online backup services are iDrive, Crash Plan, and Carbonite.

Have you ever suffered a disastrous loss of data? What cost-effective steps have you taken to minimize the risk of data loss? We would love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.



About The Author:

Joel Duncan is a freelance writer and photographer with several years of experience working in online education and Information Technology. He is a self acclaimed techie and is fascinated with the way that technology is being used positively to enrich our everyday lives.