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The Best Hard Drive Recovery Services of 2020

By
Brian Nadel
,
business.com writer
|
Dec 30, 2019
Ivan-balvan/Getty Images
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Risks to your business's data are everywhere. With hackers, viruses and malware running rampant, the rising number of cyberattacks is urging many businesses to turn to hard drive recovery services. Hard drive nightmares like lost email conversations and exposed financial data can halt productivity and hinder your business's growth. 

The ability to recover lost data from mobile devices, flash drives and RAID servers is a great benefit to look for when choosing a hard drive recovery service. After researching many hard drive recovery services, we've found the ones we think are best for various business needs.

Best Picks

What to Expect in 2020

While some hard drive recovery services have already started investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), we expect more companies to join them in the year ahead. 

Many hard drive recovery services use AI and ML, impacting storage devices such as SSDs and flash controllers. AI and ML help recover data with processes such as sorting, carving and XOR scrambler analysis. 

The use of AI and ML within the storage industry can increase data security, lower costs through hybrid storage clouds and provide more software-defined storage. With features such as automatic backups, updates and malware scans, AI and ML are influencing hard drive recovery trends and enhancing reliability. 

To support these AI and ML capabilities, hard drive recovery services must be able to work well with parallel file systems and flash-native tools, including NAND flash memory chips. Additionally, we can expect the rise of neural storage in 2020. This type of storage uses AI to resolve issues without the need for human interference.

Reviews

Below are all our reviews for hard drive recovery services. Our coverage includes reviews of the best recovery for RAID, SSDs and external hard drives.

How Does a Hard Drive Work?

Whether it's an entrepreneur who makes jewelry, a small law firm with a dozen attorneys or a family construction company with 500 employees, a company's most valuable asset is often its digital files and records. They contain the sum total of a company's work, including employee and tax records, proprietary technology, as well as software licenses, customer records, and any investments it has. 

Data loss is not just inconvenient, it's potentially a death knell for a small business. Imagine if you couldn't check on an order's status, get access to your factory's production software, contact a customer or even check whether an invoice has been paid.

When we tap or click to open a file, we rarely think about the intricate digital ballet that goes on behind the scenes to put the information on the screen. At the center of this process is the hard drive that stores a system's data. Despite becoming more rugged and reliable over the 50 years since its invention, the hard drive can be the weak link in the chain of saving and recalling company data. 

The size of a paperback book, traditional hard drives are electro-mechanical marvels that hold terabytes of data. They rely on a series of data-holding discs that spin at nearly 10,000 rpm and are controlled by sophisticated electronics. Miniature magnetic read-write heads at the end of a thin actuator arm ride over the surface dropping off and picking up data. A failure of any component can lead to a loss of data. 

While they may be more expensive than traditional hard drives, the popularity of flash storage or solid-state devices (SSD) can help with reliability. But, there's a catch. They store data electronically in semiconductor chips that don't have any moving parts so they can withstand punishment. On the other hand, they have a limited lifespan of close to 100,000 read-write cycles. For most uses, like a tablet or notebook, that's plenty and built-in software that spreads the wear out over all the chips to lessen, but not eliminate, the danger of the storage elements wearing out. 

The bottom line for businesses is that the longer SSD storage is used, the more fragile its ability to recall data becomes. This can prove to be a death sentence to your files if the drive is continually written and rewritten, as in a file server.

 

What Is Data Recovery?

Regardless of how the data is stored, it's just a matter of time until you experience a data failure. You need to be prepared with an effective data recovery plan and the ability to recover from a data emergency. 

There's still hope, though, because data recovery is like magic that can make a once-dead drive hum with data smoothly flowing off the disc. This allows the valuable data it holds to be extracted, potentially saving your company's digital bacon. 

There are three lines of data defense to consider when you experience a drive emergency: 

  • The first – and easiest – is off-the-shelf recovery software. These apps work exclusively with software or logical failures of the drive and are worth a try. Both Windows and macOS include recovery software, but there are commercial versions that are more thorough. After plugging the errant drive into a computer, the app scans the disc's surface, sniffing out data anomalies. After scanning every millimeter of the disc, the software can rebuild broken links, reconnect data to its File Allocation Table (FAT) entry, fix data that's been scattered across the drive and often recover deleted files. 
  • The second line of defense is to consult a data recovery service. The best data recovery firms use industrial-strength software that delves much deeper into the disk's files and structure, and can make more complicated changes. In other words, it takes a deeper dive into the data and extracts all it can. If you're lucky, this is all it takes to get the data back as if nothing ever happened. 
  • If there's hardware damage, the drive should only be opened in a cleanroom so that technicians can diagnose the drive's problem. A single speck of dust in the wrong place destroys a drive and the data it holds. Most data recovery cleanrooms are certified to be Class 10 or 100, which translates to having less than 10 or 100 particles, respectively, that measure 0.5 microns or larger, per cubic foot of air. By contrast, the air around us typically has millions of such particles. 

After fixing the issue, technicians extract as much of your data as is possible and transfer it to a fresh drive, which they return along with the original drive. Some recovery companies securely dispose of the original drive if you want.

How Data Recovery Works

The first step in recovering data from a dead or damaged drive is to contact a data recovery firm. Better yet, do your research upfront and pick a preferred vendor before you need one. Being proactive means that the data recovery company is standing by waiting for your misbehaving drive. 

A word of warning when choosing a data recovery service: Hundreds of small services promise data recovery onsite that are nothing more than intake centers for larger recovery firms. A good indication of their abilities is if they have a cleanroom onsite for repairs, stock the parts needed to fix a variety of drives quickly, adhere to strict security protocols, and if they can recover data from all sorts of digital storage devices – computer hard drives, RAID arrays, file server drives, even tablets, cameras, flash drives, and SD cards. In other words, look for a comprehensive approach to recovering from a wide variety of storage failures. [Want to learn more about RAID recovery services and hardware? Check out our reviews.] 

On top of liberating data on locked drives and recovering passwords, many data recovery specialists work with encrypted drives and can recover lost items from VMware storage failures that use protocols like Hyper-V and Oracle databases. An increasing number of data recovery operations focus on cleaning up malware-infected drives and extracting the business data they hold. In other words, if your company is hit by a ransomware virus, data recovery may be your best bet.

How to Diagnose If You Need a Hard Drive Recovery Service

A quick evaluation on the phone or through a web form generally gets the data recovery process started. This is to determine what the drive's symptoms are, how long it will take to do the repair and the potential costs. It's a good idea to have the drive handy to provide the model and serial numbers. 

Be ready to describe the drive's behavior, such as a drive that doesn't show up as a letter, operates slowly, disconnects or hangs on reading data. There can also be scraping, buzzing or grinding noises that indicate specific problems inside or that the drive's discs aren't spinning. Most importantly, check for odd smells or burn marks on the drive's case. If any of these symptoms show up, stop using the drive to avoid further data damage.

Above all, look for a data recovery firm that is authorized by the major hard drive makers to do the needed repairs. Each drive is different and often uses proprietary technology that varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. It's best to have someone experienced in its operation and repairs.

You might get lucky, and the repair operation might be covered by the device's warranty. If this is not the case, ask what the charges will be upfront.

Features to Look for in a Hard Drive Recovery Service

When evaluating data recovery firms to extract data from a broken drive, it's important to consider several aspects, including 

  • Cleanroom for hardware examination and repairs
  • Upfront estimate of charges
  • Overnight shipping of the drive or courier service
  • For ultrasensitive devices, data recovery services that come to you
  • The option of having extracted data sent digitally
  • Rush service for critical data
  • The ability to repair broken RAID drives, tablets and even flash drives
  • Top security with SOC Type II certification
  • Authorized by the manufacturer
  • There will be a complete data wipe when the work is done

Pricing

Many data recovery firms have a no-data, no-charge policy. This means that if the device is so damaged and nothing is recoverable, there is no charge. This is good, but other data recovery firms are pushing a more transparent recovery sequence.

Rather than an upfront estimate without examining the actual drive, these companies tell you the drive's full charge only after you've sent it in, and they've had a chance to look it over. It takes a leap of faith to use this type of data recovery firm, and it entails some anxiety, but there's more certainty for the rest of the process. 

For all but the most abused drives, there's generally some data that can be recovered. On the other hand, don't expect to get every single file back, particularly for a heavily worn or damaged drive. That said, a good recovery firm will extract a surprising amount of data from a drive that is thought to be dead. 

A simple software problem might cost several hundred dollars, while a minor mechanical failure might run a thousand dollars or more. Fixing a major hardware problem and extracting its data could cost several thousand dollars, and a dead RAID array might run tens of thousands of dollars. 

Keep in mind that time is money. In other words, ask yourself, how long can you can stand to be without the data? If the drive held historical data or company policies, a week or two might be OK. But if it's online orders or your payroll, a few days might seem like an eternity. Recovering data from typical software failures might be done in a day or two, while a minor hardware failure can take several days. A major hardware problem on a high-capacity drive can occupy a week or two of work to repair and extract its data. 

If you need it yesterday, the recovery company can do the repair and recovery work on a rush basis. The firm's technicians will work 24/7, handing off the device and data at shift changes. This way, it's worked on until the project is done, and you have your data back. It will cost you, however.

Security Concerns

Along the way, security is paramount. After all, you don't want your company's precious secrets to leak out. The recovery firm needs to assure you of its ability to keep your data confidential. It's a good idea to only work with recovery companies that undergo an annual SOC Type II or SAS 70 security audit, review and certification. 

The best recovery companies have video surveillance, security guards and electronic door locks that record who has access to your company's drives and data. Plus, once they're done with recovering your data, the data firm needs to thoroughly wipe every bit of your data from its computers. Using a multipass military-grade shredding program is a big bonus. 

While some firms have intricate firewalls to keep hackers out of their computers (and your data), others take this approach to security a step further. Some data recovery firms only work on your data with computers that not connected to the internet. This effectively isolates your data from a dangerous online world. 

Having a recommendation or third-party accreditation can also help in your data recovery decision. Take a moment before deciding to check on two big confidence-boosters: its Better Business Bureau rating and whether the company is on the government's General Services Administration contractor list. 

When you're happy that they are the right people to be opening your drive and recovering its data, the actual work can start. The data recovery firm will typically send an overnight shipping label or padded box for you to send the broken drive in. 

For ultra-priority data, there are a couple of alternatives. To start, rather than overnighting the device to the data recovery firm, most data recovery services can send a courier to pick up the drive and maintain a chain of custody document for the device. This not only can get the drive into the hands of repair technicians faster but is potentially of interest for those involved in legal cases. 

Another approach for drives that can't leave your building is to have the data recovery experts come to your shop to do their magic. Because of the expense of the needed portable equipment and having trained employees onsite, this gets pricey very quickly. It can be the only choice when dealing with data that is of the utmost importance and confidentiality, such as product plans or items that involve national security. 

When the recovery work is done and the data restored, you need to get access to it as soon as is possible. Most data recovery firms put the recovered data onto a clean drive and ship it to you. Once received, it should only take a few minutes to add the recovered data into your digital infrastructure. 

There's another – faster – way to get your data. Many data recovery firms offer to transmit it to you via a secure server. If you do this, make sure that everything is kept confidential by demanding that the data gets encrypted with at least AES-256 coding so nobody can eavesdrop on it. 

While this can speed up integrating key files back into your company's digital infrastructure, there is a downside. Many data recovery firms limit the amount of data transmitted to 10- or 20GB.

 

Should You Get Data Insurance?

All the stress, expense and anxiety surrounding a data emergency can be easily avoided with proven techniques that make small businesses work like big ones. If you talk to a data recovery firm before the data is missing, you might pre-empt a data problem. 

Many data recovery operations also act as consultants about data safety and reliability. They can look for weak points in your current systems and suggest ways to avoid a failure and lessen the effects of a data disaster. Some offer hard drive service plans that promise to recover lost data in the event of a drive failure. 

More than any technique, having an effective backup process for all your company's data is the best insurance against drives going bad. The way it works is that anytime a file is changed, it is incrementally backed up online, locally or on a file server. Having the data in two places can set your mind at ease that it will always be available, lowering the danger to your company and your blood pressure.

Methodology

When reviewing hard drive recovery services, we looked at the complete range of services offered by 20 different leaders in the industry, ultimately narrowing the field to two top picks and 10 reviews. Those services we included meet criteria that any small business should consider before choosing a hard drive recovery service. In addition to having airtight security, we looked at everything from the options for shipping the drive back and forth; the company's skill in removing malware from a drive; the ability to do the work at your site; and the capacity to extract data from a variety of data devices, including RAID arrays, tablets, and flash drives. 

We also considered third-party endorsements from the Better Business Bureau and the Government Services Administration regarding a company's labs, clean rooms and success record at data recoveries. 

Having a transparent process where you know the costs upfront is a big help in terms of peace of mind as well as the ability to get rush service for data emergencies.

Common Hard Drive Recovery Service Questions & Answers

Have a hard drive recovery service question of your own?
Ask an Expert

How far back should I keep records?

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My database tracks client interactions back to 1994--almost the beginning of my business. (This has nothing to do with tax records.) Every once in a while somebody I haven't talked with for years will contact me. They are very impressed when I can quickly check my DB and say, "Oh yeah, we talked back in 2002 about your management issues. How has your business grown since then?" Why would any business ever get rid of such customer records? I've never had anybody threaten to subpoena my old...

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Google Drive itself is utilized as a backup. It is cloudbased, if you are loosing data it is in the use of google tools not kept on or working in symbiosis with google drive. Google Keep for example and Google DOCS are not kept on Google Drive. but installing extensions which function is the transfer of files images and information into google drive. Effective Secure Time Tested Proven Methods available to all and at no cost.

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