Data Recovery: What it is, and how it works

Data loss occurs can occur in a variety of ways — from the mundane striking of the wrong key at the wrong moment to a cataclysmic weather event – but the results are almost always catastrophic from the loss of irreplaceable family photographs to destruction of valuable company financial reports.

young attractive frustrated businesswoman holding help message overworked at office computer, exhausted, desperate under pressure and stress with rainy sad window view

However it occurs and whatever is lost, the good news is that most data is recoverable.

Data recovery is the process of finding and restoring corrupted and inaccessible data to a useable, accessible format. Even in dire situations, when the damage is permanent, usually some data can be recovered.

Using proprietary software, hardware and time-tested techniques, data recovery professionals recover data from hard drives, operating systems, storage devices, servers, desktops, and laptops, mobile phones and tablets.

The data recovery process depends in large part to how the data was lost or damaged, what was used to create a backup, and how the backup is stored. Operating system, storage failure and accidental deletion – or logical failures — may be recovered through software recovery either at the desktop level or by system managers or data recovery specialists. Physical failures – mechanical or electrical damage — may require a hardware solution from highly specialized experts.

Logical failures

Logical failure occurs many ways including viruses, malware and user error .  Most data lost through logical errors can be recovered without physical or mechanical intervention.

Computer hard drives contain magnetic storage medium-coated drives that spin at a high rate while a “read/write” head moves on a cushion of air above the surface writing data to the magnetic medium with electronic pulses.

A partition is created when a hard drive is configured to store data. The partition is the holder for the computer’s file system and files, parsing information into sectors. Hard drives can contain more than one partition. The file system uses an index to keep track of the name and location of all the files and folders stored on the drive.

When a user accidentally deletes or overwrites a file, an event interrupts the file-writing process, or files become fragmented or inaccessible, a software solution may be applied for data recovery.

Software data recovery is the process of moving data off the compromised drive to another designated destination, where it will be accessible. The software extracts the data by scanning sectors of the hard drive and restructuring the data in the memory or on another hard drive.

The software can then copy the recovered data to a designated destination, where it can be accessed and used.

Physical Failures

Despite the name, hard drives may be the most fragile at-risk part of your electronic device. Hard drives include hundreds of tiny parts and metal discs spinning at incredibly high speeds, making them vulnerable to physical failure. The most severe types of physical failure involve mechanical or electronic failure and damage to the drive through disasters – fires, weather events – abuse, wear and excessive write operations.


Despite advances in technology, physical failures do occur.  According to a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University, 20 percent of mechanical drives fail within four years and just over 5 percent fail within 18 months, with solid state technology doing little to improve the statistics.

Recovering data after a physical failure requires specialized equipment and environment, so in most instances end users can’t – or shouldn’t – try to recover data on their own. Data recovery experts will use specialized equipment in a dust and static free environment to prevent further damage to the hard drive from airborne particles.

The method used for data recovery depends on how the damage occurred and may involve multiple techniques. For instance, a disk might be repaired by replacing some damaged parts, however the data may be compromised and require a software application to restore it.

Data recovery generally takes multiple steps, beginning with restoring the hard drive to a level of basic functionality. A data recovery company may replace the heads, spindle motor and base casting, the printed circuit board, or other components in a clean room environment.datarecovery3

Once the drive is restored to basic functioning, it will be imaged to a new drive or disk image file. Duplicating the drive creates a second copy that can be used for testing and to begin the recovery process, while leaving the original intact.

Using the copied drive, experts can begin the process of restoring the data. If the data has also been damaged logically, it may be possible to repair the disk’s file system structure to retrieve the data to begin the process of restoring the information to a useable, accessible state.

When a file is written to a sector of the drive that has been damaged, the data is lost or corrupted and will now need to be reconstructed to be readable. A data recovery service will use a software method to restore the documents to useable form.

Losing your data can be scary and frustrating, but luckily most data is usually recoverable. If you’ve suffered from data loss or need more information on how to back up your data, contact our team of experts at Data One Networks.



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