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perceptions of the data recovery market

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - StorageSearch.com - September 14, 2018
I always learned a lot from talking to customers in my 20 years at StorageSearch.com and never stopped being surprised by how the smartest people in the industry were comfortable sharing their insights ranging from business dynamics to solving seemingly impossible problems with next generation storage media. Maybe their relaxed attitudes were helped by knowing that my intent was to help me figure out how to help them and my readers in a more effective way. And unless someone specifically told me to share what they told me with my readers - their secrets and plan were safe with me. ..
Data Recovery
we know who can fix it
I suppose I had already proved to the computer industry within the confines of the Sun compatible SPARC systems market (with my publication the SPARC Product Directory and its associated marketing databases of products, worldwide resellers and manufacturers) that I could operate with my self imposed rules in a way which could materially accelerate sales and market adoption of new products in a market where the same set of companies could in one context be competitors and in another collaborators and without my ever leaking any business secrets I had been entrusted with.

So - what's that got to do with data recovery?

Well - unlike all the other products in the storage market - such as SSDs, RAID, HBAs, storage software, hard drives, etc where I had in an earlier life driven them to their limits or written about them for years in a SPARC server context - Data Recovery was something I had never experienced first hand when I launched StorageSearch.com - and although I soon created an image for this subject along with a list of companies which were involved in this topic - I didn't really have a clue how data recovery would pan out as a publishing asset.

As a sanity check here - you probably won't be wondering - how did I research those original vendor lists in the first place? - because you're so used to finding stuff with search engines, social media etc on the web. Short answer is - having worked in the industry a long time I already knew a lot of companies (which is why I felt over-confident launching my first independent guide to the SPARC hardware market in 1992 - which was before the web.) And I was an active researcher.

It was much easier with StorageSearch.com - because I already had online readers - and I got a huge amount of help from them by the simple expedient of adding a link which said "add url". That's an idea I copied from the early search engine companies (Google didn't exist at that time and Microsoft had only recently discovered the world wide web and hadn't got entangled in browser wars). And I haven't researched this - but I think that many of the people actively using the web in the 1996 to 1998 period had a serious interest in the computer market and if they saw resources which could help them they were happy to do their bit to make them better. (Later - of course - these simple add url links became targets for spammers and I removed them.) But readers who cared about a subject and who knew a lot about it were the lifeblood of internet based publications - if the publications chose to listen.

There were 2 big surprises for me from the data recovery market once the DR page (at http://www.storagesearch.com/recovery.html) launched in February 1999 listing* at the outset around 10 or so companies.

*The launch size of my buyers lists varied from as small as 2 for SSDs in 1994 - which had grown to 11 by 1999. Some of these lists grew to many hundreds of manufacturers in each category and stopped providing a useful reader experience. So eventually I removed the big lists from view.
  • The data recovery industry was serious about spending money on web advertising - which is something I really hadn't anticipated.

    The reason I was creating a directory of DR companies was for the sake of completeness so it would be useful for readers and not because I expected any immediate revenue stream from it.

    I took a long view of most subjects I wrote about. If it was in the scope of the market then sometimes I created a product category even if there was only a single supplier. Because that might be the difficult to find product which brought a new reader to my guide.

    For example I had been compiling (short) lists of SSD products and companies for 8 years in my guides before getting the first ad order from that market. (And 10 years after that - the SSD market became 100% of my business revenue.)
  • Data recovery companies impressed me by their willingness to tackle really tough challenges to reclaim and restore data even in situations where many of the raw chips and sections of the raw storage media had sustained serious physical damage.

    I wasn't so much surprised that these Spycatcher-like techniques were viable - because I knew that government agencies employed technical people who were smart enough to extract data from any place it might have left a forensic trace - but I was genuinely surprised that anyone with a credit card and a damaged storage device could with relative ease access such sophisticated data reconstruction technology..
During the course of the next 10 years I spoke to many companies in the data recovery market and was fortunate in having some of the leading technical exponents of those arts among my customers.

One of the things I heard from many vendors I spoke to was the problem which DR companies had in getting themselves known to customers who needed their services. With a few exceptions - which became noteworthy case studies in themselves - this was a consumer facing market and in that respect operating in a different universe to most of my content.

It was explained to me that the average customer doesn't know or care about data recovery until they have a problem which involves serious data loss and which can't be resolved using other methods (such as a having an accessible backup).

Worse still - when they are in the unfortunate situation of needing data recovery - where do they go?

I heard from several people in the industry that bidding on key terms related to DR on search-engines could get very aggressive - because most DR companies were unknown as brands to most of the consumers who might need their services - and the easiest criteria that potential customers could choose as a selection criterion for a service which might cost hundreds or thousands of dollars was how high up the ads were in their browser. I never ran such 3rd party search engine ads in my own publications because I was distrustful of their value to readers and my own business.

When I started an SSD focused page for data recovery in 2007 this was just in case anyone had anything worthshile to write about it rather than because I expected that any readers might need such specialist services in those early days of the modern SSD consumer market .

In those days I knew quite a lot about how SSDs were designed - having been told a lot in 1 on 1's by the people who designed them - so I wasn't expecting to be surprised by what the DR industry could tell me. And in that respect I wasn't disappointed. It was a long time before the DR industry approached the same kind of sophisticated understanding and tools which had been developed over decades for rotating storage. The market need for SSD recovery was slow to develop because the installed base of consumer SSDs was small, the drives despite their terrible designs compared to industrial and enterprise SSDs were more reliable than hard drives and the problems - when they did occur were harder to solve - due to the many rapid changes and differences in controller design.

In 2010 I decided that I wouldn't accept any more ads for data recovery as part of a strategic focus to dedicate exclusively on the SSD market. And to be honest - I was trying to deter readers in the consumer facing side of the storage market. I didn't have any empathy with consumer marketing and there were plenty of consumer facing SSD sites springing up on the web to do the "gee whiz it's an SSD and here's why it's different to hard drive" type of story. I told many of my SSD advertisers too that they should run their ads for consumer SSDs elsewhere. Other sites did consumer stuff better. I couldn't fake interest in that kind of thing. I wanted to go deeper into controller architecture, reliability and new use cases for SSDs and memory systems.

But I didn't update the old data recovery pages much I didn't delete them either.

The legacy articles about data recovery which were already on my site stayed where they were.

Some of those old articles include interesting case studies about the common and extraordinary things which can go wrong and lead to someone needing such services.

One of the things I also learned is that after an accident it is possible for the unfortunate customer to make things worse by doing something which seems like a good idea at the time.

Here's an example... which I'm not going to say too much about.

My mother had one of those situations last week - where she took the advice of a neighbor and deployed a kitchen based remedy which made things temporarily worse when she dropped her phone in a bucket of water while mixing pool chemicals. The moral of the story here being it's not who you know (she knows me) but what the person you talk to knows. (And it was thinking about that which got me started on this blog today - even though the blog went in a different direction than I had planned.)

Going back to SSD data recovery - something I had warned about years earlier which was confirmed by the 2016 Apple vs FBI story is that even when you have massive resources to deploy there are still some situations in which recovery is problematic.

OK - I guess I'm saying that if you're coming here because you've been affected by the Hurricanes this week (or next year) or some other ghastly accident then there is an industry which can help you to get your data back - if it's technically feasible.

The companies in the data recovery industry are often at the leading edge of knowing how storage devices break and they can use amazing techniques to get some of your data back.

I no longer sell web ads for any storage or SSD related products. I announced EOSL for ads in the first half of 2018. And it's many years since I sold any ads for data recovery.

But I learned a lot about this industry. It invests a lot of resources to educate people. And the thing to do is to find someone you think you can trust to help you with your problems. And with your recoverable data!

Sometimes you can learn the limits of a subject by looking at ideas which are directly opposite to the original idea too.

Is there an opposite concept to data recovery?

Yes. The flip side to data recovery is fast purge SSDs and disk sanitizers.

If you came here looking to read about data recovery then good luck with your onward journey and I hope you'll find my old classic data recovery pages help you understand the industry better so you can deal with these companies from a better starting point.

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sanitizing sensitive SSDs?

heed my words oh prideful SSD
from dust you were born
and unto dust you shall return
Editor:- September 25, 2018 - A reader - Simon Zola - Manager, AVTEL Data Destruction emailed me last week after seeing my recent home page blog - looking back at my 19 years of writing about the data recovery market (above) - which I concluded with this..

Disk Sanitizers
disk sanitizers
Is there an opposite concept to data recovery?

Yes.

The flip side to data recovery is fast purge SSDs and disk sanitizers.

Simon said - "I have only just come across you and your site and I would love to hear your opinion on meaningful data sanitisation of SSD."

Fast Purge flash SSDs directory & articles
fast purge SSDs
I thought to myself how many years is it since I set up a dedicated SSD fast erase / purge page? - I checked. It started in 2009. (This is one of the joys and frustrations of the web. Frustration - that you can't find stuff which has been around for a long time - because it gets drowned by social chit chat. Joy - in knowing that there must be a lot more readers out there who also care about the same problems.)

Anyway - what I said to Simon was - "There is a double digit list of standards by defence and government agencies which cover various use cases and whether the drive is desired to be redeployed for another project or not. The purpose of extreme autonomous SSD purge is to destroy enough critical chips in the encrypted SSD so that if it falls into the wrong hands (captured by enemy) then the SSD data will remain immune to the best efforts of forensic data recovery. Thats just one reason why DR and security agencies intersect and are mutually aware. But as DR gets better then sanitisation has to advance too (best way being destruction of the chips)."

Anyway Simon - whose company does Onsite Physical Destruction of HDDs and SSDs in Australia pointed me towards an interesting video - re Mobile Data Destruction which shows the type of thing his company does. It's on youtube which means that many of you won't be able to see it right now if you're viewing this at work.

So I'll describe what happens...

The video shows a van which arrives at your site and delivers via a conveyor belt all the drives you want shredded - presumably while one of your security people watches it happening. (You'd have to verify the exact design and chutes etc yourself obviously to satisfy yourself there are no magical trap doors - or maybe you could just rent the facility. It depends on your own circumstances.)

That prompted me to realize that it had been about 2005 when I had last written much about the disk sanitization services and equipment business (as opposed to autonomous drive purge) because in a way - once you know what needs to be done - what more can you say about it? But maybe that page could do with a refresh - which is why I'm writing this.

We are much more sensitive and vigilant about environmental impacts nowadays (2018) compared to the start of my own career (1977) when many of the industries which paid the wages of our local communities and where our friends and neighbors and customers worked were inevitably sometimes spilling stuff into the sky, ground and water.

So I said - Hi Simon - I forgot to ask this... how is the shredded material from the sanitized drives processed? I mean the cost from an environmental hazard point of view?

Simon said - 0 to land fill. (And then he gave me a list of who reprocesses what afterwards - which you can find out more about on his web site.)

Editor's comments:- I'm guessing that wherever you live you might be interested in the possibilities opened up a mobile service like this.


My own modest needs in this category have always been simply managed by the expedient of a log splitter or ax - but I'm only smashing one drive each season or less. Some of the kids of family friends have made artworks out of the little chunks of smashed up drives and mangled chips.

Small dustry grains are less artistic but better from the security angle.

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some earlier home page blogs

re RATIOs in SSD architecture

40 years of thinking about non volatile memory endurance

miscellaneous consequences of the 2017 memory shortages

are we ready for infinitely faster RAM? (and what would it be worth)

introducing Memory Defined Software - yes - these words are in the right order


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storage search banner
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looking back at my gigs with the data recovery market
Recovering data from damaged storage media (magnetic, optical or semiconductor memory) in the absence of a usable backup is one of those subjects which intersects with many technology disciplines.
  • reliability - oems can learn about their design weaknesses by engaging with real world failed drives
  • government agencies - need to recover unique data from deliberately or accidentally destroyed storage
  • consumers - may have precious photos or documents on a drive which was never backep up
  • enterprise users - may discover that a single mode failure such as sysadmin error, new software install or site-wide calamity has trashed their data and backups too
  • financial companies - may need to trace deliberately altered server records
Every year at about this time when the hurricanes hit the US the data recovery pages get a spike of readers - even though they are rarely updated. It's one of those things which triggers mixed emotions. I'm sorry that anyone needs to look this type of stuff up. But I'm glad if anyone finds that the articles empower them in their onward recovery journey.

In my new blog on StorageSearch.com - some thoughts about data recovery (here on this page) I look back at what I learned about this market - where a simple transaction with a credit card can propel you straight into high tech spook technology.



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 data recovery ad from 2002
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In March 1999 a company called ActionFront Data Recovery Labs became the first company in the data recovery market to advertise its services on the recently created data recovery directory on StorageSearch.com. The image above shows a version of their banner ad from 2002 .

I always liked the look of their brightly colored ads - and they told me a lot of thought provoking stories about the problems they had been called in to look at.

A shocking story I still remember today was ActionFront helping their customer Avondale Mills whose site had been affected by a fatal accident involving a nearby train wreck and the escape of chlorine gas in South Carolina in 2005.

ActionFront was acquired by Seagate in 2005.

The image below shows a version of Seagate's data recovery banner ad here in 2007.



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data recovery banner ad from 2007



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Western Digital chose a different way of providing a top level endorsement of data recovery services for customers of their own drives. And WD's site has for many years published a list of 3rd party data recovery companies.

Within the SSD market - the data recovery market in the first decade of the modern SSD era followed a different pattern to the hard drive market - which reflected the different maturities of the respective markets and the different business propositions for DR specialists to invest in supporting small markets with a much wider diversity of internal controller and media designs.

Some consumer SSD companies did at various times endorse 3rd party data recovery services for their own products and there were similar experiments with SSD controller manufacturers too.

But as in the early days of the HDD recovery market - a significant factor was whether a 3rd party DR company had ever seen the need to invest in reverse engineering and understanding any particular brand - and the context of the faults.

You can see these top level legacy guides on StorageSearch.com for more articles about this.



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SSD ad - click for more info
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Data recovery from DRAM?
I thought everyone knew it was possible



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Like a cartwheel careering off a wagon - the giant winchester disk burst out of the mainframe storage cabinet and aimed straight for my brother in law who thought it looked likely to kill him.

It was 1964, St Helens, Lancashire - in the computer room of the Pilkington Glass factory.
The Perils of Early Hard Drives - (see the HDD page)



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Reliability is an important factor in many applications which use SSDs. But can you trust an SSD brand just because it claims to be reliable in its ads?
the cultivation of "reliability" in a 2.5" SSD brand



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If you've ever watched the movie Black Hawk Down - there's a memorable scene in which Super 64 has its tail hit by an RPG and becomes the 2nd chopper to go down. From that moment it's clear to viewers that whatever the pilot does at the controls - '64 will hit the ground real soon. Inside the brain of the SSD - a nerve ending tugs to say - forget your other priorities pal - the power rail is going down.
Surviving SSD sudden power loss - survey of techniques