Accidents Happen (Even to Networking Columnists)

By Ronald Pacchiano | Posted July 07, 2006

Let's face it, accidents happen. When they do, it feels like there isn't much that you can do about it other than to try and learn from your mistake. Unfortunately, though, the price of this education can sometimes be very high. Take, for example, the mistake I made this week.

I was setting up a new system and with just a single application left to install I ran into catastrophic error. Now catastrophic isn't just a descriptive term I'm using for color, but was in fact the actual error message I received. In the 15-or-so years that I've been working in the IT field, this was a first for me.

At that point, I had very little data on the system and, in my experience, when you start to experience strange errors with a relatively clean system, it will only become less stable over time. So as a preemptive strategy, I decided begrudgingly to just reinstall the operating system.

"All of a sudden a cold chill ran through me as I realized the reason for my problem."

I attached a 160GB LaCie external firewire hard drive to the system and backed up what little data was on it. I then shut down the external hard drive, placed my Windows XP CD into the PC and rebooted. The system booted from the CD and I began the reinstallation. Then I came to the part of the installation where I needed to select the drive I to which I would install Windows. (A word of advice: never work on anything when you are overly aggravated. It causes you to make stupid mistakes. )

My system has multiple hard drives, each with numerous partitions. In my haste to get this system redone — combined with the fact that I've performed this installation literally hundreds of times, so I don't really pay much attention to it — I instinctively selected the C: drive, deleted the existing partition, created a new primary partition and attempted to start the installation. This is when things went horribly wrong.

I received an unusual error message stating that Windows could not be installed to this location. This took me off autopilot and caused me to slow down and evaluate the situation. All of a sudden a cold chill ran through me as I realized the reason for my problem. I glanced over at the external HD I had previously powered off and noticed that the power light was on. I couldn't believe my stupidity. As my shock dissipated, the seriousness of this situation became painfully clear.

Instead of deleting the partition on the PC's hard drive, I accidentally deleted the partition of my external firewire hard drive. For some reason when the PC restarted the power to the external drive automatically came on and for whatever reason, the Windows installation recognized it as the C: drive.

Just so you can fully appreciate the severity of this situation, I use this external drive as a data archive. Before the deletion, it contained more than 120GB of data collected over the past 15 years. This included things like family photos, past reviews, old and new applications, MP3 files and videos. Thanks to a single moment of carelessness, I erased all of that irreplaceable data.

I know what you're thinking: didn't you have a backup of all that data? The answer is kind of embarrassing. I save all of my current data, stuff that I use on a day-to-day basis, along with about 25GB of additional data, to DVDs and on my laptop. However, 120GB is a lot of data and, like I said, most it is more than a decade old. So the external hard drive is the only backup. I had planned at some point to make an additional copy of this data to another external hard drive, but since I don't keep this drive online all of the time, the threat of picking up a virus or suffering a hardware failure was pretty slim. So like most people, I kept putting it off.

What made this situation even worse was the way in which I deleted the data. Had I deleted these files from within Windows, recovering them would have been fairly easy thanks to the Windows Recycling bin and other utilities. Regrettably, though, this happened outside of the operating system. I had not only deleted the drive partition, but I also created a new primary partition on top of it. As a result, the situation looked rather bleak. About the only thing I had going for me was the fact that I had caught my mistake before I actually formatted the drive. I felt I still had a good chance of recovering the data.

However, I wasn't sure it could be done without sending the drive out to a professional data recovery center. The problem with that solution was that as important as this data was to me, the cost associated with this type of recovery is typically very expensive. It could literally run into thousands of dollars and that just wasn't an option. With nothing left to loose, I started scouring the Internet searching for a possible alternative.

The Alternative
It was at this point that I ran across a small company named DTI Data Recovery.It has an effective utility called Recover it All that's capable of restoring lost data due to a variety of reasons. These include situations such as the following:

  • Accidental formatting or deletion of files and directories
  • Virus attacks or accidental use of FDISK.
  • Deleted or damaged partitions or boot sectors

The software performs all of its functions (including partition recovery) in memory first, ensuring that you don't cause more damage to the drive during the recovery process. This software even runs from within a Windows environment, so there are no complicated commands to remember. Best all, you can download a demo that will show you if your data is recoverable before you purchase it. And unlike the aforementioned data recovery center, Recover It All costs a mere $99. It's even compatible with most RAID systems and they provide 24 hour, toll-free technical support.

This sounded too good to be true, so I called the company to get additional information about the product and to discuss my specific problem with the tech support people. I talked to very nice woman named Jackie who instructed me to download the demo of the Recover It All software and have it examine my drive and assess the situation.

I installed the demo and had it begin an analysis of my drive. It took some time to complete, but once it did, I discovered that my data directories were all still intact and that the Recover It All software should be able to successfully retrieve my lost data. At this point I needed to purchase the full version of the software, and then had to restart the recovery process. Again it took quite some time to complete, but once it did, the Recover It All software allowed me to locate and transfer the lost data to a new location.

The bottom line: not only did I recover the full 120GB of data, but Jackie stayed on the phone with me patiently answering all of my questions throughout the process; for well over an hour and a half.

Recovering my lost data without shipping out the drive to a vendor seemed like nothing short of a miracle. And for only $99 bucks, it was a bargain.

The point of all this is simple: Accidents happen all of the time. You can't always anticipate them: Hard drives fail, viruses and spyware wreak havoc, installations go astray or sometimes we just accidentally delete things we didn't mean to delete. No matter how bleak things look, remember, there is always a solution if you just look hard enough. It might not always be easy and at times it might be rather expensive, but more often then not you'll be able to find what you're looking for.

If you should ever find yourself in a situation similar to mine, DTI Data Recovery offers a good recovery option. Better yet, learn from my mistake: slow down and pay attention to what you're doing. Most importantly, keep backups of everything!

Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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