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Cyber Defense Magazine: The Most Important Question to Ask Before Data Recovery

Originally published by Cyber Defense Magazine at – pages 38-39

When a business or person needs a data recovery service provider, it’s highly important to be sure the facility has the proper industry certifications. Otherwise, the data missing may be at a much higher risk of being unrecoverable or even permanently destroyed. First, let’s take a look at why data recovery can be a dangerous feat.

The Dangers of Microscopic Particles in Data Recovery

As the platters in a hard disk drive (HDD) speed along at an average rate of 7,200 RPM, a cushion of air is created on which the actuator arm and read/write heads float a mere three nanometers above the fragile surface of the rotating disks. Known as “fly height”’ this microscopic distance is essential to the functionality of the drive.

Extreme damage and permanent data loss can result if any particulate matter (even something as thin as a human fingerprint) gets between the surface of the rotating disk and the read/write heads. Any foreign object could be struck by one of the heads, causing damage to the mechanism and permanent destruction of data. Therefore, the data recovery company you choose with your data should have Certified ISO Class 5 Cleanroom, at least. Cleanrooms are often found within medical fields, like pharmacology and epidemiology. For perspective, in an average outdoor environment, one cubic foot of air could contain more than 35 million particles bigger than 0.5 microns in diameter (dust, dirt, ash, smoke, etc.). Indoor air is a bit cleaner, although there could still be roughly one million similar-sized particles in a cubic foot of atmosphere from an indoor location.

In an ISO Class 5 Cleanroom like the one at DriveSavers, less than 100 particles bigger than 0.5 microns are present per cubic foot of air, making it safe to open up and work on hard drives and other sensitive data storage devices without fear of contamination.

The Cleanrooms at data recovery companies allow engineers to open sealed drive mechanisms in accordance with all leading hardware and storage device manufacturers’ specifications without voiding the original warranty. In a certified Cleanroom, drives and other sensitive equipment can be inspected and worked on without introducing any additional risks of contamination, damage or data loss.

Keeping the Cleanroom “clean”

Regular audits should be conducted to measure and certify the effectiveness of a Cleanroom installation while it’s in use. Some data recovery companies with certified Cleanrooms had their audits performed while the rooms being tested were unoccupied and not in operation. Particle counts may differ substantially while a Cleanroom is actually in use and occupied with people.

Cleanroom engineers must wear special suits, in addition to protective head and footgear to guard against contamination. All accessories—including writing paper and pencils, cleaning tools and more—are designed specifically to reduce the release of any particulate matter into the atmosphere. How do you know if the audit was performed while the Cleanroom was in use or not?

Request the “Controlled Environment Testing Report” and look for “Occupancy State.” The status of the Occupancy State could be one of three: “as-built”, “at-rest” or “operational.” You want to see “operational.” Most Certified ISO Class 5 Cleanrooms allow engineers to work within the manufacturer recommended limits of cleanliness during the recovery process.

Glossary of Terms

Head spinning a bit? In order to understand the best place for your data recovery, we’ve included some terms to help get a clear picture. They are given in order as they appear in the article.
HDD: Hard disk drive

Read/Write Heads: The mechanisms that record and retrieve information on an HDD

Platters: Spinning disks in an HDD on which data is written and stored

Actuator Arm: The armature from which the read/write heads are suspended over the platters in an HDD

Fly Height: The distance between the platters and the read/write heads in an HDD—3 nanometers, or about 3/1,000,000,000th of an inch

Cleanroom: A customized laboratory environment in which the air is filtered continuously to reduce the amount of particulate matter present

Micron: A unit of measurement equal to 0.000039 inches

About the Author

As Director of Engineering, Mike Cobb manages the day-to-day operations of the Engineering Department including the physical and logical recoveries of rotational media, SSDs, smart devices and flash media. He also oversees the R&D efforts for past, present and future storage technologies. Mike makes sure that each of the departments and their engineers are certified and that they continue to gain knowledge in their field. Each DriveSavers engineer has been trained by Mike to ensure the successful and complete recovery of data is their top priority. Mike Cobb has a B.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of California, Riverside. Since joining DriveSavers in 1994, Mike has worked on all aspects of engineering as well as heading the Customer Service Department for several years. Prior to joining DriveSavers, Mike gained invaluable experience creating mirroring and compression products while working at Golden Triangle Software in the early 1990’s

Originally published by Cyber Defense Magazine at – pages 38-39

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