Data disasters and how to avoid them

24/03/2011 10:50am

Hard disk heads crash into the drive platter. Image: Wikimedia

In an ideal world computers would last forever, thieves wouldn’t exist and it’d be impossible to accidentally delete all your important data when you’re too hungover to function. Back in the real world, it’s all too easy for disaster to strike. Whether it’s a digital music library or project assets, your photo collection or your portfolio, the more it matters the more important it is to protect it.

The dangers

The good people at OnTrack Data Recovery compile an annual list of data disasters, and 2010′s crop features some crackers, including:

  • The businessman who was working on a beach, fancied a swim and reckoned a plastic bag would make his laptop waterproof enough to take into the water with him.
  • The man whose flat went on fire. He grabbed his laptop full of precious data and promptly dropped it from the fire ladder.
  • The businesswoman who put her briefcase – with laptop inside – on her car roof while she put her child in the car seat, forgot about it and managed to drive over it.
  • The frequent flyer who left his laptop in an airport coffee shop, only for security to detonate it as a suspected bomb.

That’s just last year. In previous years OnTrack has found accountants who attempted to do spreadsheets in the bath, with predictable consequences; the lawyer who took her laptop on a fishing trip with her father, which made him so angry he chucked it in the lake; and our favourite, the man who went on holiday and put his laptop in the oven so burglars wouldn’t spot it. His wife came home, decided to make a lovely roast chicken for dinner and… you can probably guess what happened next.

In each case OnTrack recovered the data – they wouldn’t be bragging about it if they’d made things worse – and the moral of OnTrack’s stories may well be “don’t give computers to idiots” – but data recovery isn’t always possible, costs money and can take time. Ensuring your data doesn’t get damaged in the first place is a lot less hassle.

Clearly most of us aren’t going to chuck our laptops in Tesco bags before jumping into the sea with them, but that doesn’t mean our computers are safe from harm either. Laptops are easily stolen, hard disks can and do fail, computers can be dropped, left in the back of a taxi or accidentally set on fire, and human error can cause chaos on even the most secure system. The trick to protecting your stuff? Redundancy.