Data recovery is the process of restoring data that has been lost, accidentally deleted, corrupted or made inaccessible. In enterprise IT, data recovery typically refers to the restoration of data to a desktop, laptop, server or external storage system from a backup.
Most data loss is caused by human error, rather than malicious attacks, according to U.K. statistics released in 2016. In fact, human error accounted for almost two-thirds of the incidents reported to the U.K. Information Commissioner's Office. The most common type of breach occurred when someone sent data to the wrong person.
Other common causes of data loss include power outages, natural disasters, equipment failures or malfunctions, accidental deletion of data, unintentionally formatting a hard drive, damaged hard drive read/write heads, software crashes, logical errors, firmware corruption, continued use of a computer after signs of failure, physical damage to hard drives, laptop theft, and spilling coffee or water on a computer.
The data recovery process varies, depending on the circumstances of the data loss, the data recovery software used to create the backup and the backup target media. For example, many desktop and laptop backup software platforms allow users to restore lost files themselves, while restoration of a corrupted database from a tape backup is a more complicated process that requires IT intervention. Data recovery services can also be used to retrieve files that were not backed up and accidentally deleted from a computer's file system, but still remain on the hard disk in fragments.
Data recovery is possible because a file and the information about that file are stored in different places. For example, the Windows operating system uses a file allocation table to track which files are on the hard drive and where they are stored. The allocation table is like a book's table of contents, while the actual files on the hard drive are like the pages in the book.
When data needs to be recovered, it's usually only the file allocation table that's not working properly. The actual file to be recovered may still be on the hard drive in flawless condition. If the file still exists -- and it is not damaged or encrypted -- it can be recovered. If the file is damaged, missing or encrypted, there are other ways of recovering it. If the file is physically damaged, it can still be reconstructed. Many applications, such as Microsoft Office, put uniform headers at the beginning of files to designate that they belong to that application. Some utilities can be used to reconstruct the file headers manually, so at least some of the file can be recovered.
Most data recovery processes combine technologies, so organizations aren't solely recovering data by tape. Recovering core applications and data from tape takes time, and you may need to access your data immediately after a disaster. There are also risks involved with transporting tapes.
In addition, not all production data at a remote location may be needed to resume operations. Therefore, it's wise to identify what can be left behind and what data must be recovered.
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