The History of Data Recovery

Moving files around and cutting and pasting them onto a flash drive… Most of us take this for granted, but the reality of how fragile data storage can be and just how easily important information can be lost is severe. Photos loaded onto a CD or a hard drive filled with years of documents kept ‘just in case’…. The horror felt when data is lost sends any device user into a spin.

Whether it’s hard drive recovery which is required or the problem is a virus, corrupt file, malfunction of a storage device or the deletion of files on removable media, the panic of the loss of now inaccessible data can cause untold problems.

Data recovery has always been an important service; one which is indispensable in many scenarios. With the high use of computers and networks in modern technology, many may feel that data recovery is a fairly new concept and certainly only since the digital revolution of the Millennium. It’s quite the opposite however as it’s been part of the industry since the first computers were conceived.

Early attempts at data recovery

Mechanical computing machine pioneer Charles Babbage created a device in 1833 he called the Analytical Engine. The concept was to pave the way for modern computing components. He was joined in his work by Ada Lovelace following her reading an article about how it worked and the potential uses. The device worked through the use of individually punched cards which were inserted manually. Because they were fragile in their structure, it wasn’t long before one became damaged and Babbage and Lovelace tried to repair the card which contained valuable data. They were unsuccessful but had unwittingly carried out the first ever data recovery attempt.

Data recovery in the 1900s

As computer technology developed over the following century, data recovery became a very real issue each time a new method of storing information was invented.

The first computers with comparatively large storage capabilities were used in the 1940s. A magnetic tape was used to hold the information but the construction was weak and the tape frequently snapped, became tangled in the machinery or became damaged to the extent it would not read very well – if at all. Each time this happened, data was lost and recovery was virtually impossible. In 1952, IBM introduced a vacuum column which held the tape in place. Less breakages occurred as the tape was more secure but if there was a problem it was easier to retrieve the tape and to see if it could be fixed.

Ten years later in 1962, the introduction of the Logic Probe revolutionised data failure investigation and assisted enormously in recovery. The role of the Logic Probe was to look at why a microchip failed; it was a very basic technology and the results were often only indicative but this was a huge leap forward.

The rise of the Data Recovery industry

During the 1980s and 1990s, computers became a staple part of the home along with floppy discs and hard drives. More use of computers meant the increased likelihood of data loss and for the first time, third party companies began looking into the problems and recovering data. With the development of computer technology, storage devices became more complex to work with and newly-established specialists quickly became the first port of call. The concept of ‘clean rooms’ were set up, where engineers would work to recover data from damaged hard drives.

Data recovery in the 21st century

Data recovery today is handled through a variety of methods, depending on the issue; this includes the use of hard drive microcode repair and disk imaging equipment to restore lost information. The introduction of the use of drives known as ‘solid state’ have a different way of overwriting data as opposed to that of a standard hard drive; they are specifically designed to be easier to recover data because of the way they work and how the data is stored.

Before the digital era, engineers would have to visit the location of the damaged equipment or have items such as hard drives sent to them. Today however, remote data recovery is a common way of working; specialist software which is given access to a computer or network at any location in the world can perform testing and repair work without the need for an engineer to even leave their desk.

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