It's useful to think about hard drive failure akin to the way that old saw goes about how everyone in history eventually dies from the same thing (you know, their heart stops). In either case, it's not a matter of if but when: Sure as we all expire at some time, so to do all hard drives (luckily humans tend to last longer). And when your machine gives up the ghost, all of your most precious data – your photos, videos, music, documents, notes, art projects – goes with them to hard drive heaven. In a really short span the vast majority of our lives have become stored almost exclusively digitally, and so the dangers of data loss can have serious functional but also emotional ramifications.
Take our case. A few years back we did an epic, six-month motorcycle trip through Central and South America and relied on a single, massive, 1-terabyte backup disk for all the photos and videos we took using a helmetcam. It worked a charm, until recently. That's when the disk began making some seriously scary, not-good noises (we later learned that one should instantly turn off their drive and not turn it back on again in such situations). Then one day we simply couldn't access it anymore. As we were about to implode ourselves – we hadn't thought to back up our backup – we did some frantic research into emergency data recovery companies. What struck us first were the price (hey, it's expensive!) and the technology (cutting edge and proprietary) that go into data retrieval.
Some hard drive manufacturers, such as Seagate, offer data recover services themselves, from easy-to-download DIY recovery software and remote retrieval to more serious in-lab stuff employing smart guys in white coats. But most reputable data recovery companies are certified third-party companies that have arisen alongside the explosion of hard drive manufacturers. The top three are SalvageData Recovery, Secure Data Recovery, and DriveSavers. We went with DriveSavers out of Novato, California because of its reputation, customer testimonials, and ISO certifications.
The process was remarkably straightforward: We called the service up, it sent us a FedEx label, and we packed and sent off our hulking dinosaur of a terabyte drive to its facility. DriveSavers physically disassembled the drive to inspect for damage; depending on the situation, it could either be rebuilt or "cloned" onto another drive, which is sent to technicians with the goal of scrounging any data that is left intact. Drive failure where you hear noise usually means that the arm that reads the disc drives has touched, and thus physically damaged, the discs. As a result, some portion of files are simply unrecoverable, which is why turning your laptop on and off again as we did further compounds the problem.
In our case, the data was only marginally compromised, and we were reunited with most of our videos and photos from our Not The Motorcycle Diaries trip. But this miracle surgery naturally comes at a considerable cost: $800 bucks, to be precise. Per DriverSavers' recommendation, we now heed the 3:2:1 maxim of backups: We now always keep 3 copies of our data, in two media formats (in this day and age, that means using a regular hard drive plus a cloud storage solution like DropBox, BackBlaze, Dolly Drive, etc.), with one copy at a location off-site. Way offsite. And when we travel, we now drop-ship a backup of our data during our travels and continue on our journey without worry. [From $799; drivesavers.com]