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Fire-damaged Hard Disk Drive from Private Island Fire [16 images]

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When a fire ripped through a British businessman’s private island (we can’t name him, but we’re sure you can guess who it is), several of his hard drives were caught up in the 200ft-high blaze.They contained crucial data that he needed to recover.

Every disk from the Raid array was damaged by fire. Corrosion from the water used to extinguish the fire also damaged the disk and made the recovery more complex. The damage inside the device was extensive, preventing the disks from functioning.

Working from our data recovery lab in Epsom, Surrey, we were brought in to help recover as much of valuable data as possible from the drives. The damaged items included eight drives from two servers configured in two sets of four-disk RAID 5 arrays.

Our lead engineer began the process of recovering the data, which started in late 2011 and worked with his team to prioritise the devices that contained the most precious information.

As the images here show, the drives had been severely damaged, and look like a complete write-off. Not only were they burned in the fire, but they were then flooded by water from the fire hoses. This led to corrosion – something you really don’t want inside your hard disks.

In our clean room, engineers were able to disassemble the drives and clean up the platters which contain the data. Even smoke particles can prevent data being read, so have to be removed. The team replaced the damaged components, such as read/write heads, with brand-new ones and rebuilt the disk drives one at a time.

The next stage of the recovery was to attempt to read the raw data off the drives, and six of the eight disk drives were fully recovered. This then left the challenge of reconstructing the missing data from the two unrecoverable drives.

Fortunately, the RAID 5 configuration makes this possible thanks to data redundancy. With the assistance of our proprietary software and in-depth RAID configuration knowledge, the engineers were able to create a virtual RAID, rebuild the data from the missing disks and then extract the files.

In the end, 100 per cent of the data was successfully recovered. The data was written back to new disks which were then returned to their happy owner.

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