The top performers in our review are SalvageData Recovery, the Gold Award winner; Secure Data Recovery, the Silver Award winner; and DriveSavers, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 recovery services.
Losing data is an unfortunate reality, and it's nothing new. Humanity has wrestled with this ever since information was deemed worthy of saving. First, we protected against this loss by memorizing the information. Then we protected against our faulty memories by sharing the information. Eventually, we realized how easy it was to distort information through word of mouth, so we started writing information down on almost any surface that would take a mark –stone, clay, metal, wood, animal skins, parchment and paper. But even these mediums deteriorate with time, so we made copies. Then we invented the printing press to make copies of our copies so that we could have libraries of information. And then came computers.
Computers have hard drives capable of storing libraries' worth of information on CD-sized platters in brick-sized casings. However, hard drives are also one of the most susceptible mediums for data loss. While a book can last hundreds of years, few hard drives last longer than five years. A hard drive is like a lightbulb – eventually it wears out and you need to replace it. It might be an actuator arm. It might be the circuit board. It might be the platter itself. But the hard drive will wear out. If you don't plan for this while the hard drive is still functional, then you're in for a bad awakening.
One way to combat your hard drive wearing out is a RAID system, which is a configuration of multiple hard drives, or a redundant array of independent disks. While there are many ways you can configure your RAID system, the main purpose is the same – to ensure that the data always has a copy on another drive. This way, when one drive wear out, the data is safely copied to another drive. All you have to do is replace the worn-out drive, like changing a burned-out lightbulb.
The irony of RAID drives is that data loss still occurs, despite all the built-in redundancies. Typically, data loss occurs when one RAID drive stops responding, when multiple drives wear out, or when something has physically damaged the drives. Maybe the components overheated. Maybe you have a server farm and you experienced a flood or a fire. Either way, sending your drive to a RAID recovery service is your best chance at recovering the information. The best RAID recovery services take the drives apart, make copies of the disks and recover your information.
To recover data from a RAID system, trained technicians need to take the drive apart to diagnose the issue. Sometimes the recovery is as simple as replacing an actuator arm or a circuit board. But in severe cases, they may have to remove the platters, place the platters in a working drive, and clone the data to another drive so that they can recover the data without risk of damaging the original platters. These types of RAID recoveries require a skilled technician working in a certified cleanroom, as even the smallest particles can scratch the surface of an exposed platter, making it far more difficult for the technician to make a successful recovery.
Once the technicians recover the data off your RAID drives, they send the data back to you on a different hard drive. You have to provide the new hard drive, though many services allow you to purchase one directly. If you're only recovering a small amount of data, generally less than 12GB, the RAID recovery service will often provide the return media, either as a thumb drive or DVD. Some RAID recovery services even provide free online transfers. However, recovering such small amounts of data for a RAID system is rare, so you should expect to provide the necessary hard drives to store the recovered data.
While nearly every RAID recovery service provides free evaluation, you should expect to pay a lot if you want the data recovered. None of the RAID services in our review were willing to provide an estimate on a RAID drive, but recovering data from a standard hard drive can cost anywhere from $500 to over $5,000, depending on the situation and the service. The amount of data that needs to be recovered isn't typically a consideration in the cost. Instead, the cost is determined more on the complexity of the situation and how many tools the technicians need to use to rescue the data. Since RAID drives are far more complicated than a standard hard drive, you can expect to pay a lot, which is why the first question you should ask yourself is whether you absolutely need the data.
In our RAID recovery services review, we looked closely at the services' procedures and policies as applied to a standard recovery. If you need to have the data recovered as soon as possible because the data is critical to your business, you can pay extra for high-priority, emergency service. This ensures that technicians work around the clock on your RAID drives. Keep in mind that this will significantly add to the overall cost. To learn more, you can read our articles on RAID recovery services.
Every data recovery situation is different. As such, it's difficult to evaluate whether or not one RAID recovery service is better than another at recovering data. Every RAID recovery service that we reviewed will tell you that they have the most talented technicians, the best tools, the cleanest rooms. Every service claims to be the best RAID recovery service to have ever existed. Some might feed you recovery percentages. Others define themselves by criticizing other services. Every RAID recovery service boasts of being able to recover all types of data from any device. It can be difficult to cut through the fog of their boasting to see if they actually walk the walk. To do this, we tested the consistency of their customer service and confirmed their practices and procedures.
The Evaluation Process: Finding Consistency
The first stage of RAID recovery is the evaluation. You send in your RAID drives, and technicians evaluate the drives in a cleanroom to determine how they will recover the data and how much the process will cost. Since every recovery situation is unique to the drive, the evaluation process is critical in helping you decide whether to trust the service or not. If you don't trust the RAID recovery service, you won't pay the price they quote you. It's that simple.
Your trust should begin and end with the customer service. This is the voice of the company, the intermediary between you and the technicians. If you can't trust the customer service, you can't trust the service itself. As such, we evaluated the consistency of each RAID recovery service's customer support. To do this, we contacted each service anonymously via several emails, phone calls and live chat. At each anonymous contact point, we posed the same questions to the customer support representatives. Then we compared the responses for consistency and determined a score based on the following questions: Were there contradictions? Was the question answered? Did they ignore the contact altogether?
While the contradictions were relatively rare, there were still more than we expected. The most common issue that we ran into was RAID recovery services simply ignoring questions. We'd pose a bunch of questions and the response would only answer one or two of them, spending the rest of the time boasting of the service's abilities. It appears as though most services are more interested in talking at you than to you. Either the support representatives ignored the unanswered questions because they knew it would reflect poorly on the service or they lacked the self-awareness to recognize that they weren't doing their job. A significant number of the emails went unanswered as well, which reflects a clear lack of professionalism.
Confirming Practices & Procedures: Asking the Service to Prove It
Another way of cutting through the fog of boastful marketing is to confirm practices, policies and certifications. We want to ensure that you know what you're getting when you contact a RAID recovery service. For this test, we sent each service a questionnaire, but this time we sent the questionnaire as official reviewers. The questionnaire asked about their policies, services and security procedures.
In addition, we asked them to prove their answers. For example, just because the website says that you'll get a firm estimate doesn't mean the service guarantees that the estimate won't increase. If they guarantee their estimates, we asked them to provide proof of the policy. This extended to the certifications of cleanrooms and security audits. If a RAID service couldn't provide this, we didn't give it credit for these certifications in our RAID recovery review.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services with tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The RAID recovery services had no input or influence over our methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Upon completing the evaluation process, you'll decide either to move forward with the recovery or that the data isn't worth the cost of the recovery. If you decide that the data is worth the cost, then you should consider additional factors. All the services claim to have a certified cleanroom, but is it actually certified and is it an actual cleanroom? How secure is your data when it's stored at the service? What is the support like throughout the process?
One of the most critical parts of any data recovery process is the cleanroom. Physical recoveries require opening up the RAID drive to access the parts and the platters that the data is written on. These platters are very sensitive. The smallest particles can scratch the surface, which can make the recovery impossible. Every RAID recovery service in our review claims to have a cleanroom. However, we asked each service to prove that a third party certified the cleanroom. A service simply saying that it has a cleanroom isn't enough. Just because the website has pictures of a cleanroom doesn't mean the cleanroom follows the necessary protocols to ensure that it's a safe place to open the drives.
With RAID recovery services, the industry standard is an ISO 5 Class 100 cleanroom, because this is the level of cleanroom required for hard drive manufacturers. This level of cleanroom means that the room has less than 100,000 particles per cubic meter. However, some services have an even better cleanroom – an ISO 4 Class 10 certified room. This level of cleanroom has less than 10,000 particles per cubic meter. For comparison, there are about 35 million particles per cubic meter in normal, everyday areas.
Additional Features & Services
RAID recovery companies have many additional features and services. With the best RAID recovery services, you can expect to receive progress notifications throughout the process so that you can track what's going on. If you're pressed for time, you should consider the standard turnaround times, which can range from a few days to a few weeks. If your RAID recovery situation is a server farm or you can't allow the data to leave the premises, such as a government location, many of the services we reviewed will come to your location and perform recoveries on the premises.
Whether the data on your RAID device is personal information or critical to your business, you don't want people poking around it. As such, it's important that a RAID recovery service do everything possible to ensure that your data remain private throughout the process. Identity theft is always a threat when you trust your data to strangers. Every service in our review has some level of security, but it varies considerably. Some store your RAID drives in a heavy vault. Others store it on a shelf. Some have security cameras everywhere. Some only have security cameras in the labs. One way of ensuring sufficient security is looking at the security certifications.
Help & Support
The best RAID system recovery services assign a dedicated case manager to your recovery. This case manager is your contact with the service. The manager should be willing to answer any questions you have and keep you updated on the progress of the recovery. You should also consider services with online portals, as these allow you access additional information.
When your RAID drive fails, the cost of recovering the data can be overwhelming. As such, it's critical that you feel you can trust the RAID data recovery service. In our review, SalvageData Recovery and Secure Data Recovery proved to offer the most consistent customer service with the most comprehensive recovery features and proven security. Secure Data Recovery is the only service that could prove it had a certified ISO 4 Class 10 cleanroom. DriveSavers also proved that it provides excellent recovery services and security, despite lacking consistent customer service, as the representatives were compelled to push a sales pitch instead of answering queries about the service.
RAID data recovery is very costly. The best way of avoiding catastrophic data lost is to back your data up. While RAID drives are specifically designed to create redundancies, you should consider providing additional protection by keeping your data backed up to an online backup service. For less than $10 a month, all of your data can be securely protected with a geo-redundant copy so that you never have to worry about resorting to a costly RAID recovery service.