Shipping hardware—especially failed hard disks which may contain confidential data—is costly and risky. But on the other hand, dispatching your technicians into the field or across the country can be time-consuming and, again, costly. For simple application and operating system troubleshooting, remote support and desktop sharing allow technicians to remedy problems without traveling. But these circumstances presume a working computer that can be booted and connected to the Internet or private network. When dealing with a failed hard drive, typical remote assistance techniques become unviable, since the machine may not be able to be booted into a stable enough state using the normal operating system. Furthermore, it’s unadvisable to boot into an operating system when the disk where the OS is hosted is failing or has deleted or corrupted files that need to be recovered. This is because any further use of the disk can risk further damage to the drive or possible overwriting of the lost data.
Fortunately, there is a way for data recovery technicians to perform advanced data recovery, disk repair and undelete operations over an Internet connection. This article looks at a general overview of the problem and solution on a conceptual level. At the end, we’ll make some recommendations for some software that may be able to achieve this.
Before We Begin: Terminology
In this article, the machine where the corrupted hard drive is installed will be referred to as the client machine. The technician’s machine, which will be accessing the client machine via the Internet, will be referred to as the host machine.
Problem #1: Client Machine Cannot (or Should Not) Be Booted
When a hard disk is corrupted, or the file contents have been damaged by accidental deletion, reformat or virus attack, you should not attempt to boot the disk. There is a massive amount of read/write activity when a computer is booted up, even if the boot fails. This read/write activity may cause further damage and worsen your chances of data recovery.
The solution to this problem, presuming that there are no other hardware failures other than the system disk, is to boot the machine from another bootable media, such as a LiveCD, LiveUSB or a bootable external hard disk drive.
Problem #2: Client Machine Must Be Accessible Over the Internet
Once the computer is booted, the corrupted or damaged system disk will be accessible as a slave drive from the live environment. The next step is to access this file system from a remote machine (the host machine).
This can be a challenge if one or both machines are on a private network or are behind a firewall. If only one machine is behind a firewall, the solution is to initiate the connection from the machine that is behind the firewall. If both machines are behind a firewall, you will need to temporarily bypass or traverse the NAT/firewall during data recovery.
Problem #3: Data Recovery Must Be Controlled by the Host Machine, but Processed on the Client Side
When dealing with gigabytes or terabytes of data, it’s not feasible to transfer data over the Internet for analysis and recovery. Unfortunately, the user with the technical knowhow will be sitting at the host machine, while the data will be on the client machine.
The solution is to remotely control a locally installed data recovery software suite on the client machine such that the processing and analysis is done on the local machine’s hardware. This avoids sending massive amounts of data over the Internet. Recovered files can be saved to a network drive or a locally attached external drive, but the heavy lifting will all be done on the client side.
Given the above three problems and solutions, what you truly need is a piece of software that has (1) a live bootable version/emergency edition (2) built-in support for Internet connectivity and (3) a built-in data recovery suite. For those familiar with deploying and configuring new systems, the immediate choice might be a distribution of Linux, such as Knoppix or GParted Live. While these tools may be useful and effective when working on a local machine, there aren’t specifically built for data recovery over the Internet. There will be a significant amount of configuration and setup on the client machine in order to give the required access to the technician on the host machine.
On a similar vein, you can also detach the drive from the machine and mount it as a slave device to a working machine that has remote assistance enabled (for example, a Windows or Mac OS machine). This, however, requires a bit more software overhead than required and is less feasible for devices where the hard drives are not easily accessible (e.g. ultraportable laptops).
R-Studio Technician is a more tailor-made utility for this task. R-Studio Technician actually comes with two parts: R-Studio Agent, which is installed on the client machine (and can be used without a license) and R-Studio Technician, which is used by the data recovery technician on the host machine. These two pieces of software communicate natively with each other, making data recovery intuitive for the technician and hands-off for the client.
The best option for your situation will depend on your software licenses, hardware setup and network configuration. But no matter which approach you use, the overall concept is the same. Using a live CD and remote data recovery utilities, you can undelete lost files, repair disks and undo damage done by viruses, reformats and other disk failures from the Internet.
Data Recovery Over the Internet
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