Data goes bye bye — do you backup your personal stuff?

The loud crash from upstairs brought me out of my restful state with a surge of adrenalin. As this wonder-drug coursed through my veins I immediately became aware of everything. The Tick-tock of the clock, the dog breathing in the corner and floorboard creaks from upstairs. I kept telling myself that the storm outside must have caused something to shift -- something simple and not so scary. Starting up the stairs, eyes darting, the beat of my heart drowned out my adrenalin edge. Near the top of the landing there was a flash of lighting, a large boom, and the lights went out as I saw a figure lunge at me, knocking me down to the landing below.

Nightmares can manifest themselves in many forms. I'll leave the ending up to you, however, I am currently living a nightmare with regards to my personal data at home.

About ten months ago I took the plunge into the terabyte (TB) arena and bought an external drive. This enabled me to pull information from many sources in order to supply a consolidated view of different media (movies, pictures and music) to the family. As I was going through this evolution I started removing data from internal drives, and making neat and organized structures on the external drive. It was fast and friendly and up until a few weeks ago, it was also reliable.

That's when the nightmare began.

One day I turned on my home system and noticed that the external drive would no longer connect (it actually connected and disconnected about five times a minute). This was the one time I had turned off the computer and forgot to turn off the external drive, so I figured it had just gotten hot and was in some self-protection mode with a thermal overload. No such luck.

The enclosure (device containing he hard-drives) had failed.

I contained my anxiety because it was obvious it was the enclosure and not the drives (through some hardware diagnostics). So I figured I would simply mount the drives and extract the data that was not backed-up on DVD (about 8 months of video and photos).

Again, no luck. The problem was caused by the type of enclosure I had purchased.

There are multiple types of drive configurations on the market, and if you are not aware of what type your enclosure uses, you could find yourself in the same boat I'm in. The specific one I had was configured (from the factory) as a RAID-0. For the unaware, RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redundant_array_of_independent_disks) has different settings (or levels), which are configured based on the level of security and speed you want for your data.

The vendor had configured this as a RAID-0 to maximize the space available and maximize speed. The benefits of a RAID-0 come at a price. This array configuration (with two drives) basically splits the data in half and writes each half, simultaneously, to each drive. Half the time to write, half the time to read, makes it very fast. The basic problem is that only half the data exists on each drive meaning no drive is of use without the other. And when there is corruption of a logical disk or you want to switch to a new enclosure, you are stopped by the fact that most hardware RAID controllers use proprietary disk layouts.

I know they are proprietary since I've tried reading these drives with three different RAID-0 arrays (which is also why I know the drives work fine, through diagnostics).

My next step is to try and perform a soft-RAID setup internally to my computer.

This involves creating an image of each drive and using software to try and detect the different parameters of the RAID setup, in order to emulate the hardware configuration. If this works I should be able to pull my data off of the drives.

What do I do with the data?

Well, I have sufficient internal storage to keep it while I catch up on 8-months worth of DVD back-ups. Long-term I am looking to a RAID-5 setup in hopes of solving my data storage, security and hardware failure worries.

Bottom line.

Be aware how your external (or internal) setup is configured. If you see RAID-0 or JBOD, then you have zero protection and must have a way to perform back-ups. Yes, I could try to have some external data recovery company perform the data restoration, however, I would rather do it myself and save the cash for a back-up system.

How do you ensure you don't lose anything of value?

Have you encountered a similar issue?