Pricing and freebies in data recovery

I came across this Reddit Post today, which starts with a definition of the problem:

... a bit of mess transitioning a storage pool from Server 2012 to Windows 10... now it seems I've reset all three disks and there is no longer a pool. ... The three 4TB drives were configured in a parity with just under 8TB usable.

So, we're talking about a 3x 4TB Storage Spaces pool that has its metadata damaged to the point the pool is no longer recognized. There is an obvious solution:

  1. Get some data recovery software that is capable of reading the pool;
  2. try its evaluation version (most all software has some evaluation allowing you to see what you can recover; at least every first-tier software has);
  3. if the result is satisfactory, buy a license and the copy data away.

In practice, you can't get it any simpler. Can you get it any cheaper, though?

Now ReclaiMe can see the partition and show me almost all of the files. Do any of you lovely folks know a way I can try to reinstate the pool without losing the 6TB of data that was on those drives? Preferably without forking out for ReclaiMe and buying drives to transfer the data to.

That bit of ReclaiMe seeing the partition confirms that the data is there in some form, but the "almost all" part suggests there may be some damage not limited to the pool metadata. This would make things infinitely more complicated if it happens to be true. But, let's consider for the sake of the discussion that the pool is kaput, but not the filesystem inside the pool.

There is no reliable way to reinstate the pool if it is already unrecognizable. Nobody knows precisely how the damn thing goes through all its different failure modes, and are several different versions of Storage Spaces. If something happened during the transition, it is now some mixed version of the pool, which, in all likelihood, nobody had ever seen before.

As far as costs go, development costs against something like Storage Spaces to understand it well enough to recover data from it are typically upwards of $100K (mostly in developer time, hardware is relatively cheap). Reverse engineering of a filesystem or a lower-level storage system like Storage Spaces takes something like six months to a year to produce results usable in data recovery. And I'm thinking of people with several years of experience in a specific area of reverse-engineering storage systems.

Therefore, you will not likely get a free usable manual on what to do with a failed pool. People who spent a year on it will not likely put it out for free. Not that it is impossible, it is just not likely. Far worse, it is unlikely that someone can produce any usable manual at all. Something consisting of ten thousand steps is not usable, which may well be the minimum number of steps required to fix the failed pool. In practice, the cheapest option would be to shell out some money for (in this particular case) a ReclaiMe license or just forget about the data and re-create the pool. This would be the cheapest in terms of money and time invested. The additional spending would be a purchase of 2x 4TB drives to store the recovered data. However, you can put the drives to good use to hold a backup of the data after you recover it.

You will not find any free solution for a reasonably complex data recovery problem, be it hardware or software. The development costs are too high for that. There is typically some added cost in donor parts for a hardware problem, and even in software-only recoveries, there is a cost of whatever additional storage may be required.

Free data recovery software

...but wait! Are there some free data recovery products?!

Sure, there are. Let's see examples,

  • ZAR. ZAR free image recovery part falls into a "reasonably simple" category. Similar to it would be PhotoRec by CgSecurity.
  • TestDisk (again by CgSecurity) is a command-line tool with a reasonably good capability to rebuild partition tables and some capability to deal with a damaged filesystem. This is also "reasonably simple", and it is, like, a command line (console) tool.
  • Recuva by Piriform, which is paid or ad-sponsored (as of February 2018), is not freeware.

So, what are the options?

If the case is possible to fix in software, the best option is most likely to use the software. You can handle simple cases with free and more complicated cases with paid software. Looking for some trick to make a system work again is usually unproductive.

If the case involves a hardware problem, there are no working DIY solutions other than connecting external drives to a motherboard SATA port to see if it works without any USB involved. Hardware problems are for the labs.

Created Saturday, March 3, 2018