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 PostPost subject: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 7:58 pm 
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Here I am, on day 4 on my attempts to salvage my precious data. From doing various analysis and recovery attempts I've concluded the following:

  • Most of my data is gone, but not gone. Confusing? Let me explain...

    Windows tried to "repair" the data by assuming that all the file indexes were faulty, thus deleting them and trying to recover files that were previously deleted. But as per default Windows never deletes the actual file, just the index. So by using a recovery app it's possible to "find" the entire file and recover it. From what I can see all the files are still there, just not visible to the current file system. There may of course be some damaged files (Windows did after all alter the file indexes), but I will not know the extent until I've recovered all recoverable files. So what I need is a recovery app that can find these "lost" files and recover them... easier said than done:
  • I've tried numerous recovery apps, all with none to almost successful results. I got a lot of tips from members (thanks!) and these are the results:
    • GetDataBack NTFS: Works like a charm, but it doesn't recover any file names. I have to manually name each file. Since I added PAR2-files to most of my folders all I need is to find one PAR2-file, run it through a PAR2 scanner and it will find all needed files and rename them. Sounds doable right? Wrong, i got over 2000 folders to recover, and perhaps 10% of those does not have any PAR2 files (it's a very lengthy process to make those). It's an option tho. I've managed to recover my entire OS collection by this method and I've so far managed to "rename" (by using the PAR2 scanner) over 40 builds of MacOS X I own. So it's doable, but it will take a VERY long time...
    • Ontrack EasyRecovery Pro: Doesn't even find any of my harddrives. Mind that my server (with the harddrives) runs Windows Server 2008 x64. I tried the same app in Windows XP and it detected my harddrives, but it seems it doesn't work properly in Windows 2008. I tried compatibility modes and a lot of other things, but the app starts, but doesn't detect any storage devices. This software is also horribly expensive! ($200 just for the Standard version! Rip off if you ask me...)
    • ZAR - Zero Assumption Recovery: This app seems like the best chance of successfully recovering my data. I tried the trial version and it seems to have found all my "lost" files, and WITH filenames! All I need to do then is just to select the root folder and recover the lot to a secondary drive... wrong. The trial version only allows four folders to be recovered... The software costs $49.95 and I may be forced to buy it if nothing else works. It also crashed once when running it so I am a bit scared that it may choke on the drives I got the most files on (one of my drives consists of over 10 million files!).
    • NTFS Undelete: A very competent program if you managed to delete files and want them back, I managed to restore my entire user folder when Windows decided to randomly delete the user profile in Windows (it wiped all My Documents folders and all other important folders). Very smooth. But it didn't detect ANY files from my corrupted harddrives. I guess it only looks for specific tags in the file index list, and since it doesn't do any raw scan of the drive it never detects any truly lost files. This application is free, so I still recommend anyone to get it in case you wipe something from your drive or flash drive.
    • Recover My Files: It looks like a quite simple app with a very simple name. Yet it seems to be able to do just what I need! It takes its sweet time to scan through the drive, but it returns a very simple page with a recovered file structure with filenames and folders. It works with my server system too. I am running a full recovery of a drive now, then I'll have to check the files using the par2 archives I created with each folder, then we'll see... Update: The app is _very_ slow. It's been scanning one of my harddrives for over 20 hours now and only got to about 5%... Horrible... It's simply unusable if you got a large set of files to recover.
    • Stellar Phoenix NTFS: Looks simple, and apparently is... It will detect the harddrives I got connected to the integrated harddrive controller on the motherboard, but it won't find any harddrives connected to anything else (such as my RAID controllers, where my failed harddrives are).
    • Active@ UNDELETE: Looks quite promising as well. User interface is very professional and allows me to see both the physical ID of the harddrive as well as the logical ID. The scan process is also much more detailed compared to any other app I've tried, giving me real time info on amount of files found, type of files, how many MB it scanned etc.
      After some further testing I've concluded that this app isn't good enough. It crashes or locks up, has an annoying UI once you want to restore (how hard is it to make a standard tree view of the files you want to recover??) and it's unreliable.
    • Paragon Rescue Kit Pro: Nothing special. Doesn't read drives connected to my RAID controllers. Doesn't do any RAW scans of the harddrives.
    • File Scavanger 3.2: Very unimpressive user interface, horrible if you got tons of files to recover. But it's also the only application I've tried so far that didn't crash or freeze under the stress of 2,9 million recovery files I got on one of my harddrives. It also seems to be faster than the other applications when it comes to doing a full harddrive scan.

      I am still evaluating a few more apps and I'll update my progress...
  • Not all my drives were corrupted. Apparently I did a mistake last week and backed up my music, images and some videos (not movies or tv-series) to the wrong drive. This saved the data. So I didn't lose anything there. As I also mentioned before, none of my "offline" drives were affected since they were not connected. This includes all my movies and TV-series. I also had a backup of my TBG data as well as my BA stuff. After looking for empty harddrives I even found a recent backup (missed only two releases which I had uploaded to BA) of all my "public" betas (my private ones are on an external drive and never connected to the main server in the first place). So TV-series, movies, music, videos, images, TBG, BA, betas are all fine. All my personal files were not affected since they are kept on a network connected NAS. All this still leaves about 6TB still to recover.

So, to fix all this all I need is to find a recovery app that works and recovers my filenames. I've already purchased four more 1TB drives to use for my new harddrive bays. I already got two expensive RAID controllers so I will keep these, but my server cabinet will be completely rebuilt (see my project pages on http://www.mrpijey.net for info about that) and I'll use the Stardom SOHOTank 4bay eSATA unit for my harddrives. One bay will host the drives always connected to the server, and each of those will be accompanied with an identical bay which hosts the backup drives. The "backup bay" will only be turned on when I need to resync new data or restore. Otherwise it will be turned off to prevent any wear and tear of the data and hardware.

A problem I had with my previous server solution was that the drives lost power, powering 32 harddrives using regular ATX power supplies is a BAD idea, and very unstable. Since each SOHOTANK bay has its own power supply a failure will affect at most four harddrives, the rest will not be affected. And I'll always have a backup bay with identical data to switch to during the bay replacement.

I did consider RAID, getting expensive enterprise RAID drive units, NAS units but this is why I didn't choose any of these:
  • RAID: I've tried this before. I got two €550 16-channel hardware RAID controllers in my server. I ran RAID5 on all my drives, but all of a sudden some of the RAID arrays stopped working. The controller would toss out the drives as soon as they were connected. I almost lost my data back then (I still have not recovered one array hosting all my emulator stuff, I will try RAID recovery software for this) so I chose to abandon it. Since RAID controllers add their proprietary RAID tags on the drive makes it near impossible to just move the drives to a different computer and access it. You need an exact same controller and even then it may be difficult. Sure I could run a mirrored RAID5 but this would not solve anything since any of the drives on BOTH arrays could fail at any time, and I would be stuck with the same problem. And if the RAID controller broke I would need to shell out another €550 just to access my data again. No thanks.
  • Enterprise RAID: Cheapest 4-drive RAID unit for enterprises starts at $1500. Still leaves me with the same problem as above, but at x3 the cost. Enough said.
  • NAS: This would be quite ideal. Independent units that doesn't rely on NTFS or Windows to work, all they do is connect a network share to the Windows server. I did consider this and I bought one good QNAP 2-drive NAS unit. Cost me $300. Fun to try. Fail:
    • Proprietary OS: Based on some micro-version of Linux. Doesn't give me full access to the OS and needs custom hacks just to get to a shell.
    • Unmanageable file system: Uses Ext3. Fairly common, hell to recover if something goes bad. Linux recovery software are buggy and bad at best (I've used them in the past, no fun story).
    • Proprietary RAID: Proprietary, says it all. If this RAID decides that the array is bad I am lost. I got no time to dig into unfinished manual pages and half-debugged dependency-bloated user hack apps to get it working again.
    • Speed: HORRIBLE. This was the top of the line NAS unit of its class and all it managed was about 20MB/s on my gigabit network. For that price tag I would expect it to kill my gigabit switch, not make it sleepy. 20MB/s is great for your holiday image backups or Word documents, but not for large RAR files and HD movies.
    • Samba: *shrugs*. I don't even want to imagine the stuff I would need to do to make this work flawlessly with my Windows Server 2008 AD. I already run a Linux workstation with Samba and it's buggy as hell. I wanted a solution for safe data storage, not a toss-a-coin-and-see-if-your-data-arrived-safely solution.
    • Cost: It simply costs too much and does too little too unsafely. An enterprise solution with iSCSI would work, but the entry model is about $2000. No deal.
    • Wasting good hardware: I already got two excellent RAID controllers. At worst they can be good SATA interfaces. With NAS units not would I only need to get an another expensive gigabit switch (mine cost $700), but it would also make my expensive RAID controllers obsolete. Wasteful.

So my solution is simple, and I think it will be the most effective solution yet. Let me illustrate:

Image


Simply explained: Each 4-drive bay will be always accompanied by an identical bay that acts as a backup. The backup drives will always be offline and turned off until I need to update the data. Since the RAID controllers (which here acts as mere SATA controllers, I will not use RAID functionality) supports hotswap I will be able to turn on and off the bays even if the server is turned on at all times. If a harddrive fails I can replace it instantly and then re-sync the drive. I will most likely use a sync application that always verifies each write to the backup drive, and it will also warn me if a file is "missing" from the DATA drive (which would indicate that I either remove a file, or that the drive is corrupted in some way). The BACKUP drive will always be of identical size of the DATA drive to prevent any problems when the DATA drive fills up.

And in case something would happen to the server I can always move the entire bay to an another computer and access all data from there. All drives will be fully encrypted. Every time I expand or upgrade a bay with new drives I will make the same replacement in the backup bay.

Cost? Quite expensive, but far from any enterprise solution. The eSATA bay doesn't add any proprietary data structures to the drive, the server sees the drive as a regular drive and it doesn't know it's connected to an eSATA enclosure. Each bay costs €250, each drive €80 and up depending on if I go with 1TB drives or better. At the moment I got 15 2TB drives which will be put in enclosures and backed up. I need to get a few more drives before I got everything "mirrored" to the backup units.

I do unfortunately need special cables to connect these eSATA bays to the internal SATA connectors on the RAID adapters. Each cable (including the adapter that interconnects the internal SATA to external eSATA) costs approx €100. I need one such cable for each bay. So approx €350 for a complete solution excluding drives, roughly the same cost for a 2-drive NAS unit that operates at 1/10 of the speed and without the flexibility. And I still needed an expensive network switch for the NAS units, something I don't need here since I already got the RAID controllers.

So the total cost will be quite hefty, but I still think this is the optimal solution for a flexible solution where I can control every part of the chain. I can freely move around harddrives, each bay has its own power supply, I can reuse my current hardware (RAID controllers), no need for extra network switches or expensive NAS bays and in extreme emergency I can individually connect each harddrive to any other computer I got as long as it has a SATA/eSATA connector. No drivers are needed for the SOHOTANK bay so I can use it in any OS that supports my RAID controller (which is supported from Windows NT/98 to Windows 2008, Linux, Solaris, BSD, MacOS/X and even basic support in DOS).

----

Phew. Lots to write, but you all know my progress and plans now :). If you got as much data as I got now you have to think ahead and make sure your data is safe. RAID and all that is fine for small configurations, but if you're going big you should really get one of those 16bay SAN units ($2500+!). Then you get enterprise class hardware and the quality and reliability that comes with it. But if you can't afford it then you have to do the best you can with the stuff in your price range, and this is it.

And sorry for the bad layout, but BBCode leaves a lot to be desired...

[/rant] :P

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 8:26 pm 
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You can get SAN with Fiber connection :P
Way to expensive, but massive speed.

[/info]

I really need money for backup drives, but I don't have any (yet).
But what there is on my drives, can always be download again from the FTP.

Isn't eSATA some external connection port that leads into an internal SATA port?
If so, I got one in my pc with cable and power cable with my motherboard.


I am thinking of also building an pc system later that acts as an file server (much TB planned).
I am good in designing those things on paper, but with mesurements and actually building, not really.

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 8:53 pm 
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DjRob wrote:
You can get SAN with Fiber connection :P
Way to expensive, but massive speed.


Yeah, I got fiber interfaces in my switch, using fiber between server and switch, and also between workstation and switch. I've measured up to 750MB/s between the workstation and server :P. I can get even more if I reallocate the ports on the switch.

DjRob wrote:
Isn't eSATA some external connection port that leads into an internal SATA port?
If so, I got one in my pc with cable and power cable with my motherboard.


eSATA is just an external SATA port. It has the same speed as an internal port, but the connector looks a bit different, so you can't just connect an internal SATA cable onto an external port. The internal port looks like a horizontal "L" where as the eSATA doesn't have that end nudge.. "l" and it's a bit longer. But performance wise it's the same, the computer doesn't even know that it's an eSATA, it just treats it as an another SATA port.

Image

Internal SATA to the left, external eSATA to the right.

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 8:58 pm 
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Yep, I got one.

Only 1 cable, I have 2 ports.

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 10:28 pm 
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Quote:
Each cable (including the adapter that interconnects the internal SATA to external eSATA) costs approx €100.

seriously? €100? I know that my conversion to USD isn't all that great, but that is one heluva expensive cable. I got an eSATA cable and backplate adapter to connect my mother's backup drive through eSata and it didn't cost more than $15USD... where do you get your cables from?... and how long are these buggers?

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 10:59 pm 
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Yes, well it's not just an ordinary SATA<>eSATA cable. The bracket that converts my internal SATA connectors to the "outside" of the computer is actually an infiniband connector. That expensive cable is the infiniband<>4x eSATA cable.

The back of any ATX case has only a limited amount of space to mount cables, and I don't want to pull the SATA cables directly from the RAID controller (which uses special mini-infiniband connectors) out the cabinet since if something would happen the entire card may be dislodged and damage the card, server or harddrives. The back usually have space for 6-7 PCI/PCI-Express cards. Since my two RAID controllers take up each one slot I have 4-5 slots left. If I used ordinary SATA<>eSATA adapters I would end up with four eSATA ports per bracket. That would give me a total of 4x4 ports, which is only half of what my server can hold (two 16-port controllers). And not to mention that the eSATA cables are quite flimsy, so they could easily disconnect from the back of the server if I start pulling at any cable. The infiniband cables are much more durable and used for all the high end SAN:s and other storage devices.

To get an idea I've added a few pics so you all understand why I choose the better and more expensive cable.

ImageImage
The regular 4-port SATA<>eSATA bracket, front and back


As you see I need a lot of these to cover all my RAID controller connectors, not to mention it would be a lot of wasted space on those brackets. I have not found these that can hold 8 connectors.

So instead I am going with this:

ImageImage
Infiniband<>SATA connectors, front and back


As you notice it holds 8 connectors per bracket. If I had 8 eSATA cables on the back of each of these they would easily pull out since they don't have any locking mechanism as some of the internal SATA cables have. And the last thing I want when tugging around is a random cable to jump out and corrupt my data.

This is the Infiniband<>eSATA cable which costs €80:

Image


As you see the Infiniband connector sits very tightly in the server, so it will not disconnect or move if I move around the external cabinets. And on the other side you got four eSATA connectors that connects directly to the Stardom cabinets I will use. The less movable stuff you got on the outside the better. And nothing will move inside the server no matter how much I tug the external eSATA cables.

So yes it's expensive, but if you want to do it right from the start you better do it well :). Remember also that I can use this configuration for any motherboard SATA connectors as well, I plan to add one of these cabinets to my workstation to hold additionally four drives (the insides of the workstation had 8 SATA ports, but the cabinet can only hold two drives and one optical drive. Both drives are used in a mirrored RAID config for the system drive). So it will be safe and sturdy.

So bracket + cable is approx €100 (including shipping). Remember these are also high quality cables, not some regular el cheapo cable you get at the local e-mart. Both the cable and bracket are enterprise graded for maximum throughput (feeding 1200MB/s through one connector requires a certain degree of quality).

But if anyone can come up with a better and cheaper solution I am all for considering it as an alternative solution. I want a good config of course, but it can't cost too much.

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 11:05 pm 
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That IS one helluva cable... thanks for the lesson
IF I ever get some money together, the first thing to be replaced is my already aged new webserver, and make a new File\Web\Media AIO system and just run the A\V cables through the heating duct (following the Gigabit Lan that already runs through them)
I may use your idea to save me some money and just keep a massive backup\storage drive in my PC lab instead...

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Fri Apr 17, 2009 12:28 am 
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Glad to hear that you are recovering from that disaster. And thanks for info on recovery software.

Personally I'm not going to do something that big in the near future, but thanks again for the update on your condition.


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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Fri Apr 17, 2009 7:07 am 
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Seems I've found the recovery application I needed! Recover My Files has a very simple user interface, and it's quite easy to use and somewhat lacking of advanced features. Even the name is somewhat suspicious (I've learned that the simpler the name is the higher risk of it being a bad application full of annoying toolbar ads and stuff like that. So I was very suspicious when I installed this app, the name is too simple!)

But it does what it's supposed to to do: It does a sector scan of the drive, it identifies each file system (NTFS and FAT supported), folder and file, and it returns the result in a simple UI that allows you to select individual files and folders to recover. No frills, no advanced technical mumbo jumbo, no cool progress bars, sector views or anything like that. And it works on my Server 2008 x64 system, identifying each drive by its logical number and drive name, so even if the drive didn't have a proper file system I would still be able to scan it by its logical drive number.

It took a few hours to scan through one of my drives, but it presented all the files and folders as they were before the disaster! I selected the lot and I am now recovering all of it to a secondary drive. After that I'll run through the par2 files I got in each folder and see if there were any files damaged. But from doing a few sample recoveries it seems it managed to recover the files flawlessly! So we'll see in a few hours how well it went. If this works I'll repeat the same for each drive that got corrupted and perhaps I'll manage to recover all my files!

Stay tuned for final reports... :P.

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Sat Apr 18, 2009 9:36 am 
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Recover My Files is _very_ slow. On a drive with a lot of image files it's taken over 20 hours to scan now and it's not progressed beyond 10-15%... Quite bad if you ask me. I am currently evaluating one other app (Active@ UNDELETE) and it looks quite professional and thought out. I am scanning the same drive to get an idea of the speed difference.

I also tried other recovery apps, check back to the first post for updates.

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Sun Apr 19, 2009 10:44 pm 
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Holy [censored] that is a long time, I went 666.6 miles (haha funny umber) away for a few days and your still working on it! I fell bad for you :(.


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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 2:34 pm 
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RECOVERY DONE! :P

And the recovery app winner is.... *drumroll*

File Scavanger!

It may have a terrible UI, but the app is very small and it actually does what I need it to do:

  • Do a raw scan of the harddrive
  • Present info about what it recovered in realtime (in this apps case, it shows how many files it found)
  • Allow me to browse the files in a tree format, which allows me to restore the full set with folders and filenames.

On top of that it was quite fast, much faster than any of the enterprise applications I tried. It also allowed me to browse files on other partitions it found on the drive. And it didn't freeze up or crash once, not even on my multi-million file recovery job.

So end result? I lost about 100MB files. After some checking these were actually files Windows destroyed while trying to fix them using chkdsk. Another "whooho" for Microsoft... (li). But all and all I didn't lose anything absolutely vital. I lost some fonts, some funny vids and some ebooks. I might have corrupted some other stuff as well, but I guess I'll know when I find the bad files. So, first I lost about 10TB, recovered everything except 100MB. I would call that a success really. And I am quite pleased with the results.

So what happens now? I am duplicating EVERYTHING I got onto an external harddrive. As I get my new harddrive cabinets I'll re-integrate them into the server system (while keeping the backup drives offline of course). Right now I am trying to consolidate as much data as possible, moving data from smaller harddrives to larger ones so I can remove more drives from the server, lower power usage and noise. And also make backup easier by managing less harddrives.

The end :P

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 3:16 am 
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mrpijey wrote:
I lost some fonts


We all knwo you still have more than a gig of fonts ;). Glad to hear you didnt really loose much, now you will have to upload some to ba ;).


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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 6:49 am 
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Naturally I don't upload any fonts to BA since it's not beta or abandonware. As for the rest of my stuff it's stuff not suitable for BA. I do have quite a lot of abandonware and some other stuff that I can upload to BA, but that is stored on an external drive and I have yet to sort and pack it up before any release.

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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 8:36 am 
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Because of your experiences with Microsoft and NTFS, are you going to continue using that combination with your backup drives? If not, which operating system (presumably Linux?) and which file system will you be using?

I'm asking because I had a horrifying situation with a few of my 500GB drives earlier this year. Out of the blue, one of them had apparently become corrupted and Windows would try to fix it during start up. That did nothing, but thankfully, running chkdsk manually solved the issue. I didn't loose any data and it seems that no corruption occurred either (MD5 sums are a lifesaver), but I still haven't checked all of my data yet nor the data on unaffected drives (that's over 2TB of data to make MD5 sums of :(). Seeing your situation has sort of compelled me to reconsider my choice of Windows and NTFS.


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 PostPost subject: Re: In the aftermath of a digital nuclear disaster...        Posted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:02 am 
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For the moment I will keep on using Windows Server 2008 only because I already have a working setup (my server runs a lot of stuff). I have however considered splitting my server into a pure file server running a *nix OS (most likely BSD or CentOS) and a smaller server running Windows Server 2008 for my email server, FTP server and other services. Either way I will keep this "manual mirror" setup because I don't trust any other solutions. I can't afford a real enterprise solution (a hardware RAID-based SAN system that carries 16 drives over a fibre link costs over 30000 dollars! WITHOUT harddrives!) so this will have to do.

What I suggest you do is that you add PAR2 info to all your files worth keeping, and that you duplicate it onto a drive you put on a dust free shelf somewhere. It's quite easy when you got only a few drives. In my situation it's a pain but it's either that or risk losing years of stuff. The storage technology can't keep up with my pace (most of my drives are 2TB drives already) so there's no easy way to consolidate my data into larger drives. High density tape backup is way too expensive and slow, and storage SAN:s are just too expensive. All I can hope is that SSD technology development speeds up and prices go down. SSD:s are much more durable when it comes to moving data around, and the backup process will also be much more faster and safer.

PAR2 gives you a chance to recover bad and lost files, it also helps you verify existing ones. It takes up extra space yes, but what's more important to you, keeping the data with the chance of recovery or save a few bucks by squeezing in all data without any redundancy? I have already in the past deleted stuff from my drives I considered to be obsolete (such as old applications etc) and tried to keep my collection as fresh and possible. But now I've reached a limit on what I can delete without losing stuff I really want to keep. It's a very fine balance :).

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