It is very important to back up your data in the event of a software or hardware failure.  But what happens when the back-up medium fails?  More specifically, a Network Attached Storage or file server?  I am one of those people that put data on their NAS. However, considering the drives were RAID 1, not all the data on the NAS was also on the computer.  That means, in a perfect world I would spend the money and resources to back up the NAS itself.  Unfortunately, for my personal use, I did not do this.

A Network Attached Storage is a server that is only a file server.  If I were to build or buy a server, I could make it into a web, exchange, ftp, virtualization, Windows Security Update Server, or a file/back up server.  The factors to consider are the physical resources of the server, and the risk associated with putting x-amount of services on the server.  If the server fails on a hardware level, all that is being run on the server fails.  You also want the server to run optimally, so putting everything on one server may not be physically feasible.  A Network Attached Storage as an OS that is a firmware, and is only a file server.  Firmware is an OS that resides on a ROM chip, or Read Only Memory.  It’s basic, and that’s the advantage of it.  I literally plugged the NAS from the box, into my network, and I saw the NAS.  I then easily configured it, and it worked.  Setting up servers do not go as smoothly as that all the time.  With that said, this NAS was in RAID 1.

RAID 1 data recoveryI thought I was safe.  The file server was in RAID 1, so if one hard drive fails the other kicks on until I replace the drive.  What happened to me was very preventable in another way.  There was a power outage, and it turned out after some troubleshooting that both hard drives, their data was corrupt.  This totally negates my back up solution, because the RAID was broken.  And, the data was very important to me.  To prevent this from happening, the NAS should of been on an Uninterruptible Power Supply.  I had experience in data recovery, but not of this magnitude.  I did basic troubleshooting.  I could only access the firmware through windows, not the data.  When I booted to a Linux Live CD, Linux didn’t pick up the data, even though the NAS uses the ext file system, a file system used by Linux.

Just to see how much it would cost to have someone else do it, I discovered file recovery would cost $700 just to get the data back, then another $300 dollars to buy a new NAS. So either I reformat the drives or I find out how to do this on my own.

I decided to take a drive from the server and hook it up locally on my computer. I have an adapter that takes any internal hard drive and converts it to USB.  Taking the drives out of the NAS was really easy, they are designed to be taken out eventually.  I hooked the drive up, and 9 partitions showed up in Computer.  Because the file system was so damaged, the overall partition was broken into 9.  I tried accessing the partitions, but could not.  I tried Linux.  The distribution I was using was Ubuntu, so it is GUI based.  I did some basic commands, as well as using the GUI, and nothing was found.  So I went back onto Windows.  What bothered me was that I could access the firmware, the software that would reset the server, yet I couldn’t access the data.  It turns out from digging on the internet, the OS of the NAS is put onto the drives.  This “default” software state is from part of the OS residing on a ROM chip.  It’s the last straw so to speak, and it allows that in his event, I would still have a file server.

At this point, I needed a third party program.  I am completely ignorant in this regard.  I’ve always been able to use Linux or Windows to extract data off of the drive.  In the Windows XP days, I used the recovery console to salvage files if I had to.  I have never had to use third party software to extract data from an extremely corrupt drive.

I did some reading, and I know there are other solutions out there that could be more affordable or better, but I was able to use a demo to see if the program could see the drive.  R-Studio v8 was the program I ran into.  The program saw the drive, and then scanned every sector of the drive.  What was interesting is after the scan, there were four partitions found that used the ext file system.  I was able to browse these partitions.  And after navigating through the directory tree on the last partition (I thought my data was lost), I could finally see my data.  In order to recover those files, I needed to purchase a license.  Considering my adapter, as well as the fact that it seems data recovery seems more probable local than over the network, I went for the local license rather than the network license.  It cost $80.  I have the program for life, and it is much cheaper than spending $1000 to get my data back.  R-Studio v8 recovered my data, flawlessly.  Now my data resides on my new gaming rig, until I can scrounge up enough money to get a UPS for not only my server, but my computer as well.  Then, I will reformat the NAS, get the NAS back, and place my data back onto the file server with RAID 1.  These are the lessons that I have learned from this experience, and I hope anyone who is reading this learns from this as well:

  1. Use an Uninterruptible Power Supply!
  2. If you have the resources, back up a server even if it is in RAID.
  3. Retrieving data locally seems to be more successful than over the network.  So get an adapter!
  4. There are many different data retrieval software solutions out on the market.  Many of which probably work well, and could possibly be more affordable than my choice of R-Studio v8.  R-Studio worked flawlessly for me and allowed me to have my data back.  For that I am forever grateful.
  5. Believe in yourself that you can crack this on your own.  I was very anxious and didn’t think I could really do it.  It’s completely feasible, especially if you find the right software.  Finding the right software is hit or miss, so find something that allows you to use it as a demo, to at least see if it sees your data.  This ultimately made me buy R-Studio.
  6. There are network solutions to retrieve data over a network, and may work over a Virtual Private Network (VPN).  That’s the only real motivator for me to use a networking package.

I know this article was very personal, and is one example.  But I hope you, the reader, realizes there could be a power outage that corrupts all of your data, even if it is in RAID.  Back up your data!  Finally, with any high anxiety producing problem, try to step away from the situation, and come back with a clear mind.  I wish you the best of luck with your data recovery endeavors, as data can have a lot of sentimental value.

This article was written by Jon Brengle. Join our free computer repair forums to ask Jon about tech questions or data recovery techniques.