A hard drive crashes and you lose six months of work. What happens next?

It's every academic's worst nightmare: a hard drive crashes in the department and a hundred people lose their data. Luckily you have a backup, but it turns out that it was not recent. It happened at WUR. The story below explains what you need to do if it happens to you.

Photo: Shutterstock

‘Our department has several computers that analyse data. These analyses are stored on one single large database on a central computer. The hard drive of that computer crashed. It took us a while to realise that something was very wrong. First, one of the analysis computers was unable to make a connection with the central computer. Only when I was unable to copy data from the broken hard drive did I really start to stress. The first question that jumped into my mind was: “when last did we make a backup?” It turned out that that was six months ago. We didn't know what to do. We'd lost six months of data of a hundred colleagues, while people were busy trying to finish up their theses or applying for patents.

‘It took us a while to realise that something was very wrong’

I then contacted the Functional Management Department of the Facility Service Information Technology (Facilitair Bedrijf Informatie Technologie, FB-IT). I knew that even if your hard drive had crashed, you could often still recover the data. However, the problem was that the drive wouldn't start up again. We didn't know yet that the locations where the data were saved were also affected. That's something we only discovered later. The people at FB-IT told us that they'd see what they could do for us.

Damaged data

Eventually they were able to copy the old database from the crashed hard drive. Fortunately, we had stored the data from each analysis computer in separate databases. This way they could be retrieved one by one. All except one, which was too damaged, were recovered. A few colleagues were severely affected by this, because it was precisely there that data was stored that they needed for their thesis, for example.

Photo: Shutterstock

Help from outside

ICT then got a few external experts involved and they eventually managed to copy the last bit of missing data. We just couldn't read it, because our database system was rather old-fashioned. The external people spent a few weeks trying to retrieve the data and, fortunately, they succeeded. The people in my department were elated when they heard the news, as some of them were finally able to get back to their work after two months of not being able to do anything.

‘Our data will now be safely stored in the two data bunkers on campus’

I decided then and there that this could never happen again. I contacted FB-IT to come up with a plan. Soon we will transition to external storage with real-time backup. Our data will now be safely stored in the two data bunkers on campus. If one of these crashes, the second bunker serves as the backup. Until then, we are doing at least one backup per week.

Secure your data

My best advice to my colleagues is to secure your data. It might be a cliché: things almost never go wrong, but when they do, they are catastrophic. Talk to FB-IT and find out what the best solution is for your situation. Of course it takes some time to make the right choice and set up a backup system, but once it’s up and running you don't have to worry about it again. We were incredibly luckily, but it could have just as easily resulted in people having to redo six months of work. But if things do go wrong, don't give up and just keep working on it together with FB-IT, as there are many ways to miraculously conjure up data from a broken drive.’

8 frequently asked questions

How can you prevent picking up a virus?

Use as few tools and programs that are free to download. Always work on a device on which the software is kept up-to-date (preferably from WUR or MyWorkspace) and be cautious about opening attachments or clicking on links from e-mails you do not trust.

How can you see if a link is safe?

Hover the mouse pointer over the link which will show you the actual address of the link. If in doubt, contact the IT Service Desk.

Is it convenient to use your private Gmail for WUR?

No, any information you send via Gmail may be used by Google. When you use a Gmail address, it cannot be determined whether you are a real WUR employee or student.

Can Dropbox, iCloud or Google Drive be used?

Only use these for storing private files. WUR offers secure alternatives for storing WUR data, such as Surfdrive, Teamsite, Projectshare and OneDrive for Business.

Can files be saved to the D: drive?

We advise you not to do this. You are responsible for making your own backups. The risk of data loss in case of a hard drive crash, virus or other incident is high. We therefore recommend that you use the M: drive. It offers you 50 GB of storage space which can be expanded if necessary.

Can all USB sticks be used at WUR?

Use only encrypted USB sticks. You are not allowed to use USB sticks to store your research data, as is stated in the WUR data policy.

How can you work safely when abroad (Wi-Fi, e-mail, MyWorkspace, data storage)?

Work via MyWorkspace as much as possible. Your data is then safely stored on the WUR servers and not locally on your device (which can be lost or broken).

How do you see that Wi-Fi access is secure?

Take warnings on your device seriously, especially about certificates. If in doubt delete the connection immediately. Use eduroam or pay for your Wi-Fi, then you know for sure who gives you access to the Wi-Fi and why.