Famous Data Loss Disasters & How They Could Have Been Prevented

By Ritchie Fiddes, Sales Director, Backup Technology
April 05, 2010

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. If you have not learnt from the data loss disasters that are reported from time to time in the media and made the effort to avert such disasters in your organization or personal life, you will soon be joining the doomed in the disaster bandwagon.

Redundancy of backup is the secret guard against large scale data loss. Many savvy enterprises make sure that their mission critical data is duplicated and re-duplicated for reasons of security and high availability. They use online backup service provider repositories, tape libraries, disk arrays, mirror servers and a host of other backup technologies to backup and store vital information. They create elaborate business continuity and disaster recovery plans that enable them to get the business up and running within a few hours of the disaster.

Let us look at some of the famous data disasters that should be learning to us.

ERP upgrade Disasters that led to temporary data loss
ERP upgrade disasters of 1999-2000 was the first major indication to the market that enterprise software and data are vulnerable and it terrified everyone into thinking that any upgrade of the software would doom the enterprise to the same fate. It was also clear that enterprise software installations or upgrades affect the company’s business processes temporarily and their revenue can dip for at least six months during the installation or upgrade. Hersheys, Nike, HP and Oracle were some of the worst affected enterprises. They suffered losses to the tune of $100 billion or more in sales and 8-20% dips in stock values.

Why did it happen? Public opinion was that the disasters were “indicative of extremely poor judgment by the management”. However, a survey conducted by the CIO magazine revealed that only 9% of the companies that installed ERP systems had made the effort to house their ERP data in a third party data center for security and disaster recovery. Perhaps, they would not have suffered the losses if they had but put in place disaster recovery and business continuity plans, before they attempted the installation or upgrade.

Infamous Data Loss Triggered by Sinking Online Data Backup Companies
The last decade has been traumatic for several business entities when online storage companies like Xdrive, BeInSync, HP Upline, StreamLoad, Omnidrive, File 123 and Yahoo! Briefcase suddenly closed shop and data that was stored in their servers literally vanished into cyberspace. It dawned on many that the so called acclaimed online data backup services were not invulnerable and that one needs to look deeper into the business model of these organizations before entrusting valuable mission critical data to them.

Other Reported Famous Data Losses

Data that Flew out of the Helicopter Window: The most famous case of data loss that has been reported is the one from a global Telecommunications company whose employees dropped a laptop from a helicopter while working on it in flight.  Fortunately, for them all the files could be recovered from another data repository and sent through FTP server for a meeting at Hong Kong the next day.

Data that Got Shampooed out: A passenger packed away his laptop along with his toiletries for a flight. The shampoo leaked and ruined the circuits causing the hard drive to fail. Unfortunately the data could not be recovered.

Data that Dropped out of Joly’s World: Dom Joly the creator of Trigger Happy TV, lost all his data when he dropped his laptop.  The hard drive was damaged and he could not recover the five thousand photos; six thousand songs; half a book he was writing and all his old newspaper columns.

Data that was Baked in Fire: A UK University lost a large volume of data when a fire broke out in the Computer Science department during a weekend and damaged all the computers and equipment. The fire departments efforts to put out the fire with water added to their woes. A little more than a terabyte of data was recovered from 30 computers was rescued from the wreckage.

Banana Facts: A customer left a banana on his external hard drive. The banana decayed and released its fluids into the circuitry ruining it and causing the hard drive to fail. The circuitry was ultimately repaired.

Not So Hard to Drive Over your Hard Drive: People never seem to learn not to leave their hard drives or laptops where it can be run over. This type of disaster is infamously famous everywhere.

Drives Reformatted: A customer reformatted his hard drive ten times before it dawned on him that he needs to recover some valuable data from the drive.

Greasing the Squeaking Drive: A man sprayed WD-40 on his desktop drive, to prevent it squeaking. It stopped squeaking at once and refused to boot up. All data on the system was irretrievably lost.

Shipping in Old Socks: A customer shipped his hard drive to a data recovery unit wrapped in a pair of old socks. The drive reached the recovery unit with the data completely unrecoverable

About the author: Ritchie Fiddes is Sales Director at Backup Technology, a UK based data backup company specialising in business continuity.

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