All of my servers are currently flooded by salt water. Is it possible for each platter in a multi-platter drive to be separated, cleaned, imaged, and merged into a new virtual drive for data recovery?

  • 63
    +1 Now that's what I call hope! Nov 9, 2012 at 13:52
  • 10
    Hopefully you have off-site backups? If not, this will either be impossible or expensive (for professional data recovery).
    – In silico
    Nov 9, 2012 at 13:55
  • 30
    If the data is valuable, call a high-end data recovery specialist immediately and don't do anything other than what they tell you to do. Nov 9, 2012 at 15:41
  • 35
    Everyone saying "Don't you have backups?", please stop. Clearly he does not or he'd not be posting here. "You should have had backups" is just as bad. He's well aware of that. Nov 9, 2012 at 22:47
  • 5
    FWIW, the amount of water infiltrated into the drive should be minimal if any. Drives are entirely sealed except for a single small airhole, which means that it's unlikely that more then a few cc would have entered if any at all. But the controller almost certainly needs to be repaired/replaced, and the internals of the drive should be cleaned before you attempt to spin it up.
    – tylerl
    Nov 10, 2012 at 3:22

4 Answers 4


I almost cringe to do this, but if you're serious about recovering your data, and you don't have backups, you'll need a higher-end data recovery service.
Watch out for fly-by-nights shops that will be peddling/scamming in your area, and go with an actual top-tier data recovery service. (And be prepared to pay $$$$ for it.)

Here's a list of what to look at:

  1. Your data.

    • These services are expensive, generally starting at over $1000 a drive, so you need to decide if your data's really worth the cost of recovering it.

  2. Recovery company's history.

    • If they haven't been around for at least several years, and in the data recovery field, they're probably not worth considering.
    • Top-tier companies will have a portfolio of the more interesting or challenging recoveries they've done. Take a look at those, and make sure the guys you choose have enough experience with water-damaged hard drives that it's just another day in the office for them.

  3. Recovery company's clientele

    • Top tier companies are generally contracted by law enforcement and law firms for cases where someone deliberately tried to destroy a hard drive, so if you find one that's worked with a lot of police departments or on a lot of legal cases, they're probably a good one. (Generally this becomes public record at trial too, allowing them to disclose their involvement.)

  4. Recovery company's facilities

    • Not that you should expect a tour, but you're looking for clean rooms, labs and proprietary or custom tools they've developed to recover data from physically damaged media.

And I don't generally do this, but since the other answer has a link I'd be a little wary of, I'll throw out a recommendation of sorts. These guys are good, (expensive as hell, but good), and if you decide to go down this route you should look at them, if only for nothing more than to compare other data recovery services against.

EDIT: And as mentioned in the comments by @Grant, DO NOT take it to a lower-quality data recovery service first, because both the data recovery process itself and the passage of time will do [additional] irreversible damage to your drives. If you decide later to try someone better or more qualified, your earlier decision will have increased the cost and decreased the results.

  • 44
    +1 Remember you only get one chance at this - if you try the guys that charge $100 and they fail, you won't get the chance to try the more expensive (and competent) companies. And even if you pay the money, there's no guarantee you'll get all, or even any, of your data back. Now might be a good time to start thinking about future disaster recovery planning and offsite backups.
    – Grant
    Nov 9, 2012 at 15:06
  • 8
    +1, not trying to name-drop either, but Driver Savers are the guys that restored Mat Honan's data, and "Bank of America, FedEx, General Electric, Eastman Kodak, Google, Yahoo, Morgan Stanley and many more."
    – Matt
    Nov 9, 2012 at 16:46
  • 1
    The ones you linked to in your article offer a free evaluation for Sandy victims: krollontrack.com/company/news-releases/?getPressRelease=61861
    – rickyduck
    Nov 12, 2012 at 11:45
  • 1
    Not sure, but it seems that this story may have made Kroll Ontrack's data recovery hall of fame... Jan 17, 2014 at 21:39

There are already many companies providing services for this, for example 24HourData (their site has a list of drives they support).

While you figure out your next steps keep these things in mind
(from Top Tips for Liquid Damaged Data Storage Devices)

  1. Do not try to power on a flood damaged hard drive
    bad things happen to good hard drives when this is done!

  2. Strange as it may seem, in most cases it is not wise to allow your device to dry off.
    Sealing your water damaged media in an air tight container and getting it to a data recovery company is definitely the best option if you need your data back.

  3. Do not presume that only the electronics will be affected and attempt to swap PCBs or components - doing so may prove dangerous to yourself and your drive.

  4. Don't open up your hard drive under any circumstances
    (unless of course you don't mind losing you data).

  5. If you have a backup copy of your data and therefore don't need a data recovery service, backup the backup, they say that bad luck comes in threes!

Highlights in these points are mine.

  • 6
    Be wary of anyone who has a list of compatible drives - probably means they're using a software-based solution and not tools that can deal with physically damaged media. Nov 9, 2012 at 14:46
  • 13
    "24 Hour Data recovers hard disk drives, RAID drives..." That wording would make me a bit twitchy.
    – ceejayoz
    Nov 9, 2012 at 15:05
  • 1
    @ceejayoz That wording is probably fine. They are probably trying to say they can recover data of groups of disk from the same RAID array because their tools understand the on-disk format of various RAID implementations.
    – longneck
    Nov 9, 2012 at 17:30
  • I was surprised to see this, but their hard drive recovery sheet does mention fire and flood among the list of possible reasons for data loss. This does lead me to believe they've dealt with it before. Though, I can't imagine it's cheap!
    – svidgen
    Nov 9, 2012 at 17:46
  • @ceejayoz - I worked at a company called Total Recall that recovered hard drives. You would be surprised how many sys admins would call and say I know you guys recover hard drives but I have raid array that lost 2 drives. Any chance you can recover it? It is different but also the same. Our chance of recovery usually depended more on if the data was highly fragmented more than the damage to the raid drives.
    – Chad
    Nov 9, 2012 at 19:31

I know @HopelessN00b already mentioned this, and I'm not affiliated with them, but try this: Kroll Ontrack

From what I can tell, they handle some of the most difficult data recovery cases, including server, RAID, and forensic data recovery. Given that this is one of the leading data recovery companies, expect to pay dearly for their services. More information on their server data recovery services can be found here.

A cheap data recovery service is not the way to go. Data recovery is inherently a expensive and labor-intensive service, requiring state-of-the-art cleanrooms, highly specialized tools, and extensive experience. Even Ontrack itself says:

Note: Trying this on your own or through an inexperienced data recovery provider may lead to further damage to the drive.

To answer your question, yes, it should be able to recover data and store it into a working drive(s). This is what Kroll Ontrack does.

  • 1
    +1 - I know this company, and they do a really good job!
    – Frederik
    Nov 9, 2012 at 16:56
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    I have used Kroll Ontrack (and visited them as they are in town) many times and they are top notch - even when recovering RAID data spanning multiple physical volumes. For consumer level recovery, DriveSavers have also been reliable and sometimes less costly than Kroll/Ontrack but I've never used anyone but Kroll when it was business critical data in play. Get a few quotes and good luck with your recovery decision.
    – bmike
    Nov 9, 2012 at 18:50
  • 5
    I'll add a note of caution re: my experience w/ them in 2010. They use fingerprinting tools to identify files for recovery. I wanted ASCII text recovered and was willing to run "strings" on an image of the drive. I fought for a 2 weeks to get to talk to someone technical. They refused to just sell me a bitstream image of the drive even after I offered to pay quite a bit more than the $2K quoted to recover files their tools identified. It was maddening because there was a bitstream image of my drive sitting on a server at OnTrack, I had cash-in-hand ready to buy, but they wouldn't deal. Nov 9, 2012 at 20:52

Is it possible for each platter in a multi-platter drive to be separated, cleaned, imaged, and merged into a new virtual drive for data recovery?

As you would have read in other articles, the answer to this question is "yes". What you would not have read yet is that it is not an unconditional "yes". Data recovery companies would do what is called a "best-effort recovery" - i.e. they will clean the platters and use specialized equipment to read your data off them, but there is absolutely no guarantee your data is still what it used to be - be prepared for losses. Also, be prepared for a massive bill, even if your data could only be partially recovered.

Hard disk drives are not hermetically sealed, they have a venting hole so pressure differences between inside and outside would not deform the drive's case. So salt water would be able intrude into the drive upon immersion. And as is widely known, salt water is going to cause massive corrosion. The magnetic material on the platters is typically protected by carbon overcoat, but it would be overly optimistic to believe that no data bits would be affected.

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