Whilst working through the debris following a flooding incident, or where there has been a high volume of water ingress from fire suppressants (sprinkler systems, fire-fighter’s efforts), you find some backup tapes. Is there anything that can be done to recover the data from these? Or, will the effects of water ingress have destroyed any chances of seeing the data again?
The extent of the exposure to water and other contaminants will have a major bearing on the effort required for data recovery, and indeed whether any data will be recoverable. Whether the effort required is worthwhile will depend upon the value of the data, if you are lucky enough to still have records about tapes contents and to be able to visually identify the tapes then you might be able to segregate the tapes and put the most valuable ones to the head of the queue.
So now you have some tapes, possibly with varying degrees of exposure to water and other nasty things that it might contain, so what next?
Step One – Pre-categorisation of the tapes
Attempt to categorise tapes in accordance with their importance. This does rely on being able to read physical labels, and there being some surviving records, but if you can do this it could save time, cost, and prevent time being wasted on a tape from which data is not requires whilst a vital tape is sitting decaying.
Step Two – Prioritisation
Segregate the required tapes by the extent of their exposure, think of this as a triage process. This will enable the relatively speedy handling of tapes with minor problems, whilst those with more serious issues are assessed. You might at this point be in contact with a data recovery services , well you don’t want to be spending money on getting data from tapes where there is a bit of water splashed on the case, whilst unless you have considerable expertise with tape problems then attempting to dealt with media that has been submerged in mud or effluent is possibly not the best idea.
As a guide, but at your own risk.
Class 1 – Splashes of water on the outside of the tape, absolute confidence that the tape has not been submerged and that the inside of the tape cartridge is free from fluids.
These tapes can be dried and placed in a suitable environment for acclimatisation, there should then be no reason why data cannot be restored normally.
Class 2 – Immersed in water, but no sign of contaminants (mud etc). The immersion was not over a protracted time, so no more than a few hours.
It is likely that these tapes have water within the tape mechanism and they should not be used within a drive. The lack of any residue on the outside means that it is fairly fresh water that has affected them. These will still require careful cleaning internally, but the prospects for a complete recovery are good.
Class 3 – Long term immersion, more than a few hours, lots of grime and nasty stuff, or if sea water is involved.
These will almost certainly require re-casing and a lot of careful cleaning. With longer term immersion there is a greater chance of water ingress to the tape pack – the tape on the supply reel. Tape is pretty robust, but the longer the immersion the greater the chance of data loss. The important thing is that these are quickly dealt with, at least to get them to a Class 2 condition.
For Class 2 and Class 3 the following are critical:
Remember your own health. It is the contaminants in the water that will cause problems for the tape, but possibly also for you. Do you know where all of the water came from?
Do not let the tapes dry out. It is not the water that causes the problem but what it contains. The drying process will leave deposits on the tape surface, possibly it will result in damage to the tape. Seal the tapes so that they do not dry out.
Get the tapes dealt with quickly, in the meantime keep them in a cool place. The longer you wait the greater chance of problems. Water is the sustainer of life, so it will not take long for mould to develop.