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History of Data Recovery

June 23, 2014

Since the invention of the first mechanical computers, data recovery has been an important (and often indispensable) service. While was one of the first modern companies to offer options for damaged hard drives, corrupt files, and other data loss issues, the origins of data recovery go back much further than the digital revolution of the late 1990s.

Essentially, the term “data recovery” refers to the many methods that engineers can use to extract data from an inaccessible or damaged medium. The origins of the science can be traced back to the innovations introduced by Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, who developed the first mechanical computers.

The First Computer (and the First Data Recovery Attempts)

In 1833, Babbage created the Analytical Engine, a “programmable” machine that introduced the concepts for modern computer components. He worked on the plans for the engine for 11 years, then reported his discoveries at a seminar in Italy in 1841. An Italian named Menabrea wrote an article about Babbage’s invention, and the published summary of the seminar appeared in French publications soon after.

Ada Lovelace read the article and suggested notes to Babbage in 1843. Her notes were three times the length of the original article, and she collaborated with Babbage to finish the Analytical Engine, often considered to be the first example of modern computing technology. The engine’s programs were punched onto Jacquard cards, and the machine was known as a “punch card system” as a result.

Unfortunately, this meant that the machine relied on clean mechanical operation. When one of the punch cards was damaged during handling, Babbage and Lovelace attempted to repair the card – the first instance of a data recovery attempt. They were unable to restore the card successfully.

The Rise of Computer Technology and the Data Recovery Industry

Through the 1900s, computer technology played a growing role in industry, military development, and eventually personal entertainment. The first multipurpose computer, ENIAC (for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) was introduced in 1946. Developed by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly at the University of Pennsylvania, the ENIAC was nicknamed the “Giant Brain.” It was first used to develop firing tables for military applications.

The ENIAC was programmed with switches and plugboards, so data loss wasn’t an issue; however, ENIAC’s development eventually led to the computers with long-term data storage capabilities. In 1952, IBM introduced the first magnetic tape drive vacuum column for data storage.

Before the column was introduced, weak magnetic tape was used to store data. The fragile magnetic tape was a reasonable means for storage, but there was a high chance of breakage or tape read issues. With the IBM vacuum column, the tape was held down by a vacuum during movement. The decrease in breakage resulted in a less occurrence of data loss and made data easier to retrieve when there was a problem.

In 1962, the Logic probe was introduced. The Logic probe is used on electronic logic circuits to look into failed chips. While the Logic probe only indicates state changes, it helps to identify the basic reason a chip may be failing. This technology made data recovery a much more important (and potentially valuable) process, but data recovery procedures were still performed by the owners of the computer – not by a third party.

The Rise of the Data Recovery Industry in the 1990s

The late 1980s saw a substantial increase in the use of home computers, thanks in part to significant changes in digital storage technology. Floppy disks and hard drives came into widespread use. Tape cartridge and reel-to-reel technology also continued to improve, and computers became more of a necessity than a competitive advantage.

This was especially true with the rise of the Internet in the early 1990s. Data storage became essential, but as storage devices became more complex, recovering data from damaged devices became more of a challenge. Third-party hard drive data recovery companies were a necessity.

With an initial client base consisting of computer professionals near Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, ESS Data Recovery was established in 1997. We introduced numerous early innovations, including one of the world’s first fully certified data recovery clean rooms. Our Class 5 clean room allowed our engineers to recover data from sensitive hard drives, and we grew substantially through the late 1990s.

In 2008, ESS Data Recovery, Inc. purchased for $1,659,000, one of the most expensive domain name purchases in history. The new introduced various other innovations in data recovery science including advanced hard drive microcode repair and customized hardware for solid-state drives and RAID arrays.