Archive for January, 2014

Our New NAS File Server

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

NAS with Datlabs linkI don’t know about you, but these days the family environment is a busy one when it comes to IT and computers. My eldest daughter has her own laptop and my youngest daughter has an IPad. They both have smartphones too. As well and texting and all the other things teenagers use their mobile phones for, they also take a lot of photographs that want to save.

Saving this data on the family iMac was fine – there was plenty os space and it was an easy thing to achieve but as time went by there was more and more data to store – more photos, more videos and now music too. Using the internet to search for an answer to my problem, my attention was drawn to Network Attached Storage, otherwise known as NAS. Basically these are devices that connect to the router in your house an allow anyone connected to that router to use them. Great I thought – I’ll get one of those !

So I did, everyone was happy. It came in a nice box with a link to Datlabs NAS Data Recovery Services, who I could call if I needed any technical assistance setting the NAS up and getting it working correctly. I just plugged it in, typed our password and it installed itself on our network. The first thing to do was to transfer all our photos, videos and music data from our family Mac onto the NAS. That was easy – a simple drag and drop operation saw that completed without any problems. There was a lot of data – some 50GB or so… How do teenagers make so much data?? All of which was of course, essential to them.

Anyway with that done I set about cleaning the Mac up and deleting files and folders. Another 30 minutes or so and this was completed. The first thug I noticed was the the machine began to run a lot quicker – which was a result I was very pleased with.

Next I took a look at the configuration of our new NAS device. It’s a 4 disk Linux based storage device that runs RAID 5. This means that the data it holds is spread across the whole 4 disks instead of one. That’s a bit odd I thought but after closer investigation I learned that this was infact a good thing. It allows one drive to fail and my data to still survive without being lost. RAID 5 also provide enhanced data read speeds too – something that was evident from the moment we began using our NAS file server concurrently. My daughters could watch their movies while I was able to stream music from it. This all worked fine – something that we could never do before on the Mac as it was just not quick enough.

So introducing a NAS RAID file server into our home environment has been a great success. Installing it was easy and I didn’t need to contact Datlabs for help in setting it up, I do think I’ll keep their link though just incase anything happens to the NAS that I can’t sort out myself.

Recovering Data From A Failed Council SAN Server

Monday, January 27th, 2014

As a contractor in the computer support industry I come into a lot of contact with servers and RAID arrays. In fact, my main job is looking after the data held on SAN servers and other form of Network Attached Storage. I work for companies and government institutions as a sort of freelance computer troubleshooter and mostly use IBM, Dell and HP server equipment. The Dell servers are typically Dell Poweredge series and the HP kit is mainly Proliant. Again the equipment is hooked up to a SAN data network.

Data redundancy is a big problem of mine, it’s what happens when I inherit old legacy systems that really should have been decommissioned years ago but because of budgetary constraints have continued to be used. I work on several HP Proliant and Dell SAN servers that I’d love to switch off and migrate the data onto something far more up to date like a Dell Blade or IBM X Server system. Unfortunately, I don’t really have any say in buying new equipment.

Older servers and computer equipment fails more regularly, it just does. It wears out, hard drive fail, memory goes bad and UPS’s fail. What greeted me when I came into work last Monday was a failed SAN server array – 12 disks running in a RAID 5 configuration with a hot spare. Analysis of the server logs showed that one of the hard drives had dropped out of the array on Saturday causing the hot spare to click in. This had seemingly worked fine – the hot spare should simply be ‘rebuilt’ back into the array, but instead the whole array had fallen over.

SAN data recoveryIn the server room the SAN’s RAID BIOS reported that three of the hard drives had now dropped out from the array. Well, that would explain why the SAN server was no longer booting the array. What had caused the three drives to fail was at this point a mystery. The server in question was one that ran part of the council payroll so it was obviously important to get the SAN back up and running as soon as possible, but obviously this had to be done in a method that followed best practice. It became my task and no data could be lost in recovering the SAN either.

Now I’m good a IT and SAN server support I’ll admit but when I discover 2 of the 3 drives that had dropped from the array had mechanical faults, the problem was beyond my abilities. I used a data recovery company a few years back but they were no more. Searching online pointed me to a specialist SAN recovery company called RAID and Server Data Recovery, an online review or two told me they could be trusted and that they were recommended, so I called them.

I spoke to RAID and Server Data Recovery’s specialist SAN recovery team who confirmed what I thought already. Some of the drives had mechanical damage and would need clean room attention in order to progress the data recovery attempt. I got clearance for the costs from finance and loaded the SAN server into the car and drove it down to the recovery company.

Analysis showed 1 drive had a head crash while the other two had firmware issues. Firmware is code that runs the hard drive’s operating system. It can corrupt and when it does the hard drive fails. It seemed that this firmware problem was the cause of the SAN crashing and all that needed fixing was the firmware on the two failed drives. This was indeed the case and after the repairs to the hard disks were completed and the drives re-integrated back into the SAN RAID BIOS, the SAN came back online and the data was accessible again. Panic over. The data was fully restored which was the outcome everyone had wanted.

Data Recovery London Save My Life

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Tower Bridge, LondonNow those of you lucky (?) enough to know me will know that I spend a good portion of my time working out of an office in Central London. Some of you may even have visited me there and yes I have tidied up since the last time you visited ! I know I hardly ever tidy up but a new girlfriend in my life means I have to do these things in case she wants to drop in and visit me.

Another reason I had to tidy up was to avoid accidents like the one that happened to me last Thursday. There I was, enjoying my Burger King meal whilst surfing the net. The phone rang and I moved to answer it and managed to knock my Coke over. I’d taken the lid off and the result was the liquid missed my computer but spilt all over my external hard drive instead. It was one of those annoying calls trying to sell me something as well, so to say I was annoyed is putting it mildly.

Anyway I got rid of the call and cleaned up the mess. I then noticed that my external hard drive wasn’t working anymore… Hmm worrying.. I switched it on and off again but got no response, the lights weren’t coming on and the disk wasn’t making it’s usual whirring sound either.

I work to deadlines and although I didn’t have a deadline for that day I did for the week after and my external hard drive contained data that I didn’t have anywhere else. A few phone calls to some friends (yes I do have them) had me looking for data recovery companies or services. People who fix hard disks are not called ‘people who fix hard disks’, they are called ‘data recovery companies’ and finding a good one can be a difficult process. I assumed that all data recovery companies are as capable as each other but this isn’t so. One data recovery company can be rubbish, whilst another one can be good. After looking around I choose Data Recovery London and I’m very pleased I did. They were able to rescue the data on my hard drive and also repair it so that it worked  again. This was a great outcome as all it meant I had to do was plug my hard drive back into my computer again and everything worked ! Thanks Data Recovery London, you saved my life, and quite possibly my job too.

Data Outage Hits Dropbox Users

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Dropbox logoOn the evening of Friday 10th January 2014, Dropbox engineers accidentally deployed a software upgrade to their active data servers, bringing down Dropbox completely. While the service was partially restored within three hours, some users were still experiencing issues more than 24 hours after the initial outage. Dropbox has issued an apology and reassured users that their data is safe following the significant service outage over the weekend.

Following a high profile password hijacking incident in 2012, Dropbox was swift to try and quell anxieties that Friday’s outage had been from a data violation or distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Instead a software bug was to blame and a Dropbox spokesman explained that despite running two copy “slave” machines, the bug resulted in many master machines as well as their slaves going down concurrently, producing a loss of service.

In addition, the company has developed applications to speed up the recovery of substantial MySQL copies, a tool Dropbox said would be published into the open source community so others could profit.

Dropbox had learned from this weekend’s troubles and had taken steps to ensure the bug wouldn’t be replicated. These measures contain an added level of tests that require machines to locally check their state before running incoming commands, which gives machines the right to reject orders when they would create a “harmful” consequence.

As the marketplace for affordable cloud storage grows, the outage once again emphasised the value for cloud storage companies to keep data reachable constantly so that customer belief can be preserved. The outage also demonstrated the brittle nature of cloud storage.

Using a CCTV DVR System to Monitor Your Business

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

CCTV and DVR SystemsSecurity is an important concern for any business.  Having a strong security system is not only important in terms of deterring and preventing theft, but it can also be an important factor in determining your insurance premiums.  Businesses need to worry about theft by local gang bangers as well as employees with access to inventory and the cash register.  Even a full time security guard does not have eyes in the back of his head.  To get the most comprehensive surveillance possible, you need video monitoring.  CCTV DVR systems represent a great system towards these ends.

Closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras are at the heart of any monitoring system.  These provide the watchful eye that scans your shop, potentially 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  These can be acquired in simple black and white, color, or even with infrared capability.  The latter is especially useful if they will be monitoring the place in the dark.

Each camera is outfitted with a lens that defines the viewing angle.  These lenses can be configured for a very wide fisheye style viewing angle to cover the most real estate possible.  They can also cover a narrow field if you need a close up view with detail, such as perhaps near a cash register where one might want to be able to catch the denominations of any bills pulled out.  Cameras can also have zoom lenses that can pan in and out when controlled remotely.

It is not uncommon for CCTV cameras in such a system to be hard wired directly to a digital video recorder (DVR) which will record all of the footage in real time.  However, many modern cameras are being produced to work without being physically wired in to any other device other than the electrical socket supplying power.  These usually have their own wireless data transmitter that is connected to a wireless router or hub.  This hub then usually connects to the worldwide web and the DVR. The DVR can be either at the location being monitored or somewhere off site where it is secured from being tampered with by employees or thieves.

There are many advantages to this setup.  First, this makes setting up the system relatively easy.  There is no need to worry about running cable lines from various parts of the establishment, which could require substantial refits to the premises.  Each camera in such a system can also be polled remotely using its assigned IP address in real time.  If the DVR fails for some reason, this could be useful for obtaining real time security.  Certain cameras might even have the ability to pan back and forth and zoom in and out.  These could then be controlled remotely using by the IP address with this setup if suspicious activity is observed.

The DVR’s primary function is to collect and store the incoming data.  In older systems this would have been handled by a video cassette recorder (VCR).  The obvious disadvantages of the latter system are (1) the short duration of the tape which requires frequent replacements, (2) the ability to only record one camera per VCR, and (3) the inability to go back and view previous video frames on the tape while it is still a problem.  DVRs solve all of these problems.

DVRs utilize a hard disk to store the data instead of a tape.  All video is digitized at the level of the CCTV and then compressed into a digital file using standard computer video formats.  Due to the speed of the digital processing power of the DVR, it can handle signals from many cameras at once, writing all the data onto different hard drive files as the data comes in.  Since computer hard drives can hold up to four terabytes of data, a lot of video can be stored before the old video would have to be backed up to some other sort of backup.  Since hard drives operate on the principle of random access, one can always go back and view any frame or multiple clips from multiple views simultaneously even though the system is still recording. As you probably know, hard drives can break from time to time and the data on them lost. Should this happen it’s frequently necessary to contact a CCTV or DVR data recovery specialist.

DVRs can be configured as standalone units, like home entertainment center DVRs, or as personal computers outfitted to perform the same function.  A computer DVR will give a business owner much more flexibility in terms of software that can be used in addition to software and hardware expansion possibilities.  However, a standalone unit can be more stable since it is usually not working on a bloated PC operating system that can be prone to crash.  Multiple PCs can be used, one off site and one on site, if crashes are a concern.  The latter configuration also provides some redundancy in case of an outgoing network failure effecting the off site DVR or physical tampering of the data at the on site unit.

CCTV DVR systems have provided business owners with more options to monitor their operations more efficiently. Deterring crime with 24/7 surveillance has never been more easy to install and cost effective.