Fried Your Drive?

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Restorations take place down the corridor, in an airtight clean room where engineers wear space-age bunny suits. Once a drive is painstakingly picked apart, cleaned and put back together, its contents are copied onto a bank of 31 servers. Then the engineers match the jumbled data to file types. This gets harder as the number of file types on a drive increases. Two months ago, San Francisco Web designer Kathleen Craig lost a laptopful of media in dozens of formats, including her resume and wedding pictures. DriveSavers was able to return 80%--lower than average, but for Craig, who had reconciled herself to the loss, that was far better than nothing.

The average bill at DriveSavers comes to about $900. More often than not, the data are worth more than that — especially to the 70% of DriveSavers customers that are corporations. The company has long-term contracts with the likes of AT&T, Apple and IBM. (Rival CBL Data Recovery Technologies, based in Toronto, has a similar deal with Microsoft.) The forensics lab at Deloitte & Touche uses DriveSavers for its most sensitive cases, such as the one last winter when a defendant in a court case who had been caught on security-camera footage threw the drive on which it was stored into an ice-covered lake. The drive was fished out by scuba divers and shipped to DriveSavers with lake debris still in it. "They were able to turn it around in two days," says Kris Haworth, Deloitte & Touche's senior manager of forensics.

Gaidano has no plans to expand the company beyond 40 employees or take it public. DriveSavers works so well, he says, precisely because it is small and nimble. Beyond acquiring expertise in new drive types — such as the CompactFlash cards used in digital cameras and the tiny drives in Apple's iPod — there is no need to diversify. Everyone seems happy with their compensation. Why bother to grow? CBL's CEO, Bill Margeson, currently expanding into Europe and Australia, says Gaidano and his troops are beholden to the Hollywood crowd and "haven't taken the initiative to go to new markets." But there are plenty of reasons for the Novato company to be happy in its anonymous home by the marsh — draining ice water out of drives, talking data losers down from their ledges and rescuing other people's love letters.

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