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A new study from Kroll Ontrack about data recovery services points to the ways data–and our tendency to lose it–has transformed our lives.

Kroll Ontrack crunched the numbers on the data recovery services it had performed over the years (it’s been in the business for a quarter-century). The most startling statistic? Today, Kroll Ontrack recovers 35 million GB of data a year (35 PB)–a suitably huge number. But in 1987, Kroll Ontrack only recovered a measly 1.2 GB of data, total–the merest fraction of what your laptop’s hard drive is capable of holding.

As our creation and use of data has skyrocketed over the years, it’s no surprise to learn that data recovery had become a bigger and bigger deal. Kroll Ontrack puts some interesting numbers on this, though: for example, in the second half of the 1980’s, there were about 7,000 devices per million people, and roughly 33,000 of these experienced data loss. By last year, there were 200,000 devices per million people and 1.4 million cases of data loss.

Another interesting tidbit from Kroll Ontrack: only about a quarter of data loss cases are due to human error; over half of the time, you’re justified in cursing at your computer for failing you, since some 56% of data loss is a result of hardware failure.

It’s pretty fascinating some of the feats that data recovery providers can pull off. Said Kroll Ontrack’s Todd Johnson in a release: “In the past 25 years, the worst cases Kroll Ontrack has seen have coincided with natural disasters, which included burned, water logged and physically damaged drive… Despite this, even in extreme situations, Kroll Ontrack has been successfully recovering incredible amounts of digital information in both our global recovery labs and cleanrooms. For example, one of the company’s most successful endeavors was the recovery of more than 99 percent of mission-critical data from a melted, crashed and burned drive from the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia.” Disasters like floods or fires only account for 3% of Kroll Ontrack’s cases, though.

And how about the amount of data out there overall? IDC Digital Universe says that our data collectively doubles each year; this year it should hit 1.8 “zettabytes.” As Kroll Ontrack puts it: “That is the equivalent of 200 billion two-hour long HD movies that one person would have to watch continuously for 47 million years.” (I think I would tire even of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at that point.)

For more details on the Kroll Ontrack study, check out the nifty infographic on their site.

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Tagged: Computing

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