What drives the cost of data recovery?

Professional data recovery is a highly specialized technical service. While price can't be completely taken out of the equation, it can't always be the driving factor when choosing a data recovery lab.

We’ll come right out and say it: Data recovery isn’t cheap. Professional data recovery is a highly specialized technical service. While price can’t be completely taken out of the equation, it can’t always be the driving factor when choosing a data recovery lab. It’s just like getting your car repaired. The cheapest mechanic is probably not the best one, but the most expensive one might not be either.

When it comes down to it, there are several factors that determine the cost of a data recovery at Gillware:

  • Human cost: Having a trained and experienced staff of mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and computer scientists is our number one cost. People with this specialized training are in extremely high demand and need to be compensated. Their salaries and benefits are our highest cost.
  • Overhead and Facilities: Basically, helping to keep the lights on. In order to maintain our ISO 5 Class 100 cleanroom, specialty recovery equipment and the rest of our secure facility, it costs money. Climate control is one of our highest costs since we run a lot of machines. Fun fact: Even when it got down to -15° this winter in Wisconsin, we had the air conditioning running.
  • Data Security and Controls: Information security is a hot topic in today’s world of data breaches and security hacks. Our operation is SOC 2 Type II security audited; performing the audit and maintaining our audit status costs money.
  • Research and Development: The storage industry pumps out tons of products every year, and none have an owner’s manual. Unlike an auto mechanic that can get trained to service different models of cars, we have to reverse engineer all these products ourselves and build training programs internally. Also unlike the mechanic, we can’t just buy a single replacement part when we need one, we have to buy a whole new car. On average, we actually have to buy two new drives, because we don’t know if they’ll have the same internal components until we get them.
  • Cleanroom bench time: This includes labor, or the pure man hours it takes to complete a data recovery. The more complicated the recovery is, the more time that needs to be spent on it, and the more it will end up costing. Our engineers need to eat too, so this is what goes to pay them for their time.
  • Replacement parts: Mechanical failures often require parts be replaced in order to recover data. Sourcing donor parts can be difficult, especially since hard drive components are extremely specific. Just like car parts, sometimes new drive parts need to be ordered, which can be costly.
  • Platter restoration: In cases of platter damage, Gillware’s unique platter restoration technology can help increase the chances of a successful data recovery. This advanced technique called burnishing is cutting edge, and though it is not necessary in every case, it can contribute to the cost of data recovery when necessary.
A platter being restored on the burnishing machine.

While the first four listed are fixed costs, the last three are variable costs that contribute to the overall cost of the data recovery.

But there are places out there charging way less than you guys, how is that possible?

We’re glad you asked. Just like that ultra low cost, probably pretty sketchy auto mechanic we talked about earlier, there are cheap data recovery labs out there. But how do they get their costs so low?

  • No cleanrooms: Oftentimes, low cost recovery companies have makeshift cleanroom facilities that do not meet the high standards for ISO certification that Gillware’s facilities meet. Opening a hard drive outside of a cleanroom environment is extremely risky, since even a speck of dust on a platter can be enough to cause a head crash. Head crashes mean platter damage and platter damage can mean unrecoverable data.
  • Low quality engineers: While there are no formal certifications for data recovery, engineers with little to no experience will charge less, however they will also have a drastically lower rate of success. If you choose a data recovery provider with flat-rate or unusually low pricing, they likely do not have a high quality engineering staff.
  • Low success rates: Speaking of, lower cost labs will also typically have higher rates of failure than more reputable labs. If a low grade lab attempts data recovery on a device and fails, it makes data recovery in a better lab much more difficult. Alternatively, these labs also keep their prices low by failing more difficult cases (that might be recoverable in a good lab) and only taking on the easy, inexpensive ones.
  • Not financially risk free: At Gillware, you only pay us if we’re able to recover the data you want back. End of story. In order to keep our recovery process financially risk free, our service charges are a little higher. The alternatives to our no data, no charge model are the inexpensive labs that charge you even if they are unsuccessful. They make money on “attempt fees” or “evaluation fees” that are nonrefundable, so they can charge less per case. Sounds shady, right? It is.
  • Non-secure facilities: Security measures cost money, whether it’s key fob restricted entry to facilities, surveillance video, equipment tracking measures or secure computer networks. When data recovery providers cut costs, the security of their operation suffers.

So what about the labs that charge way more than you do? Are they better?

Great question. The simple answer is no. You don’t need to take your car to the overpriced luxury dealership mechanic when another shop will do just fine. Gillware is one of the leading data recovery labs in the country, and has success rates, recovery techniques and engineering capabilities comparable to more expensive labs, and in some cases more advanced. Then why do these other labs charge so much?

  • Huge marketing budgets: The reason you’ve probably heard of a lot of these labs is because their marketing departments are everywhere. And not just everywhere online, on tech websites, on the front page of Google search results. They’re everywhere in real life too. They’re in computer repair shops giving out free stickers and posters and mouse pads and what have you. They’re at trade shows and conferences handing out free stuff. All these costs add up, and they get transferred to you, the customer.
  • Higher profit margins: Charge more money, make more money, plain and simple.
  • Evaluation fees: Just like the sketchy labs, some of the high end labs also charge an evaluation fee, which increases the overall cost of recovery. Most of the time, this fee is nonrefundable if your data is unrecoverable. So even if a lab knows that you threw your hard drive down the stairs, shattered the platters with a hammer, then lit it on fire, they could still have you send it in, charge you the evaluation fee, and tell you what you already knew: the data is unrecoverable and you’re out $65.

All right, I get it. Now, how does Gillware control costs?

Our lab was founded by brothers Brian and Tyler Gill back in 2004 when Tyler couldn’t find an affordable solution to recover his lost data. Ever since, we’ve prided ourselves on having the best value in the data recovery industry. We’ve taken extensive measures to keep costs low and quality high.

  • Low profit margins: To keep costs low for our customers, we keep our markup to a minimum. You’re welcome world!
  • Low marketing budget: Instead of spending money on custom branded Gillware goodies to give away to every computer repair shop in the country whether they want it or not, we focus our marketing efforts on educational content, just like this blog post. It’s more cost effective and way more useful than a Gillware can koozie.
  • Partner network: Instead of spending lots of money on marketing to individual consumers using pay per click advertising on Google or other expensive advertising efforts, we rely on our computer repair Partners across the country to market our services to their customers. We build relationships with IT pros nationwide and in return they send business our way. It’s a win-win!

But your costs must be going up over time, right?

Kind of. Certain costs are going up, while others are coming down. Like any business, our costs for salary and benefits increase year to year. The salary requirements for experienced and degreed engineers has gone up. There’s  fierce competition for these types of talented individuals in the market (think Google, Facebook, and the likes). Hard drive replacement part costs tend to come down as there are fewer manufacturers to support as the industry consolidates. Research and development costs are rising with the advent of SSD failure. Facilities costs have increased as we add more industrial and electrical equipment and need more space (we’re about to increase our footprint by another 4000 square feet in 2016). Marketing costs have come down as we add hundreds of IT professionals to our partner networks.

Storage technology is evolving every day, and hard drive capacity is always increasing. In general, the higher capacity a hard drive, the more it costs to recover the data. Remember those factors we told you about that influence the cost of a recovery at Gillware? The two biggest factors making recoveries on newer drives more expensive are cleanroom bench time, and the cost of replacement parts.

Recoveries on the latest and greatest drives require more time on the cleanroom bench, since our engineers need time to develop recovery techniques for the newest technologies. Replacement parts are also more expensive. Since the drives are newer, donor parts are not as readily available. Newer parts are also more sensitive from a compatibility standpoint. Because of these factors, parts often need to be sourced by buying entire new drives instead of just the individual parts, which can be expensive.

However, as we see more and more 1-1.5TB drives come to our lab for recovery, prices are actually dropping gradually. What used to be the newest, most advanced drives are now more common. Our engineers have more experience on recoveries of these drives, so they require less time on the cleanroom bench. Additionally, as the drives become cheaper in general, donor parts become cheaper as a result and the overall cost of the recovery goes down.

All this is good news for our customers with higher capacity drives in need of recovery.

So what you’re saying is…

Send your data recovery cases to Gillware! For the highest quality at the most affordable cost, Gillware is the clear choice for all of your data recovery needs. Hands down.