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4/13/2003

Circuit saviors

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — When Shannon Schell goes to work, he dons a white lab coat, rubber gloves and a surgical mask.

But instead of standing over an operating table, the computer engineer sits at a flow bench — a table equipped with a filter designed to gently blow dust off the delicate parts of hard drives undergoing the equivalent of open heart surgery.

“When you give it back fixed, (the customers) think you’re god or Superman,” said Schell, 35.

Clients from as near as next door and as far as Tokyo call or visit Reynold’s Data Recovery, 1739 Terry St., hoping for a miracle, after all.

The data at stake — from a doctoral thesis to a mailing list to company secrets — will typically cost far more to replace than the damaged hard drive, he explained.

In the meantime, Reynold’s clients often suffer one or more of the classic computer crash-related symptoms, from elevated blood pressure and sweaty palms to cottonmouth.

“It’s a serious issue,” explained Reynold’s co-founder Mark Tessin, 41. “I’ve seen companies go out of business when their data is unrecoverable.”

One woman, Schell recalled, even broke into tears while describing the circumstances surrounding her hard drive crash.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I just handed her a box of tissue,” he said.

Everyone’s got a story, Tessin said. However, besides garden variety disasters — virus or worm infections, power surges, accidental file overwrites or deletions — Reynold’s repairs hard drives damaged by everything from coffee spills to lightning strikes.

One of the most surprising success stories, Schell explained, happened when a client forgot his laptop computer on the roof of his car. By the time he retraced the miles in between, multiple vehicles had rolled over it.

The cause-and-effect of data loss is not always so clear, Tessin said.

About half of Reynold’s caseload requires troubleshooting to determine if the failure is related to physical damage, file corruption or both.

Once a diagnosis has been made, the company boasts a 90 percent or better data recovery rate.

Since launching the computer ER firm in his garage 13 years ago with a Commodore 164, Tessin said, he and his staff have developed even more sophisticated software to aid them in this process.

Reynold’s own copyrighted Inspector Series software includes customized diagnostics, copiers and online backup utilities.

Reynold’s is authorized by computer manufacturers to open disk drives without voiding the warranty.

After conducting the testing process, Schell said, his tool of choice on the bench is a No. 9 hex bit.

From start to finish, it takes Reynold’s between 24 hours and several days to turn a crash around and costs between $300 and $1,500, with the average repair running $800.

The bill came to about $1,000 for John Cody, president and chief executive officer of the Longmont Area Economic Council — something he called “expensive.”

Still, Cody said, “we were dead in the water.” He explained that data affected by the crash of the laptop last month included LAEC’s financials, broadcast fax numbers, e-mail addresses and other correspondence information.

“We would have had to recreate everything,” Cody explained. “I can’t imagine what the cost of replacing the data would be, let alone surviving the ordeal.

“From a peace of mind perspective, it was just great to be able to drive over there and look these guys in the eyes and say, ‘Can you help?’”

Answering “yes” explains why the Longmont company has experienced steady growth, Tessin said.

“But it’s not magic,” he explained. “It’s just good engineering.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224 or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.