Computer Files Erased At Stanford

Years of Academic Work Lost in What Dean Calls 'Disaster'
Excerpt from San Jose Mercury News article, Thursday, April 9, 1998

By Scott Herhold, Mercury News Staff Writer

(Emphasis added).

"Among the files lost, Stanford officials said, were databases that took months to build, notes of crucial research and parts of dissertations and books that had been developed over years.

" 'The information was lost when the school attempted to move two powerful computers that serve a network of computer users,' Dean A. Michael Spence said.

"Spence acknowledged mistakes in the way the equipment was handled, saying technicians had not verified that the files were 'backed up,' or saved.

"Spence estimated that 10 to 15 faculty members and Ph.D. candidates -- out of a population of about 200 -- had not recovered their work.

" 'When I got the message that they were doing routine maintenance, I never imagined that my data over the last three years would disappear forever,' said Terry Hendershott, a Ph.D. candidate who said he had lost material he had prepared to teach classes, along with extensive data files and other analyses.

"And many of the faculty members and students were shielded from disaster because they used Apple computers or Unix mainframes -- rather than the Windows-based PCs served by the business school network.

"The dean said the technicians turned off the two servers, in one case to add capacity. But when the computers were brought back up, they could not read its original files.

"But Spence said there was only a partial backup for the second server, which contained the files of faculty and Ph.D. students.

"When the technicians attempted to load that backup onto the server, the dean said, they effectively 'overwrote' the original contents, making retrieval impossible in some cases.

"In this case, Spence said, at least two serious mistakes were made: The technicians did not back up the contents of the servers before shutting them down. And once they realized they had a problem, they did not verify whether the backup copies they had were complete."

End Excerpt.


Selected Phrases For Discussion: 
  • Catastrophic data loss
  • Partial Backup
  • Routine maintenance (irony)
  • Did not verify