Everybody tells you about the importance of keeping a back up (hey, even Jesus saves!!!) , with a ton of suggestions and practices, ranging from simply using a USB drive for your most important documents and files to using special software to more complex solutions. The thing is however, that when you own more than one PC you would prefer an easy, almost automated back up solution, right?
This is exactly what a friend thought, a friend who is crazy enough to own and operate six different boxes (without counting his two laptops), and after some internet research, he bought another machine and a copy of Windows Home Server and called me to set it up, some months ago.
Yesterday, he called me to tell me that one of his machines (a two year old Dell) crashed and he was waiting for a replacement HDD and asked me if I could stop by to help him set it up again. Having only used Norton Ghost (with a 98% success rate mind you) I thought it would take half an hour tops, but that was not the case at all… I don’t want to tire you with boring ranting, so I will describe the procedure that worked. Note here, that the WHS manual says nothing of value (except “Follow on screen instructions” 😛 ) – read my verdict at the end of this post.
Before you read any further, I am talking about a complete restore. If you just want to bring back the porn you accidentally deleted, look elsewhere 😉
Step 1: Boot the machine you want to restore with the WHS restore cd. Microsoft claims that in 90% of home networks it will get in touch with Home Server and prompt you to start restoring your PC. What Microsoft forgot to tell us, is the fact that if your machines do not use DHCP, but have fixed IPs instead you belong to the 10%, so you’re not able to communicate with the server. Just go over to the server box and change the IP setting to DHCP. Everything else on your network will lose the server, but the machine you want to restore will find it… I did not try it my self, but someone said that he just connected the two machines with an ethernet cable. Crazy? Yes! Worked? Yes!
Step 2: You will be presented with a list of backups and after you chose which one you want to restore, the procedure will start. In my case the machine had a single HDD with a single partition, so things were rather simple. If you have a different set-up, you might want to be careful what you restore where, since all data in the destination disk will be lost.
Step 3 : I wish you don’t have to read this step, because in theory, everything worked out as supposed and you only have to press “Finish” to reboot into your newly restored machine. Before you reboot, take some time to review boot.ini. There is a button there, that will open a notepad with your OLD boot.ini. Now it is a good time to stop for a while and start thinking about the past. No, don’t laugh, I am dead serious. Think what you are trying to restore. In my case, as I said, it was a Dell box. Dell boxes, usually mean that apart from windows partition there is another, smaller and hidden partition that you use to restore your PC to factory settings. Does that ring a bell? HP does that too, Fujitsu Siemens does that too. If you are trying to restore after an HDD crash, chances are that this little partition will not exist in your new HDD take a look at the following boot.ini :
multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(2)\WINDOWS=”Window XP Professional” /noexecute=optout /fastdetect
Do you see the (2)’s? It means that your old windows installation was on partition number 2, which of course no longer exists, so you cannot boot. You have to change those (2)’s into (1)’s and you will be fine. Really, this is the only thing you have to do… This little thing that Microsoft could have told us about, but did not…
There are many ways to do that. If you are lucky enough and have a newer build of WHS, you can edit it in notepad (when you press Review/Check boot.ini at the end of the restore) and save it and be done with it. If not, when you try to save, you will be informed that boot.ini is a read only file and you will have to save your changes under a different file name. So, do exactly that. You can then use something to access your disk, delete the old boot.ini and rename the file you just saved into boot.ini. What you use depends on your personal taste and resources. I only had a windows XP cd, so I booted with that, pressed R to go into recovery console and worked from there. You can also use a Linux live cd, one of those special boot disks (like Hiren’s), anything that will offer you access to your HDD.
I spent many hours trying to figure out those things I wrote above. See, when you restore and fail, the first thing that comes on your mind is the case you did something wrong, missed a step, chose the wrong option, so you try it again. That means time wasted… No matter how convenient I find the possibility to manage all your backups centrally, store files (WHS is more than a backup solution) and do all those neat little things, but for fuck’s sake, how do you expect an average user to come up with all those ideas and manage to do the simplest thing? Why on Earth don’t you provide all this info in the damn manual? You want me to propose your product to my clients? Seriously??