Yesterday started well and ended well; not so much in between :)
After finishing some laundry and cracking open The Four Steps to the Epiphany, I decided to add two, 2GB DIMMs to my wife’s Windows 7 desktop. After inserting the memory, Windows 7 booted and proceeded to fry the hard drive (corrupting at least the boot record, likely more). I removed the memory and spent the rest of the day attempting to perform a bare-metal restore from our newly purchased HP EX490 Windows Home Server. Thank goodness for backups!
The Good News: Successfully restored Pokin’s machine from the WHS backup (Time Machine-like, pretty slick).
The Bad News: Getting the restore started took about 10 hours.
In no particular order, here’s everything I learned. If there’s anything missing, please leave a comment below. Hope this helps!
Creating a WHS Restore CD or USB Key
Restoring Windows from a Windows Home Server is done using the Windows Home Server Computer Restore CD (download from Microsoft).
Alternatively, you can extract the ISO to USB key if the machine doesn’t have a CD/DVD drive (e.g. netbooks) or you prefer the speed of a fast key. I would suggest using a USB key since it will likely take a few attempts to get your network drivers right during the restore wizard and you don’t want to have to deal with re-burning CDs. Plus, most keys have activity lights on them so you can see the key is getting used during those looong pauses while the WHS restore does who-knows-what.
For some, creating a CD/USB key and booting is all you need to do. The WHS restore wizard kicks in (it takes a very long time to process, be patient) and you can stop reading here. If that doesn’t work, read on…
WHS kindly backs up your critical drivers if you have automated backup turned on. These files are stored with your backup on the WHS, so using another PC you can extract the drivers on to your bootable CD/USB key and the WHS restore wizard will find them during restore. Unfortunately, there is a problem here – the WHS restore CD is 32-bit. If you are restoring a 64-bit flavor of Windows, the drivers that WHS stores with your backup are… not that useful. Microsoft mentions this caveat in their Windows Home Server Technical Brief for Home Computer Backup and Restore. You mean you haven’t read it? :)
Even if the WHS finds your drivers, that means almost nothing. It reportedly found the drivers for my “Atheros AR8121 PCI-E Ethernet Controller” and did not properly install or configure them. How’s this as a backdoor? Click on help during the restore wizard, right-click “View source” on a help page which opens Notepad. In Notepad go to File->Open, find your driver’s setup.exe, right click “open”. Yes, this was the only way I could get my NIC drivers loaded. Credit goes to someone in the MS support forums, which I can’t find (sorry!).
The big takeaway is that you really should prepare (and test!) the WHS restore CD or USB key in advance. Boot the CD and get to the point where your network is up and you can see the WHS. You don’t want to be going through this while freaking out about your crashed drives!
General Restore Tips
- Be sure your Windows PCs are doing full backups every night. That saved us. The prospect of losing a day’s worth of work isn’t much to be concerned with, especially on a home PC. I suppose that excludes things like term papers the day before ;) Once you get past a day, it’s difficult to reason about what exactly you’re missing. We’re backing up from 3am to 6am nightly.
- If you’re going to be doing a bare-metal restore from the WHS, buy a 100′ cable ($25 at Fry’s) and plug your computer into your wireless access point, assuming the WHS is wired up as well. Technically, restores are not supported over wireless and besides – they’re terribly slow. My wife’s restore was ~250GB and it took so long we left it on overnight (this was wired too!).
- Wireless security is not supported during a restore. You won’t have a wireless network UI to configure wireless security, and it needs to be on the same subnet as the WHS. Yet another reason to go wired!
- During restore, the WHS does not like other backups or restores happening and (I think) this includes Time Machine.