Disaster Recovery in Windows Server 2003  – Restore

Introduction to Windows Server 2003 Restore

Restore often plays the role of the forgotten little sister compared with big brother who plays the part of Backup.

The mechanical details of a restore are easy, the software provides menu driven prompts.  However, remember that horrifying statistic, 35% of restores are not going to work as you anticipated.  The problems come in unforeseen outside factors.  The best way that I can illustrate what can go wrong with restore is through horror stories from cases that I have been involved with.


Lightning Strikes

Here is the unluckiest case I have come across.  The company did everything right, tapes were taken offsite, a restore was scheduled one weekend every 6 months.  Each practice worked perfectly.  One day came a bolt from the blue.  Literally lightning struck their building and the computer building was burned out.

Insurance took care of the recovery costs, and in 6 hours the new servers arrived along with a mobile building and generator.  A courier was despatched with backup tapes, exactly what happened on that flooded road nobody knows, but the upshot was the courier slid under a lorry.  Fortunately the motorcyclist survived, but the tapes were crushed under the truck’s wheels.  Naturally, they had other tapes but they were two days old, and they never did recover all the data.

Bishopsgate Backup Tapes

September 11th, was a terrible disaster.  However, by all accounts recovering computer systems went off without a hitch.  I would like to contrast the Twin Towers disaster with an IRA terrorist bomb which was exploded on April 24 1993 in London Bishopsgate. In this English disaster only one person was killed but it devastated the financial computer community.

I was in London at that time and the rumours circulated that the banks had no backups. Word was they customer services had to phone their clients and ask ‘Ah hmm, exactly how much money have you got in your account?’ People smirked and said, if only they had asked me, ‘I would have told them 1 million’. The story was believable because the banks second question was, ‘Can you prove it with the last bank statement!’

Well, I repeated this story to quite a few clients. Then one day I spoke to chap from Digital. He listened politely then said ‘I was on that case, and you were not far from the truth’. ‘Yes of course they had backups, the assistant manager had a garage full of tapes.  However, the problem was that there was no machine in the world that could restore the tapes, the VAX machines were so ancient there was not a compatible machine anywhere.’

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Classic Mistake

Often people get in a groove with backup, the job runs, the event log reports success, the tape looks good, you tick the calendar.  But then you get a new system and you save the data to a new folder on a different partition, F:\data.  However, Mr Nobody changed the backup to reflect the new path.  As a result one day when you try a restore, there is nothing on the tape from the F:\.  It goes without saying that its not a backup’s fault, once again it is a human logic error.

Hardware Variation of Wrong Drive Problem

Hardware incompatibility

When you try a restore on a different machine, the tape is incompatible with the newer tape drive hardware.  (This is a variation of the Bishopsgate saga above)

Manufacturers are always keen to make improvements and tape drive companies are no different. What sometimes happens is that in a desire to backup faster, they sacrifice compatibility with older models. So tapes backed up by one model will not restore on a newer version.

The Boss from Hell

My last story is amusing in the telling, but was far from funny at the time.  The boss bought a box of tapes and showed thetimid assistant how to insert the first tape into the DAT drive.  On the Monday thebackup worked perfectly.  However on Tuesday the operator could not remove thecassette.  So, being timid, but resourceful, they unscrewed the Tippex bottle and painted out Monday’s date and over-wrote with Tuesday’s date. 

Guess whathappened when the boss needed to restore last weeks data?  All that was on the tape was yesterday’sincremental backup.  When he looked in the box 23 tapes were still in their cellophane rappers.  The restore did a perfect job on the incremental tape, but it was a management problem that was responsible for the lack of a normal backup tape.

Reverse Problem – Rambo instead of Timid

Here we have a case of a new young strapping lad wishing to make a favourable impression. Our new lad found that the backup tape was reluctant to eject. No problem to our young Rambo – he ripped the tape out, drive and all! At least with Rambo you knew you had a problem, so many of the backup / restore faults only show up when the disaster strikes.

Circular Logging Horror Story

One of the workst Exchange server horror stories occured when a new super-duper Anti-Virus program decided that the E00.log and priv1.edb contained virus and decided to try and clean them, thus corrupting the Exchange mailstore.  Unfortunately, circular logging had been enabled thus there was no way of restoring the email.  See more about Exchange 2010 Circular Logging.

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