Disaster Recovery – System State in Windows 2003 Server

Introduction to the System State in Windows 2003 Server

In disaster recovery, planning, prevention and preparation are your watchwords.  Which ever backup software you use for Windows Server 2003, take a minute to tick the System State box.  This page also features ASR and creating a bootable system disk.

Alternatively, if your server will not boot refer to the Boot Problems page.

Windows Server 2003 System State


System State – Components

Here is a list of all the components contained in the Windows 2003 System State.

  • Boot files (Boot.ini, NDTLDR, NTDetect.com)
  • Registry – Including COM settings
  • SYSVOL – Group Policy and Logon Scripts
  • Active Directory NTDS.DIT (Domain Controllers)
  • Certificate Store (If the service is installed)

The System State has a specialist job namely, to restore the operating configuration files.  Before you install a new application, driver or hotfix, think, ‘what will be my fall back position if the server crashes?’.  Microsoft’s best practice would say: create a System State backup for the Windows 2003 operating system, then you can rollback if there is a problem. 

Murphy’s 9th law states, once you take these protective measures the application, driver or hotfix never gives any problem.  However, the one time you forget to backup the system state,  ‘Murphy’s 1st law’ says, disaster will strike your unprotected server.

Kiwe CatTools - Free downloadGuy’s Challenge – Download this free device backup utility


Kiwi CatTools is a free program for backing up configuration settings on hardware devices.  Here is Guy’s challenge.  If you download CatTools, then it will not only take care of backups, but also it will show you something new about the hardware on you network. I could give you a money back guarantee – but CatTools is already free!  Thus, I just make a techie to techie challenge, you will learn more about your network if you:

Download your free Kiwi CatTools configuration backup tools

Driver Roll Back

Another alternative for a sickly machine is to repair a dodgy driver by rolling back to, ‘one that I saved earlier’.  If you suspect that your latest driver is faulty, then navigate to the Device Manager and check for a red X next to the device.  To attempt a cure, select Properties, Driver (Tab), Roll Back.

Note: Driver Roll Back is a different option from Restore Point.  Moreover, unlike XP, there is no Restore Point option in Windows Server 2003.

ASR (Automated System Recovery)

ASR (Automated System Recovery) is Windows Server 2003’s replacement for NT4.0’s RDISK.  I have to say that I have never had any success with ASR.  The idea is worthy, all the registry configuration settings can be saved and later restored.  The fatal flaw is that the ASR disk has to be updated manually every time you make a change, and for ordinary mortals that just does not happen.  If there is one thing worse than not having an ASR it is having an out-of-date disk which corrupts the system.

If you wish to create an ASR disk then  Click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, then click Backup. Amateurs believe that the ASR is bootable – wrong.  However, you CAN create a bootable System Disk as explained in the next section.

Engineer's Toolset v10Guy Recommends: SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset v10

This Engineer’s Toolset v10 provides a comprehensive console of 50 utilities for troubleshooting computer problems.  Guy says it helps me monitor what’s occurring on the network, and each tool teaches me more about how the underlying system operates.

There are so many good gadgets; it’s like having free rein of a sweetshop.  Thankfully the utilities are displayed logically: monitoring, network discovery, diagnostic, and Cisco tools.  Try the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset now!

Download your fully functional trial copy of the Engineer’s Toolset v10

Bootable System Disk

The floppy disk that I have in mind here has many names, system disk, boot disk, startup disk.  What ever the name the purpose of this simple floppy is to boot a broken machine.  This ‘get out of jail disk will help when you boot a machine and see a message saying: ‘Cannot find NTOSKERNL.EXE.’   The error sounds vicious even terminal but there is a simple solution – a system disk.

If you are Mr Organized then you will have your system floppy disk at the ready.  However if you need to create a disk then take a blank floppy to another Windows Server.  Remember to start by formatting the floppy within Windows 2003, next, copy NTLDR, NTDETECT.COM and Boot.ini to the floppy.  The secret of getting this floppy to boot the server is understanding Boot.ini.

Sample Boot.ini

[boot loader]
[operating systems]
multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Windows Server 2003, Enterprise" /fastdetect

In most instances changing the partition number will cure the problem.  Partition(1) corresponding to the C:\ drive and Partition(2) to the D:\  Thus, you can make an educated guess as to which number to try on your server.

If you have time you could add other lines to each with a different partition number.  With a little care and trouble, you could make a boot.ini with a dozen lines that would start Windows 2003 on a large variety of disks and partition numbers.

If you have mirrored RAID disks then edit the boot.ini to reflect the pair of disks (same partition number):

multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Server 2003 (D0)" /fastdetect

multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(1)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Server 2003 (D1)" /fastdetect

See also Windows boot loader.

Guy Recommends 3 Free Active Directory ToolsDownload Solarwinds Active Directory Administration Tool

SolarWinds have produced three Active Directory add-ons.  These free utilities have been approved by Microsoft, and will help to manage your domain by:

  1. Seeking and zapping unwanted user accounts.
  2. Finding inactive computers.
  3. Bulk-importing new users.  Give this AD utility a try, it’s free!

Download your FREE Active Directory administration tools.

If you like this page then please share it with your friends


More Topics for Disaster Recovery in Server 2008