Backup and Recovery Issues with Windows Server 2008 (Part 2)

by [Published on 26 May 2009 / Last Updated on 26 May 2009]

Issues that you need to be aware of before you attempt to backup your Windows 2008 server.

If you would like to read the other part of this article series please go to Backup and Recovery Issues with Windows Server 2008 (Part 1).

Introduction

Windows Server 2008 offers a lot of improvements over Windows 2003, but the backup program is not one of them. Even so, there are a few redeeming features. This article discusses the issues that you need to know about before you attempt to backup your Windows 2008 server.

If you read the first part of this article series, then you know that I am not exactly a big fan of the new Windows Backup program. Even so, I did not want to just write an article bashing the new backup utility, and have that be the end of it. Windows Backup does have some good points, and I would not be doing my job if I did not tell you about them. Therefore I want to wrap up the series by telling you about some of Windows Backups good points.

Before I Begin

Before I get started, there is one additional caveat to using Windows Backup that I want to mention. This really should have gone in my last article, but I forgot to mention it. Windows Backup can only backup volumes that are using the NTFS file system. Volumes formatted using other file systems cannot be backed up.

Simplified Restoration

The best change that Microsoft made in Windows Server backup (at least in my humble opinion) was that they made it a lot easier to perform restorations. Even though you can not pick and choose which files and folders you want to back up, you do have the option of restoring individual files and folders. Of course you have always been able to do that with NTBACKUP.

You will notice Microsoft’s simplified restoration if you ever need to restore an incremental backup. Previously, restoring an incremental backup usually meant that you had to restore multiple backups. Now, you can just choose the date that you want to restore your data from, and the restoration process will restore any necessary files or folders automatically, even if the data is scattered across multiple incremental backups.

Another area in which Microsoft has made some improvements to Windows Server Backup is in its ability to restore the Windows operating system. I have to confess that I have yet to use the Windows Server 2008 version of Windows Backup to perform a bare metal restore, but I have used the Windows Vista version. Aside from a couple of minor quirks, performing a bare metal restore is really simple.

If you have ever performed a bare metal restore on a machine that was running Windows Server 2003, using NTBACKUP, then you know that there was quite a bit of work involved in the process. Whenever I have had to perform a full restoration of a Windows Server 2003 machine, I had to install the Windows operating system before I could even begin the restore process. I also found through experience that the restore process usually would not work right unless I also installed the same service pack that the server was running at the time that the backup was made.

In contrast, I performed a bare metal restore of a Windows Vista machine last week. Like Windows Server 2008, Windows Vista also uses the Windows Server backup program. There are some minor differences between the two versions, but they are very similar to each other.

At any rate, I have made a full system backup to a USB hard drive. I then installed a new hard drive into the machine. I did not bother to format the drive, partition it, or do anything else to prepare it for use. I simply inserted my Windows Vista installation disk into the machine and boot off of it. Rather than installing Windows Vista, I chose the Repair option, followed by the option to restore my backup. Windows Backup took care of everything. My hard drive was automatically partitioned and formatted, and my PC was returned to its previous state in no time.

Faster Backups

This leads me to another improvement I want to talk about. Windows Backup seems to run more quickly than NTBACKUP did. I have not actually timed the backup process, but it does feel faster than what I was used to with NTBACKUP, and Microsoft also claims that Windows Backup performs better than NTBACKUP because of the way that uses block level backup technology and the Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS).

Whenever you perform a full backup, Windows scans the disk that is being backup and copies any hard drive blocks that contain data. These blocks are copied to a .VHD file, which is the same file format as the virtual hard drive files that are used by some of Microsoft's virtualization products. Because of the way that these blocks are copied, the backup is not compressed. It is however smaller than the volume that is being backup, because only blocks containing data are copied.

If you happen to perform an incremental backup, then Windows will scan the hard drive to see which blocks contain new data, or data that has changed since the previous backup was made. Only these blocks are backed up, which makes incremental backups really fast.

Of course this raises the question of what happens to the data that is stored in the virtual hard drive file when you perform an incremental backup. Old data that was previously residing in blocks that are being replaced is written to the shadow copy storage area. The Volume Shadow Copy Service is used to differentiate between backup sets, and to track where the various blocks are being written to within the shadow copy storage.

Bare Metal Restoration

Window Backup’s use of block level backup technology has at least one side effect that you need to be aware of when you are performing a bare metal restore. When you perform a bare metal restore using Window Backup, the new hard drive will be partitioned identically to the way that the old one was. If the new hard drive is larger than the old one, you will find that there is lots of wasted space on the drive. That does not mean that you can not use this space, it simply means that the space is not used by default. You always have the option of extending a volume so that you can make use of empty space on the drive.

Manageability

One last thing that I want to mention is that there are some very welcome changes is to Windows Backup in regard to its manageability. For starters, Windows Backup can finally be run within the Microsoft Management Console. This means that you can use the console to manage backups scheduled to run on other servers.

The other really welcome change is that you can control virtually every aspect of the backup process through the WBADMIN command. NTBACKUP was also command line driven, but the WBADMIN command offers a whole lot more flexibility. You can see a summary of some of the WBADMIN commands here.

Conclusion

As you can see, Windows Server Backup is not all bad. In spite of the fact that I miss some of the features (OK, most of the features) from NTBACKUP, Windows Backup does have its good points.

If you would like to read the other part of this article series please go to Backup and Recovery Issues with Windows Server 2008 (Part 1).

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