Disaster Recovery

Get IT Done: Use XP Pro's ASR feature to recover from a system failure

Learn how to create a Windows XP ASR backup set and restore a failed system.

Windows XP Professional’s Backup Utility comes with a remarkable tool, the Automated System Recovery (ASR) wizard, which creates a special backup set that will allow you to restore your hard disk in the event that a catastrophic system failure prevents Windows XP from booting up. This special ASR backup set will contain a full backup of the data on your hard disk and backup of the current system state and the critical operating system files. You can use the ASR backup set to completely restore the system to a bootable state.

I’ll show you how to use the Automated System Recovery wizard to create an ASR backup set. I’ll explain every step in the procedure and point out special features along the way. In a follow-up Daily Drill Down, I’ll show you how to use the ASR backup set to restore your system.

Note
Keep in mind that the version of Microsoft Backup that comes with Windows XP Home Edition doesn’t contain the Automated System Recovery (ASR) wizard. It only comes with Windows XP Professional.

 

Caveats
It’s important to note that to perform an ASR backup, you must have a local administrator account on the disabled computer. While accounts that include backup operator rights can perform a normal backup, these rights won’t allow performing an ASR backup because this type of backup includes System State data. Only a local administrator account has the necessary rights to back up and restore System State data.

Also, you can’t perform an ASR backup of a system across a network from another system with a tape drive. This is because an ASR backup contains System State data, which can only be backed up locally.

Note
In the case of Windows XP Professional’s Backup Utility, System State data is a collection of crucial system information that includes the registry, the COM Class Registration database, and the system boot files.

Getting started
To create an ASR backup set, you’ll need a blank, formatted 1.44-MB floppy disk. Since this disk will hold files that are crucial to the success of the restoration procedure, I recommend that you use a brand-new floppy disk to ensure that it’s in perfect condition.

You’ll then need some form of media to contain the actual backup of your hard disk’s contents. A tape drive is the ideal backup media for use with ASR. You can also have the backup sent to a file, which means that you can use a separate physical hard disk in the same system to hold the backup. In addition, you can back up to a CDR drive if you think that the size of the backup set will fit on a single CDR disk. Keep in mind that Windows XP Professional’s Backup Utility cannot create a backup set that spans multiple CDR disks.

Note
Keep in mind that while the Backup Utility can indeed create an ASR backup set to a network drive, the ASR restore procedure will be unable to retrieve that backup set and thus will be unable to restore your system.

Launching the procedure
You’ll launch the Backup Utility from the All Programs | Accessories | System Tools menu. If the Backup Utility is configured to start the Backup And Restore wizard, you must click the Advanced Mode link.

When you see the Welcome To The Backup Utility Advanced Mode screen, as shown in Figure A, you’ll find buttons for each of the Backup Utility’s three main functions. To continue, click the Automated System Recovery Wizard button.

Figure A
Once you launch the Backup Utility, you’ll see the welcome screen.


Next, you’ll see the introductory screen of the Automated System Recovery Preparation Wizard. You’ll notice that this information recommends that you also create a separate backup of your data files to ensure that they can be restored, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
The introductory screen tells you to make a separate backup of your data files.


Now, it’s not clear whether this recommendation is really suggesting that the ASR backup set might not be reliable and that you should make an additional backup of your data files just to be sure or if the writer of this particular screen was unfamiliar with the fact that the ASR backup operation is different from the ERD procedure, which didn’t create a full hard disk backup as a part of the operation. I tend to think it’s the latter. However, if you feel compelled to do so, having an extra backup of your data is always good.

After you click Next, you’ll be prompted to select your backup media, as shown in Figure C. As you can see in this example, I’m backing up to a Travan tape. However, if you select the File option from the Backup Media Type drop-down list, a Browse button appears adjacent to the Backup Media Or File Name drop-down list, and you can choose the drive on which to create your backup file.

Figure C
In addition to saving the backup to tape, you can save it to a file on any drive.


When you click Next, you’ll see the final screen in the preparation wizard, which informs you that you’re now ready to perform the actual backup operation. To continue, click Finish.

Making the backup
As soon as you click Finish, the backup procedure will commence. If you’re backing up to tape, the Backup Utility first mounts, or loads, the media. As soon as it completes that step, it will analyze your hard disk and compile a list of the data to be backed up, including the current system state. Once that step is complete, Backup will begin backing up to tape.

If you’re backing up to a file, the Backup Utility will begin analyzing your hard disk and compiling a list of data to be backed up. It will then begin backing up your data and the system state to a file. Depending on how much data you have on your hard disk, the actual backup operation can take a considerable amount of time.

Making the ASR disk
After the hard disk backup is complete, the Backup Utility will prompt you to insert a floppy disk, as shown in Figure D. When you click OK, the Backup Utility will begin copying the special recovery files to the floppy disk.

Figure D
Once the hard disk backup is complete, the Backup Utility will prompt you to insert the floppy disk.


As soon as the ASR disk is complete, you’ll see a dialog box that prompts you to remove the disk and, if you backed up to tape, to remove the media, as shown in Figure E. As you can see, the information in the dialog box suggests corresponding labels for the disk and the backup tape.

Figure E
The Backup Utility prompts you to remove the disk and the backup media and label them with corresponding titles.


Once you click OK, you’ll see the final Backup Progress dialog box, and you can either complete the procedure by clicking Close or view detailed information on the backup by clicking the Report button.

Investigating the ASR backup set
After the ASR backup set is complete, you may want to investigate the backup set to see exactly what was backed up. If you look at the report generated during the creation of the ASR backup set, you’ll see that, actually, three different backup sets were created during the ASR backup procedure. The first set contains the complete backup of the data on your hard disk. The second set contains a backup of the crucial operating system files from the Windows folder. The third set contains a backup of the system state files.

You can verify the contents of each of these backup sets by viewing the backup catalog. To do so, open the Backup Utility again and click the Restore And Manage Media tab. Next, in the tree list, locate and double-click on the media on which you created the ASR backup set. You can then view the contents of each of the three sets, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F
Once the ASR backup operation is complete, you can verify the backup by investigating the contents of the backup catalog.


Conclusion
Windows XP Professional’s Backup Utility provides you with the Automated System Recovery (ASR) wizard, which you can use to create a special backup set that completely restores your hard disk in the event of a catastrophic system failure. ASR integrates several features that previous Windows backup utilities (ERD, for instance) included but were difficult to configure.

I’ve shown you step-by-step how to create an ASR backup set. But what would you do if your XP system failed? In a follow-up Daily Drill Down, I’ll show you the steps you’ll need to take to recover your system using the ASR backup set you just created.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

0 comments

Editor's Picks