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Having good backups to recover from Windows Server 2003
domain controller woes is all good and well, but what if worse comes to worst
and you’re faced with a system failure–i.e., that DC won’t boot?

Yes, of course you can reformat and reinstall. But if time
is of the essence–when isn’t it?–and you have the whole restore process weighing
down on you, the last thing you need is to worry about getting the system back
on its feet.

To expedite matters, you have to be prepared. In this
article, I’ll show you what you need.

ASR

I’m sure all of you know enough about the Recovery Console,
so I won’t cover that here. Instead, I’ll concentrate on two other essential
aids to attempt recovery from system failures: an Automated System Recovery
(ASR) disk and a boot floppy. Because we’re racing against the clock while
recovering from system failure, I’ll also cover an easy way to back up and
restore all those Windows drivers, as it can speed up the process considerably.

The ASR is (basically) what used to be called the Emergency
Repair Disk (ERD), in the days of NT Server. (I say basically because
the registry information is not included in the ASR as it was with the ERD.)

Creating an ASR is a simple process:

  1. Start
    the Backup Utility and choose the option to run the Automated System Recovery
    Wizard (Figure A).
  2. As
    you’ll see, backing up the system data is part of the process. Specify a
    location to back up to. (A floppy doesn’t have enough space, so choose some
    other medium.)
  3. When
    you see the screen shown in Figure B, click Finish. This starts the
    process of backing up the system data, at the end of which a recovery disk will
    also be created. (For this you’ll need a floppy.)

Figure A

Figure B

The ASR disk is not a boot disk. The floppy contains system
information files (.sif files) for setup purposes.
ASR is used by the Windows setup process to restore your system configuration.
To do an automated system recovery, you therefore need to start Windows setup
using your Windows Server 2003 CD. During the setup process, you’ll be prompted
to press [F2] to do an ASR.


Tip

How often do you need to make an ASR disk? The short answer
is whenever your system configuration changes–and immediately after a system
restore.


Note: Be aware that ASR does a nonauthoritative
restore of your system state data. On a domain controller, you’ll have to use
the command-line utility NTDSUTIL to do an authoritative restore for the
domain.

Boot floppy

ASR is all good and well, but sometimes you need a boot
floppy. Here’s how to make one:

  1. First, unhide protected operating system files so
    you can see the hidden files you need. You’ll find the option on the View tab
    in Folder Options, shown in Figure C. Make sure you deselect the Hide
    Protected Operating System Files (Recommended) check box. It’s not enough to
    merely select Show Hidden Files And Folders.
  2. Navigate to the system root and copy
    NTDetect.com, NTLDR, and boot.ini to a formatted floppy.
  3. Rename the copied NTLDR file setupldr.bin.

Figure C

Alternatively, you can copy NTDetect.com and NTLDR from the
Windows Server 2003 installation CD. You’ll find the files in the i386 folder.

Note: Do not confuse setup disks (made with the installation
CD) with a boot disk. The names say it all.

Don’t forget the drivers

Something else to consider is that you might be faced with the
time-consuming chore of installing all those drivers from scratch–no pleasant
task, even though you have all the driver disks neatly stored and ready. (You
have, haven’t you?) And what if those drivers have been updated and you have
dutifully installed the updates? Not a nice thought. (Can you hear the clock
ticking?)

To prepare for a situation like this, you need good driver
backup software. I use WinDriversBackup Personal
Edition 1.0.9 (the last freeware version) to back up my servers’
Windows drivers. I have found it works well on Windows Server 2003, but please
don’t take my word for it. Test it yourself in a nonproduction
environment.

You can download the last free version here. (A new,
commercial version of this tool, now known as DriverGuide
Toolkit
, is also available.)

Backing up your drivers using WinDriversBackup
is a simple procedure:

  1. Select the backup location (Figure D).
  2. Choose the option to identify all drivers or
    just non-Microsoft drivers. The program will display all the drivers it finds.
  3. If you want to select all displayed drivers for
    backup, choose Select All or select just the ones you want to back up.
  4. Click on Backup Drivers.

Figure D

Another tool that will back up your drivers is WinRet. It’s
much more than driver backup software and can also be used for tweaking and
general backup.

A Lite (free) edition and a Full
edition are available. The cost of the Full edition was $15 at the time of this
writing. According to the site, backup automation, all
restore options, system configuration freezing, and startup management are
available only in the full version.

As we’re only concerned with driver backup, the Lite version will suit our needs, and we’ll look at only this
functionality.

I have tested the driver backup option on my servers and it
works well. But again, you should try it yourself on a server in a test
environment. I also haven’t tested any of the software’s other features and so can’t
comment on them.

Here’s how to back up your drivers using the free version of
WinRet:

  1. Start the program and click Backup on the main
    screen (Figure E).
  2. The next screen displays all the backup options.
    You’ll find the option to back up drivers under Microsoft Windows, as shown in Figure
    F
    . Also on this screen, you can select the default backup location or
    choose an alternative location.
  3. Now just choose between the two backup options: Backup
    Once A Day or Backup Now.

Figure E

Figure F

That’s all there is to it.

Stress reduction

Being prepared for the worst will stand you in good stead in
case of a system meltdown. Your preparation will save you time and trouble
during that nerve-wracking initial stage of disaster recovery, considerably
ease your tension and anxiety, and ensure a smoother, more focused approach of
the final stages.