The Windows Server Backup application that is built in to Windows Server versions 2008 and later is a little gold mine, and I've written about it before, as well as ways to manage it. Windows Server 2012 continues the Windows Backup application legacy, which is good news; it's a great feature and I'm glad they didn't mess with it. This feature is particularly useful to restore the computer to a usable state after a failed application or buggy update installation in a low-drama fashion.
The reason the built-in Windows Server Backup application is so valuable is that it does a sophisticated and reliable job of server backup that is absolutely mission-critical yet is often seen as adding cost, complexity, or third-party applications into the solution. My maxim, "all employed network administrators have current backup" remains true, regardless of the number of ways to achieve dependable backup.
From virtual machine (VM) snapshots (on the virtualization or storage platform), to off-site vaulted media backups, there are layers of cost and complexity that may be necessary for some data. However, I can think of no easier way to add the job security benefit of good backup to the network administrator today.
It's not unwise to furnish some or all your host and VM resources with dedicated local storage for Windows Server Backup images, if possible using alternative disk controllers or spindles used by the computer being backed up. Using removable storage such as USB 2.0 and 3.0 hard drives is supported on physical computers. Provision VMs with virtual hard drives (VHDs) dedicated for backup.
Restore options in Windows Server Backup
If you have been performing daily backups of your Windows Server 2012 computer, and you decide that you need to roll back an entire server to a certain date—ideally you need an application-consistent, point-in-time, complete disk image to restore from. If you select the Recover action from the Actions Pane within the Windows Server Backup application, and then select the date and time of the desired backup to restore from, you have the option to view what items are recoverable in that backup. Figure A shows what's available for recovery on a Windows Server 2012 computer running Exchange Server 2013.
Viewing the recoverable items in a Windows Server 2012 restore operation to verify what was backed up.
If you just want to restore files and folders, or applications like Exchange, you can proceed to complete the restore operations from within the Windows Server Backup application. However, if your intention is to really recover the entire computer, you will receive a notice like that shown in Figure B. Basically you are prompted to boot the computer from the Windows Setup disk.
Selecting the Recovery Type when you need to restore files and folders or applications.
System recovery from the Windows Setup disk
If the computer is a virtual machine (VM), provided with two virtual hard disks (VHDs), one for the computer and one for the backup, the system restore operation is pretty simple. To begin the restore, connect a Windows Server 2012 setup DVD or .ISO file image to the VM, start the VM and Press any key to boot from CD or DVD. If the backup is on a different medium than a VHD, or it's a physical computer involved, make sure that storage media is available to the computer that will boot the setup DVD.
The first Windows Setup screen will prompt you for your language, country, and keyboard type. After clicking Next, instead of clicking the install button, select the Repair your computer option in the lower left of the screen as indicated in Figure C.
Select the Repair your computer option to access the system restore feature.
At the next screen seen in Figure D, take care to select the Troubleshoot button.
The Troubleshoot button is what you want to proceed with system restore.
Finally, clicking on System Image Recovery in the Advanced options page as shown in Figure E will start the Windows Server Backup application in restore mode.
System Image Recovery is your path to re-image the computer to a previous point in time.
After selecting System Image Recovery from the Advanced options page, attached storage to the VM or physical computer is searched for recoverable backup media image(s). Assuming your backup media is attached and discovered, confirm the target operating system as seen in Figure F.
Confirming the target operating system to be restored.
The Reimage your computer wizard will launch. Follow these steps to restore the system image to a specific past date. Everything on the computer will be replaced with the information in the system image.
- Check the Select a system image option and click Next.
- Select the system image to restore from. If you don't see the image available, the Advanced button will let you add drivers to support other removable or fixed media where the backup might be located.
- At the Select the date and time of system image to restore page, scroll to locate the desired image and click Next. Figure G shows an image from a month ago (6/22/2013) being selected.
- If you have no problems with the disk format or partition, you can click Next at the Choose additional restore options page.
- Click Finish and then Yes at the final Re-image your Computer confirmation. The restore process will begin and could take from a few minutes to a few hours.
Considerations for restored images
After the server is successfully restored, optionally disconnect the Windows Server 2012 installation media and restart the restored computer. Some considerations about restored system images:
Use the most recent successful backup, unless you know you need to select a historical point in time. The older the restored system image, the higher the chances the computer account password in AD will have changed from the one in the image, and you may have domain re-join issues that are difficult or impossible to resolve.
If you restore an older system image, shares may need to be manually re-created for folders that were shared after the date of the restored image.
Restoring system images of AD domain controllers (DCs) requires careful attention and especially in a domain with more than one DC.
John Joyner, MCSE, CMSP, MVP Cloud and Datacenter Management, is senior architect at ClearPointe, a cloud provider of systems management services. He is co-author of the "System Center Operations Manager: Unleashed" book series from Sams Publishing, and is developing cloud-based management solutions based on the Microsoft System Center 2012 suite. John is a retired U.S. Navy Lt. Commander 'Surface Warfare Officer', with the subspeciality 'Computer Scientist, Proven'. His tours of duty included Chief of Network Operations for NATO's southern region and network administrator aboard the aircraft carrier USS CARL VINSON (CVN-70).