Save big bucks without risk: Get the most from Windows Server 2008 Backup Utility

John Joyner demonstrates how the built-in backup utility in Windows Server 2008 can be used for multiple scheduled daily backups and for off-site archiving in case of disaster.

Keep your job safe, and save your company potentially lots of money, with Windows Server Backup. The maxim, "All employed network administrators have good backups" holds true today...there is no substitute for good, current backup. The pursuit of a bullet-proof backup solution has traditionally meant spending a lot of time, money, and physical network resources to copy data to centralized backup disks and tapes; as well as creating a routine for archive storage of tapes off-site. Licensing of backup server and agent software, along with hardware maintenance contracts on expensive tape robotics, can sometimes represent a large cost center in any datacenter build project. As an alternative in the right scenarios, judicious use of Window Server Backup in lieu of legacy backup solutions can save big bucks without increasing risk.

Windows Backup in Server 2008 and 2008 R2 rocks

Microsoft has always bundled a rudimentary backup utility with Windows Server. Server versions prior to Windows Server 2008 used a simple backup utility that functioned at the traditional file and folder level. That is, you could select to perform a full, incremental, or differential backup. Beginning with Windows Server 2008, a completely new backup utility was bundled with the operating system. The new utility functions at the block level, similar to the popular Symantec (Norton) Ghost application. Block-level backups are like disk images. Backups, restores of file and folder previous versions, and bare-metal system recoveries using disk image technology are fast, simple, and reliable. You can even back up Exchange 2010 with the Windows Server 2008 R2 backup utility.

Real-world experience with Windows Server Backup in Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 has been excellent. Bare metal server recoveries have been accomplished in as little as 20 minutes with high confidence and simple procedures. There is no longer a need to license a third-party backup solution for every server, and the reduced complexity of the disk image backup increases the probability of successful restores. No more suspenseful waits while a full backup is recovered, then a string of incremental backups on top of that. For many servers, just provisioning some extra disk space for Windows Backup and setting up the built-in daily backup routine is enough protection. There are no extra license costs or administrative overhead for backup software or agents.

Schedule multiple backups using the command line

The graphical user interface (GUI) in Window Server for the backup utility is designed to schedule just one backup a day. However, there is a command line utility, wbadmin.exe, which can be launched via a scheduled task. Windows Server 2008 R2 increased the usefulness of the backup utility by adding PowerShell support.

Let's say you want to have daily backups to fixed storage every night at 9 PM. Provision your server with a fixed volume that is at least as large (100-150%) as the volumes that will be backed up to it. For example, a server with a C:, D: and E: drive to back up (that total 279GB), needs a disk or volume of between 279GB and 397GB dedicated for daily backups. (In Windows Server 2008 R2, networked drives can be mapped in the GUI as backup volumes too!)

You will use the GUI to set up the daily backup, say at the default time of 9 PM daily. Make sure to include the System State and Bare Metal Recovery options. Now your fixed backup storage is taken care of, but you don't have an off-site copy of your data to protect against catastrophic loss of the primary server or its storage. To meet this critical need, purchase a minimum of two external USB drives large enough to hold several versions of all the data, 500GB or 1TB "passport size" drives are a great form factor for a small-office/branch-office server with 279GB of data volumes to back up.

Next (assuming you are using Windows Server 2008 R2) compose a PowerShell script that backs up your local drives to the removable drive. Here is a sample PowerShell script that backs up local C:, D:, and E: drives, with System State and Bare Metal Recovery options, to a removable drive, F:.

Add-PsSnapin Windows.ServerBackup


$ListOfFileSpecs=New-WBFileSpec -FileSpec c:\,d:\,e:\

Add-WBFileSpec -Policy $policy -FileSpec $ListOfFileSpecs

$BackupTargetVolume=New-WBbackupTarget -VolumePath f:

Add-WBBackupTarget -Policy $policy -Target $BackupTargetVolume

Add-WBSystemState -Policy $policy

Add-WBBareMetalRecovery -Policy $policy

Start-WBBackup -Policy $policy
If you have just two external USB drives, label them "EVEN WEEK" and "ODD WEEK", and make sure one external drive is always kept off-site as insurance against catastrophe. Add more external USB drives to the rotation to increase the depth of your archive retention period. After you implement a second weekly backup routine to removable media, you can still use the GUI to track backup success or failure (of the additional jobs launched by scheduled command line). Figure A shows the Windows Server Backup GUI confirming backup successes to both the fixed R: drive for daily backups at 9 PM, as well as weekly backups at 6 AM on Sundays to the removable F: drive.

Figure A

Daily backups to fixed local storage and weekly backups to removable USB storage

Enable Shadow Copies to the fixed backup volume

It seems like fewer Windows administrators enable Shadow Copies than you might expect. This feature of Windows can make the network administrator quite popular by enabling end-user recovery of previous versions of files. One reason this feature is not widely used might be that it can be easy to overlook with the settings to enable Shadow Copies buried in volume property pages. Another reason might be poor experiences using Shadow Copies in the past, since proper care might not have been taken to select the best location to store them.

Once you have enabled your daily backups to a dedicated backup volume with the Windows Backup GUI, go ahead and enable Shadow Copies on the volumes that contain user data. Safely and efficiently locate the copies on the same backup volume used by Windows Backup. Even if you didn't assign a drive letter to the Windows Backup volume, it will still be available to select from in the drop-down box where you assign the shadow copy location. Figure B shows where you set up shadow copies and how you point the shadow copies to the backup volume for storage.

Figure B

Reduce help desk calls by enabling shadow copies, efficiently sharing the backup volume