Developing a solid Windows Server 2008 backup and recovery strategy

No organization can survive without a quality backup and recovery plan. This excerpt from "Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference" provides tips for creating a sound backup and restore strategy for those running Microsoft's latest server operating system.

Microsoft Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference   This chapter excerpt from Microsoft Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference, by Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest, is printed with permission from McGraw-Hill Companies, Copyright 2008.

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About the authors

 

Even though servers are designed to include redundancy for server and data protection, no organization could operate without a disaster recovery strategy that includes both a strong and regular backup strategy and a sound recovery system. The procedures outlined here are based on WBADMIN.EXE, the default backup tool included in Windows Server 2008. This edition of Windows Backup is much more complete than previous editions, with the addition of both the Volume Shadow Copy service and the full systems recovery option. The first lets the system take a snapshot of all data before taking the backup, resolving many issues with the backup of open files. The second lets you rebuild a server without having to reinstall its software.

 

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Refer to Chapter 11 for more information on Windows Backup.

But if your enterprise is serious about its data, you will most likely have a more comprehensive backup engine. The best of these is Galaxy from Commvault Systems, Inc.. This is one of the only backup tools that fully supports Active Directory Domain Services, letting you restore objects and attributes directly within the directory without having to perform an authoritative restore, an operation that is rather complex. In addition, if you have massive volumes of data, Galaxy will save you considerable time, especially for full backups, because it builds a full backup image from past incremental backups, using a unique single-instance store technology. This means that you never run out of time to do your backup because it isn't actually drawn from the systems themselves, but rather from previous backup images.

BR-01: System Disk Backup Generation
Activity Frequency: Daily

System disk backups are critical on each server because these are the tools that protect the operating system itself. System disk data is always backed up as a whole and cannot be segregated. This is a daily task that should be automated.

 

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You should configure backups to run in either shared storage or removable disks so that you can store them offsite.

To schedule a system disk backup:

  1.  

  2. In the Server Manager console, go to Storage | Windows Server Backup.
  3.  

  4. Click Backup Schedule in the actions pane.
  5.  

  6. In the Backup Schedule Wizard, click Next and enter the information found in Table 13-2 to complete the wizard pages.

You can also perform a backup once for a special event. Repeat the procedure to create data backups on the same schedule.

TABLE 13-2 Backup Schedule Wizard Entries

Wizard Page Entry
Select Backup Type There are two choices:
  • Full Server
  • Custom — if you want to exclude some volumes
Specify Backup Time There are two choices:
  • Once a day and select time of day
  • Multiple backups every day and add the scheduled time
Specify Target Disk You need to select the disk for the backup. You can have multiple disks. Click Show All to select the disk, and in the Available Disks window, select the disk again. A warning message will appear, notifying you that the disk will be reformatted.
Label Target Disk Verify that the disk is labeled correctly according to the label column.

BR-02: Backup Verification
Activity Frequency: Daily

Even though backups are a lot easier to do and more reliable with WS08, you should still take the time to make sure they have been properly performed. To do so, you need to view the backup log on each file server. To check backup logs:

 

  1.  

  2. Use Procedure RA-01 to open a Remote Desktop Connection to the server you want to verify.
  3.  

  4. Click the Windows Server Backup tool in the Server Manager console under Storage to view the backup status, and click View Details.
  5.  

  6. Search for the word "Error" in the report log.

If you find errors, determine if it is a critical file and use Windows Explorer to see why the file wasn't backed up or if it needs to be recovered. Make note of the results of your investigation in your daily activity log (Procedure GS-06).

BR-03: Offsite Backup Management Activity Frequency: Weekly

One of the key elements of a disaster recovery strategy is the protection of your backup containers. After all, if your datacenter burns down and all your backup containers burn with it, it will be rather hard for you to reconstruct your systems. Therefore, you should make sure that you store your weekly backup containers in a different site, which should be protected from disasters. This can be anything from a safety deposit box in a bank to a specialized data protection service.

This means that once a week, you should take your full weekend backup and send it offsite to a protected vault and have them return older backups to reuse the tapes. You should also consider keeping a full monthly backup offsite, as well as at least one yearly backup (this can be the monthly backup for the last month in your fiscal year).

 

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If you implemented a replication policy for host server contents from one location to another, then all of your VSOs will be protected, because the files that make them up will be in more than one site.

BR-04: Disaster Recovery Strategy Testing
Activity Frequency: Monthly

A disaster recovery strategy is only as good as its proven ability to recover and reconstruct your systems. Therefore, you should take the time to validate your disaster recovery strategy on a monthly basis. This means making sure that everything that makes up the disaster recovery strategy is in place and ready to support your system reconstruction at any time. For resource pools, this includes everything from having spare parts, spare servers, spare network components, offsite storage of backup disks, a sound backup disk rotation system, documented procedures for system reconstruction—especially ADDS reconstruction—and so on. This review should be based on a checklist that you use to validate each of the elements that supports system recovery. Document any changes you bring to this strategy after you complete the review.

BR-05: Restore Procedure Testing
Activity Frequency: Monthly

Backups are only as good as their ability to restore information to a system. Therefore, once a month you should perform a restore test from a random copy of your backup media to make sure it actually works. Too many organizations have been caught empty-handed when they tried to restore critical files from backup disks that were never tested, only to find out that it didn't work. To test the restore procedure, use the Server Manager console to launch the Recovery Wizard (Storage | Windows Server Backup), and enter the information from Table 13-3.

Verify the integrity of the files you restore. Destroy the files when done.

TABLE 13-3 Recovery Wizard Entries

Wizard Page Entry
Getting Started Choose to recover data from this server or another server.
Select Date Select the date and time for the backup you want to restore.
Select Items To Recover Under the Available items, expand the plus sign. From the folder, click each item that you want to restore.
Select Recovery Options There are two options for the location:
  • Original location
  • Another location: you will need to enter the full path of the location or click the Browse button.

There are three options for the files and folders to restore:

  • Create copies so I have both versions of the file or folder
  • Overwrite existing files with recovered files
  • Don't recover any existing files and folders

BR-06: Backup Strategy Review
Activity Frequency: Monthly

Once a month you should also take the time to review your backup strategy. Has the volume of backups changed? Is there new information to include into your backups? Is your backup schedule appropriate? These and other questions should help you form a checklist that you can use to review your backup strategy.

Document any changes you make.

 

 

 
Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest are IT professionals specializing in systems administration, migration planning, software management and architecture design. Danielle is Microsoft MVP in Virtualization and Nelson is Microsoft MVP in Windows Server. They are authors of multiple books, including the free Definitive Guide to Vista Migration for Realtime Publishers and Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference for McGraw-Hill Osborne. For more tips, write to them at info@reso-net.com.
 
This was first published in August 2008

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