Bare metal restore via Automated System Recovery

When a hard disk fails catastrophically, what can you do? Here's how to use Automated System Recovery to create and restore files, along with some rules to abide by when you use it.

What do you do if one of your users' hard disks fails catastrophically, and the system is unbootable? The obvious...

solution is to replace the hard disk and then restore a backup.

If you are using NTBackup, you have to install Windows before you can restore your backup. It would save so much time if you could just perform a bare metal restore. And you can. NTBackup does support a bare-metal restore through a mechanism called Automated System Recovery (ASR).

But you can't use ASR unless you have specifically instructed Windows to create an ASR backup. Even then, there are a rules you have to follow. You must place the backup in a location where it will be accessible during the restoration. ASR is invoked during the early stages of Windows Setup. As such, network drives are completely inaccessible. Your best bet is to use a locally attached tape drive.

Many people like to save backups to a file on a hard drive. Backup images saved to a hard drive can work with ASR as long as the image is not saved to the drive containing Windows. However, hard drive backup images are not recommended for use with ASR because when you perform an ASR, Windows will completely erase all of the data from the volume containing Windows. Generally, other volumes are safe, but if you have selected other volumes to be restored or if ASR detects a problem with another volume, those volumes can be erased as well.

ASR is incompatible with FAT-16 partitions over 2.1 GB in size. FAT-16 partitions are natively limited to approximately 2 GB of disk space, but utilities exist that will allow you to create a 4 GB FAT-16 partition. Volumes on a Windows Server should really be running NTFS anyway, though.

Creating an Automated System Recovery backup

First you have to tell NTBackup that you want to use ASR. When you open NTBackup, the Welcome tab is selected by default. The last option on this tab is the ASR Wizard. Click this button, then the Next button to bypass the Welcome screen. At this point, a screen will ask you what type of backup media you want to use and where you would like the backup to be saved. Make your selection (keeping in mind the rules I mentioned earlier) and click Next, followed by Finish.

NTBackup will now back up your system files. When the backup completes, you will be prompted to insert a blank floppy disk, which NTBackup will use to save some of the ASR information. That's all there is to it. Keep in mind that an ASR backup is no substitute for a normal backup. It has one job, and that's to return Windows to a functional state. You may have to restore other backups to get back your applications and data.

Restoring an Automated System Recovery backup

The first step in restoring a backup via ASR is to gather the ASR floppy disk, your most recent backup and your Windows Server 2003 installation CD. Insert the installation CD and reboot the system. When you see the message "Press Any Key To Boot From CD," do so. (If you never see this message, then your system isn't configured to boot from a CD. You can fix this by going into your computer's BIOS Setup and rearranging the boot device order.)

When the Windows Server 2003 Setup program loads, it will ask you to press F6 to load any third-party drivers. Load any necessary drivers for your tape drive at this point. Windows Setup will now briefly (you have to look quick!) display a prompt that says to press F2 to run ASR. A screen will prompt you to insert your ASR disk and press a key to continue.

Insert the disk, and Windows will prompt you for the location of the backup media. After supplying this information, you will be prompted to enter the path to your Windows directory. Normally, this will be either C:\Windows or C:\WINNT. You must supply Setup with the correct location because, otherwise, Windows may not be functional after it is restored.

Now just kick back and wait for the restoration to complete. You should have Windows up and running in no time.

10 tips in 10 minutes: Disaster Recovery

  Tip 1: Automated System Recovery remedies corrupted registry
  Tip 2: Ultimate boot CD packs in recovery, repair utilities
  Tip 3: Disk imaging for disaster recovery
  Tip 4: Recovery programs fix OS mistakes
  Tip 5: WinXP and Windows Server 2003 volume shadow copy service
  Tip 6: Restore and recover with Windows 2000
  Tip 7: Disaster recovery for SBS
  Tip 8: Best Practices: Desktop disaster recovery
  Tip 9: Bare metal restore via Automated System Recovery
  Tip 10: What to do when your hard drive fails

Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at

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This was last published in November 2005

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