Checklist: What to do when your server crashes

If your server crashes you need to get it back online as quickly as possible. This checklist will help you do just that.

Every so often a server crash occurs that is so serious that you have no choice but to completely rebuild the server from scratch. The exact procedure you would use in this situation depends greatly on the server's operating system, its role within your organization and the type of backup (if any) that you have available.

In any case, it's almost always crucial to get a failed server back online as quickly as possible, and this checklist will help you do just that.

  What to do when your server crashes
Consider the status of your backup
The type of backup that you have available is going to make a big difference in how you go about recovering the server. If you use a product such as Acronis True Image 8.0 Enterprise Server for Windows (http://www.acronis.com/enterprise/products/ATIESWin/), then you should have a server image that you can restore. The fastest way to recover the server in that case will be to do a bare metal restore.

If you have a full backup of the server, but your backup software isn't capable of doing a bare metal restore, you will have to install an operating system and possibly install your backup software prior to restoring your backup.

If you only have a backup of the data, you will have to set up the server manually prior to restoring the data and bringing the server back online. The remainder of the checklist focuses on this of recovery.

Prepare the network
Before you rebuild the server, you must remove references to the previous server from the Active Directory. To do so, open the Active Directory Users and Computers console and remove the server from the Computers or the Domain Controllers container. You will probably have to wait for about 15 minutes for the next replication cycle to complete before the computer name will be released.

While you are waiting, take a few minutes to do a hardware inventory of the server you are rebuilding. You can then go online and download the latest drivers for each of your server's hardware components.

Install the operating system
The next step in the recovery process is to install the Windows operating system. If a hard drive failure caused the crash, then, obviously, you should replace the drive prior to installing the operating system. If your server's hard drive wasn't the cause of the problem, I recommend formatting the drive before you install the operating system. That way you won't have to worry about remnants of the server's old configuration interfering with the rebuilt configuration.

As you install the operating system, be sure to assign it the same computer name and IP address that it was using previously (assuming that the server was assigned a static IP address).

Install antivirus software
After you install the operating system, the very next thing you should install is your antivirus software. Make sure you manually force a virus definition update.
Run Windows Update
At this point, you should run Windows Update to be sure that your operating system has all of the latest service packs and hot fixes. Keep in mind that, by default, Windows will download all of the updates from the Microsoft Web site. Therefore, you should tweak Windows Update to download updates from your software update services (SUS) server instead (assuming that you have one).
Install server applications
Now it's time to install your server's applications, which includes apps like SQL Server or Exchange Server.
Install application updates
Next, install any updates to your server's applications. Before you install any service packs or hot fixes, though, it's important to stop and think about what service packs were present on the old server. Some applications, such as Exchange Server, make modifications to the database every time you install a new service pack. The only way you can restore an Exchange database is if the server is running the same Exchange service pack version that had been running the last time the data was backed up. Granted, you might not be rebuilding an Exchange Server, but many server applications work in a similar manner, so it's in your best interest to stay consistent with patch versions.
Install minor applications
Your next step in the process is to install any minor server applications. Minor applications are those little things that you use all the time but never really think about. These would include applications such as WinZip, Adobe Acrobat Viewer or maybe a favorite diagnostic utility.
Restore your data
The final step in the process is to restore your data. Once the data has been restored, I recommend running a virus scan and doing a few quick checks to make sure that everything is there and that your server's applications have linked to the data properly. You will also want to verify that the correct permissions are assigned to the data. Most backup applications will preserve permissions, but it pays to make sure before you inform everyone that the server is online.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   Go back to checklist
Brien Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as the 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, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at http://www.brienposey.com.

This was first published in May 2005

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