How to retrieve lost files using Group Policy folder redirection

Learn how to combat many file and folder disasters using the 'Redirect My Documents' option via Group Policy in the Windows domain.

One useful tool for administrators is the 'Redirect the My Documents folder' option via Group Policy in the Windows domain. This option can help administrators combat most of the file and folder disasters that befall users.

These disasters could be an incorrectly saved change, a corrupted file or a file that's flat-out deleted. Unfortunately, I often find that the file was stored locally on a PC and consequently not backed up. Then I hear the following:

  • "I didn't know I was supposed to save files to the network/server."
  • "When did we start saving our files there?
  • "What's a server?"

When you remind them that they were repeatedly told to save their critical files to the network file server/mapped network drive, you receive "fun" expressions that are inevitably followed by:

  • I don't have time to worry about where I am saving my files. . . .That's your job!"
  • "I'm not an IT guy. How am I supposed to know where I'm saving my files?"
  • "Come on. Just get my files back. I'm busy. . . ."

Redirecting documents in a Windows domain

The "Redirect the My Documents folder" option via Group Policy in a Windows domain works, but it's only a partial solution, as this process only redirects the My Docs folder and not the user's other folders, such as their favorites, temp directories, etc.

To save your users' (and more importantly your own) sanity, I recommend backing up their computers to their own PC's local hard disk. If your environment utilizes a full version of Windows (not thin clients), you can use the built-in backup utility found in Windows XP Pro to schedule periodic backups of the users' local directories to the local disk. Hard disk space used to be at a premium, but since most newer systems have 40+ GB drives, you can normally use that unused space for other purposes without causing storage issues later.

Recovery options to retrieve lost files

I create locally scheduled backups on all the PCs I can, along with the "Redirect the My Documents" option, the Volume Shadow Copy service and tape/disk nightly backups. The local backups can either be scheduled manually or via some other deployment mechanism, such as logon scripts. That way, when the next user comes screaming, I'm armed with multiple recovery options to retrieve their files.

More on retrieving lost files

About the author: Tim Fenner (MCSE, MCSA: Messaging, Network+ and A+) is a senior systems administrator who oversees a Microsoft Windows, Exchange and Office environment. He also an independent consultant who specializes in the design, implementation and management of Windows networks.

This was first published in June 2007

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