Server 2008 System State Backups

Making sure you're prepared for that no-boot scenario

The “system state” of a Windows server can contain a variety of data stores but it always includes the computer settings in the registry, so making sure you have frequent system state backups is generally a good thing. A system state restore can often repair registry corruption (it did for me, recently), although you need to bear in mind that Server 2008 omits user Registry settings from the system state backup, so if you have user profile corruption, that’s not likely to be cured by a system state restore. Server 2008 doesn’t have a graphical interface for a system-state backup, but it does offer a command-line interface through the tool WBADMIN (Windows Backup Administrator). The syntax to create a system state backup is “wbadmin start systemstatebackup –backupTarget:volumename” where volumename is the destination drive. And here you bump into an issue. Turns out that Server 2008 doesn’t want to let you back up to what Microsoft calls a “critical volume.” The system volume is a critical volume, as is the boot volume, which can present a problem when you only have one volume on the server. There’s a way around this problem as documented in Microsoft knowledge base article KB944530, but there are enough prerequisites and warnings that you are probably well advised to just use a different volume – even an external USB drive, for example – to store your system state backups. Another issue is that WBADMIN is likely to bail out if the available disk space on the target volume drops to below 1 gigabyte. Microsoft is also on record as stating that the target volume should have at least twice the required size. Whichever bit of advice turns out to be correct, err on the safe side. Also, be aware that you can’t specify the folder for your system state backup. WBADMIN uses a hardwired location under the WindowsImageBackup directory. Should you ever need to restore the system state, the command syntax is “wbadmin start systemstaterecovery –backupTarget:volumename -recoveryTarget:volumename” where "volumename" in each case specifies the appropriate drive letters. There are other command line options too. For example, if you back up multiple systems’ system state to the same location, use the –machine parameter to tell WBADMIN which one you want to recover. And if there are different versions, use the –version parameter to specify the date and time of the one you want. (The “wbadmin get versions” command will show you all the backups that exist on the volume.) If all this seems a lot more complicated than it should be – or than it used to be – then you have a lot of company! In fact, I would imagine that the only people who like this system seem to be the third-party backup software providers, who make their living improving on it.


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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