It's All About Image...

OK, so how hard is it supposed to be? Like most people who run Microsoft-based networks, I'm concerned about the effort that is required to rebuild a failed Windows 2000 server from scratch. Especially if it is one of the core machines on the network, such as the domain controller, mail server or proxy/gateway server. How long will it take to install the O/S, apply all the required service packs, install the services and applications, apply the service packs for these, configure it all, and test? A week at least I reckon...

Yes, I do keep regular tape backups of the machines, using Windows own built-in backup application. But I can't see how these will help me actually rebuild a machine from scratch - basically all I'm doing is saving the data. For the three core machines on my network, it's not the data that I'm worried about - it's the actual software set-up and configuration that I need to be able to restore.

I assumed that the answer was to use some disk image software to save complete images of the hard disks (created from DOS without Windows running) in a safe location. Then I can just rebuild the disk from this image to get back to exactly where I was - with all the service packs, applications and other stuff properly installed and configured. The problem seems to be finding suitable software to extract and restore these images.

I tried Paragon Drive Backup and Active@ Disk Image, but had some problems getting a boot disk to work properly. I wasn't convinced it would protect me, or be able to restore the image.Then I looked at the PowerQuest solutions. It looked great until I found the bit that said it doesn't work with Exchange Server or Active Directory. It seems that they have a new product on the way, but from the description it still doesn't look like the ideal answer. Maybe I'm wrong, and if you use these products and find they work well then please let me know.

I also tried TrueImage from Acronis, which so far seems to be the best of the bunch. It is supposed to be able to create the image under Windows, however I had some problems with the locked disk partition that Exchange Server creates, and a dozen sectors that it reports as beong "bad". I also had a few other issues with keyboards and network access, but so far it is certainly looking like one possible solution. I've got test images of some of the machines on my network to see how it performs, and I've already had one successful restore to create a copy of a machine.

Of course, if you are trying to duplicate one machine to another, possibly as an upgrade, it's only likely to work if the two machines have identical(ish) hardware and equipment. I managed to upgrade from a Dell 8100 to a Dell 8200 with only a few minor problems with video cards and sound cards. After a couple of hours I had the machine running, which is a lot sooner, and much less hassle, than installing from scratch with all the stuff I have on this machine.

Just remember that if you want to join the new machine and the existing one to the same network for testing (especially if you want to join the same domain), you have to change the machine name and the SIDs (Security IDs). I used the newsid utility from Sysinternals to do both in one go, and it worked fine. The only thing extra I had to do was change the machine name in the Settings | System | Indentification dialog to the new machine name before joining the domain. Don't forget to to check that you have sufficient software licences as well.

Another obvious answer is to go with Symantec Ghost. I tried the "personal" edition, but it seems to have almost every useful feature disabled. What about the "Enterprise" version (designed to back-up starships?) - it looks like the way to go. So, here's the fun part. I can't actually buy it from Symantec's Web site because I live in England. Excuse me guys, but not everyone who owns a computer lives in the USA. There are one or two of us living in the backwaters of the planet that use Windows 2000...

What it seems I have to do is contact the Symantec office here in the UK. Well, I'm quite fond of poor quality classical music that is regularly interrupted with inane reassurances that "I'm important", but I did get fed up after I'd heard Bach's 5th symphony in its entirety for the third time. I can think of better ways to spend my money than pay for a two-hour phone call just to listen to music.

But we live in a modern hi-tech world. I don't need to phone - I can use their "contact" page to send an email. Oh yeah? I did this twice, and three weeks later haven't heard a thing. What was my "complicated" request? Basically it said: "I want to spend money on buying your product. Please tell me how much it costs and where I can get it".

So, after all this ranting, is there a solution? Can anyone recommend software that can image a Windows 2000 Server machine that runs Active Directory, Exchange Server, ISA, and a few other services such as DHCP and DNS? Or is this one of those tasks that's actually impossible...? What about UltraBac? Has anyone tried this? Let me know: alex@stonebroom.com

Footnote: Since writing this, I've managed to get something sorted using TrueImage and some extra hardware. Details in the latest report. And I also finally got a reply from Symantec after more than four weeks that said (and I quote):

"Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms xxxx,
Thank you for your enquiry.
If your too impatient to wait on the telephone, you could buy it from the
internet as well either way you buy it you must pay by credit card. And if
you want the CD you could go to the nearest computer store that sales our
products."

But they only sell the 'Home User' stuff, and not the 'Enterprise' products...!"

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