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Performing a bare-metal restore in Windows Vista

Performing a bare-metal restore in Windows Vista can be tricky for inexperienced administrators. Learn Windows Backup best practices and Vista bare-metal restore.

Ever since Microsoft Windows Vista was first released, I have written quite a few articles bashing the backup application that comes with it. Even so, Windows Backup does have a couple of good points, and one of those good points is that it makes it possible for you to perform a full system backup, and if necessary, a bare-metal restore. Here are some tips on performing a bare-metal restore in Vista you should be aware of.

Since deploying Vista, I have had quite a few situations in which I needed to replace a workstation's system drive with a larger hard drive. Since many of my Vista machines are running non-standard configurations, I have typically chosen to back the machines up, and then perform a bare-metal restore to the new drive rather than simply deploying a new image to the drive or manually configuring the system.

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At first, the restoration process usually seems to go flawlessly. I have noticed, however, that there are some quirks involved in using Windows Backup to perform a bare-metal restore. Some of these quirks are by design, but you still need to be aware of them.

Volume space and Windows Vista

The first thing that you need to know is that when you perform a bare-metal restore, the restoration process will recreate the volumes that you have backed up. This means that you may not be using the new hard drive to its full potential. For example, if you were to replace a 250 GB drive with a 500 GB drive, the restore process is going to recreate a 250 GB volume on the 500 GB drive (assuming that the volume consumed the entire drive). In order to use the rest of the available disk space, you are going to have to use the Disk Management Console or a third-party utility to convert and (if necessary) extend the volume.

Drive letters

Another quirk that you need to know about is that drive letters are not always reassigned correctly. For example, I have a system that started out with one hard drive (C:) and a DVD drive (D:). Later on, I had to add a second hard drive to the system in order to meet the needs of a project that I was working on. I assigned this new drive the letter E:.

Last week, that computer got hit by lightening, and I had to replace it. Fortunately for me, I had just backed it up. But when I restored the backup, Windows had assigned D: to the second hard drive, and my DVD drive had been assigned E:. This was a problem because some of the machine's registry entries include paths with drive letters.

I was able to fix the problem by using the Disk Management Console to assign the drive letter Y: to the second hard drive, and Z: to the DVD drive. I rebooted the system, and was then able to assign D: to the DVD drive, and E: to the secondary hard drive.

Computer accounts

If you have done much work with the Active Directory, then you know that the Active Directory contains both user accounts and computer accounts. Like user accounts, computer accounts are assigned a password. This password is only used internally, so you never see it.

Windows automatically changes the computer account's password on a periodic basis. If you perform a bare-metal restore on a computer that is a domain member, then there is a good chance that the copy of the password that is stored on the workstation will be out of synch with the Active Directory.

The solution to this problem is to use the Netdom.exe utility to reset the computer account. You can find instructions online.

Reactivating Windows Vista

After performing a bare-metal restore, you will almost always have to reactivate Windows Vista. Microsoft gives you three days to complete the activation process, but a lot of administrators perform the activation immediately. Personally, I recommend waiting for a day or two to activate Windows until the machine can be tested to make sure that the machine is functioning properly after the restoration.

These are a few of the issues that I have encountered when performing a bare-metal restore against Windows Vista workstations in a real-world environment. Aside from minor issues like these, the restoration process seems to work very well, even when you are restoring the backup to different hardware.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has previously received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server (IIS). Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. You can visit Brien's personal website at www.brienposey.com.

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This was last published in June 2009

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