System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Backup and Restore Center

This chapter excerpt from "Tricks of the Microsoft Windows Vista Masters" covers Vista's Backup and Restore Center and provides you with key information on complete system backup, how to access backup with virtual servers or PCs and how to use the configuration tool.

Service provider takeaway: Discover the various new features of Vista's Backup and Restore Center and learn how to access backups with a virtual PC or virtual server, to ease your customers' backup problems. This section of the chapter excerpt titled "System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks" is taken from the book Tricks of the Microsoft Windows Vista Masters.

Download the .pdf of the "System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks" chapter here.

Computers die. It's true. They overheat; they get old and run down. A lightning strike creeps up the wires into your box. They call them terminals for a reason. It's because their lifespan is terminal (okay, not really, but you take my point). The difference with a computer is that you have the ability to back up your data, settings, and preferences and restore them to the same machine with new hardware or an entirely new machine.

The Backup and Restore Center

Even novice users can open the Backup and Restore Center (shown in Figure 8.1) and work their way through the wizards. To find it you can type Backup and Restore Center from the Start orb search pane, or you can open the All Programs folder, go to Maintenance, and select it from there to start the wizards.

The Backup and Restore Center is an easy console for novice users to work with.

From within the center you can do the following:

  • Back up your data files (or schedule your files to be backed up at regular intervals to ensure data protection).
  • Perform a Windows CompletePC Backup image (which creates a snapshot of the entire system, including files). CompletePC Backup is available in the Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate versions of Vista.
  • Restore your files or entire PC from the backups you've created.

There are some improvements of the backup program in Vista besides ease of use. Mitch Tulloch, a Microsoft MVP and president of MTIT Enterprises (www.mtit.com), says that choosing "where you want to store your backup files…. This is the biggest improvement in the Windows Vista version of Windows Backup over the Windows XP version of the same tool." You can back up files to another drive on your system, to a removable drive (such as USB), a CD, a DVD, or even to another system using a shared folder on that other system. Keep in mind that you need to include the proper credentials on the other system if you use a network location.

Before you go backing up your complete system, it would be good to know what the caveats are. When you restore your CompletePC backup, you are pretty much overwriting the drive, which can be destructive to the existing contents, so keep that in mind before you decide to test this on your home system just for fun (although reports show that the process works quite smoothly, much like restore CDs that have been included PCs). It's an emergency tool. Also, be sure you have enough disk space for the backup. Compression varies depending on the type of data you backup, so until you get a handle on how much backup space you need, assume a 1:1 backup (meaning if you have 1 GB of data to backup, make sure you have that amount of space available for your backup). With a CompletePC backup, because of the way it works, you cannot save the image to the same hard drive that holds the location of the system files. You'll need another drive (formatted as NTFS) or a bunch of DVD's (the more data, the more DVD's).

Accessing Backups with Virtual PC or Virtual Server

Keep in mind that a CompletePC backup saves its data to a virtual hard disk file (.vhd extension). This is the same format used by Virtual PC and Virtual Server. Now the coolest part about this is -- you guessed it -- you can mount the virtual disk! Note, this doesn't mean you can boot up the VHD file, just that you can access the information off of it from an existing virtual machine.

Daniel Nerenberg
Ever wish you could grab just one file from a PC backup rather than having to restore the entire backup? Now with Vista CompletePC Backup you can! Using Vista CompletePC Backup, you can now create full backups of your entire hard drive to external media -- for instance, a USB hard drive. To browse to the folder you specified, you need to drill down to the folder that contains the VHD file. Now that you know where the VHD is located, you need to open it. Using either Virtual PC 2007 or Virtual Server 2005, you can add the VHD to the list of hard drives installed on a virtual machine (VM) you have already created (a VM install on XP or Vista works best). Now turn on your VM as usual. When the VM is running, you should see the backed-up data listed as a new drive in your VM's hard drive list. You can pick and choose the files you need to recover.
Note: You need to ensure that the account you are using to run Virtual PC or Virtual Server has read/write permission on the VHD file. If the account does not, you might not see the drive and will not be able to mount it in Windows.

After your VM is up and running, you can see the backed-up data listed as a drive by going through My Computer (or Explorer). Philip Colmer (http://pcmusings.spaces. live.com/) says, "If you've got Virtual Server 2005 installed, there is also a command (vhdmount) that allows you to mount a VHD file as a virtual drive within a running system, so you don't need to start up a virtual environment."

Here is a story that demonstrates the real-world side to these solutions:

Bryant Likes, MVP, Senior Solution Developer for Avanade
When I upgraded from Vista Pre-RC1 to RC1, I used the built-in backup program to back up my files. It worked very well for me so when I was upgrading from the Sept CTP to RC2, I decided to use it again. I also put a little more confidence in it and didn't do a completely thorough job of backing up my files (besides the full backup, that is). So, when I realized that I forgot to back something up, I fired up the backup program and pointed it to my Sept CTP backup. However, the tool complained that there were no backup sets on the drive. Hmmmm. I wasn't able to get the restore to ever recognize the backup set, but I did find that Microsoft is storing the backup as a VHD file. Those of you familiar with virtualization will know that that is a virtual hard disk. So, with some help from the Virtual PC guy (http://blogs.msdn.com/virtual_pc_guy/default.aspx), I was able to mount the VHD using Virtual Server R2 SP1 Beta 2's VHDMount utility (yes, that really is the product's name). So I now have a drive on my Vista RC2 machine that contains all the files from my Sept CTP machine and I can browse them and restore them at my leisure. Whoever made the call to back up to VHD, I owe you a beer. Great choice!

The "Virtual Machine Guy" is Ben Armstrong, program manager of the Virtual Machine Team (http://blogs.msdn.com/Virtual_PC_Guy/). He has some great advice to give. One cool trick he offers is to make some Registry changes using a .reg file that enables you to double-click a VHD file to mount it and right-click it to unmount it using the vhdmount tool from your OS (keep in mind that you need to download the tool for your Vista system, although it is installed automatically on systems running Virtual Server 2005).

Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 Beta 2 includes vhdmount, a tool that enables you to mount a virtual hard disk directly on your host operating system. Although vhdmount is provided as a command-line tool, a very small amount of work lets you mount VHDs by just double-clicking them. You can create a .reg file with the following contents:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
@=""C:Program FilesMicrosoft Virtual ServerVhdmountvhdmount.exe" /u "%1""
@=""C:Program FilesMicrosoft Virtual ServerVhdmountvhdmount.exe" /p "%1""

Then if you double-click the .reg file (to load it into your Registry), you will be able to double-click a VHD to mount it and right-click it to dismount it.

Backup Status and Configuration

The Backup and Restore Center is the simple way to protect your data. But if you want to make some changes to the process, you need to use the Backup Status and Configuration tool found by selecting Programs, Accessories, System Tools (see Figure 8.2).

Backup Status and Configuration options.

It's from within the BSC options that you can choose which disk or network drive to back up to. You can also choose the types of files you want backed up regularly (Pictures, Music, Videos, E-mail, Documents, TV shows, Compressed Files, Additional Files, and so on). And the cool side to all of this is that you can schedule your backup to occur whenever you like.

Tricks of the Microsoft Windows Vista Masters
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Backup and Restore Center
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: The System Rating
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Windows System Assessment Tool
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Problem Reports and Solutions
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Reliability and Performance Monitor
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Memory Diagnostics Tool
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: ReadyBoost and SuperFetch
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Vista Recovery: Advanced Boot Options, WinRE, and WinPE

About the author
J. Peter Bruzzese is an independent consultant and trainer for a variety of clients, including New Horizons and ONLC.com. Over the past 10 years, Peter has worked for and with Goldman Sachs, CommVault Systems and Microsoft, among other companies. He focuses on corporate training. Peter is the author of Tricks of the Microsoft Windows Vista Masters and writes for Redmond Magazine. He travels frequently to speak at conferences and has been an MCT since 1998.

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