Windows Home Server Doldrums

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I have a love-hate, approach-avoidance relationship with the Windows Home Server on the Centrale SOHO LAN here.  I love that it is always on and providing backups and shared storage of all of our computers and permanent information.  I cringe for the next time WHS will fail in some way.  This has me be wary and also quite aware that the WHS, a failed Microsoft product, is in need of a reliable backup and recovery strategy for itself.  It has become the household’s dominate single-point of computer failure concern.

I’ve been in denial about the precautions I must perfect.

Scary Messages about WHS corrupted/unreadable shared filesThis all came back to me when WHS recently reported that a small set of shared files, very old shared files, were reported as damaged or inconsistent.  The remedy is to remote-console into the WHS and run about 12 hours worth of chkdsk.  Before I did that, I did what I could to (unsuccessfully) grab the folder having the defective files just in case they were lost as part of the disk checking and repair.  In truth, I did not need the particular files any longer, but the same folder did have valuable content.

The chkdsk and a couple of reboots determined that WHS was restored to good health.  Watching the chkdsk reports, it appears that the problem was five index records needing to be created.

This reminded me that there another place where I was extremely complacent.  I have avoided backing up the WHS-shared files to USB drives because that also takes 8-12 hours.  I know these are USB 2.0 drives, but it is unbelievable how long it takes to backup about 300GB of information.

A successful incremental backup of WHS to USB DriveI had a USB backup drive already connected so I decided to perform a backup of all the shares.  I’m sure the backup on the drive was at least 12 months out-of-date. 

One thing I learned, while the lengthy USB backup was underway.  Computer backups still work.  That is, there is enough bandwidth and performance on the WHS that it can be doing incremental backups of computer images while backing up the separate shared folders to the USB drive.

I had to leave the USB backup running overnight.  In the morning, I learned that the backup was “incomplete.”  That’s all I knew.  There was no explanation.

Thinking that perhaps my 750GB USB drive didn’t have enough capacity for the full backup, or there were other problems, I removed the current USB backup and hooked-up a fresh 500 GB drive.  This time, I was careful to keep my system connected and watch the running log of the backup activity. 

Keeping my eye on the second backup revealed the problem: I had material in shared folders whose full path and filenames were too long to be recorded on the USB backup.  It was a small amount of material, but the backup process made several tries at backing up those after everything else was backed up.  I’m not sure why it kept trying.  I went to the shares of those files to see if I could do some renaming, but that was not possible because the files were in use by another program.  Guess who?

I ended the backup, satisfied that everything critical had been backup up.  Afterwards, I went into WHS and drastically cleaned up the two folders that had the problems.  They will be caught in the next backup to the USB drive.

It nagged at me that there was material that was all right on the server but couldn’t be backed-up because of path length and file-name length problems.   I mounted my backup USB on my desktop machine and immediately saw the answer:

The Extra Hierarchy on the USB Backup

Each incremental backup on the USB drive is in its own folder.  The folders from the WHS are two levels deeper.  There is a folder for the date and time of the backup (2012-11-13_1821, above) and another folder (shares, above) that then has the backup of the names shared-folder sets.   That was enough to make it not possible to backup some files deep in the Users folder.

The nice part is files that have not changed are not duplicated.  Instead, links are used to the earlier backup.  In this way, the backup drive does not fill so rapidly and each dated set appears as a complete snapshot.  The part that wasn’t obvious, until it happened, was the hazard of extending the file hierarchy that put some materials over the file-path-length limits of the file system.

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This page contains a single entry by Dennis E. Hamilton published on November 20, 2012 11:05 AM.

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