Tips and Tricks

Help for Lost Files

Windows Server 2003's Volume Shadow Copy Service will help admins get off the restore treadmill.

Among the many time-consuming chores administrators must deal with each day is helping users restore files that get corrupted or lost, whether due to some disastrous mistake or mysterious force. Organizations that employ Windows Server 2003 have a way to get off the restore treadmill: Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS).

VSS is technology built into Windows 2003 that multiple times per day will take snapshots of files stored on the server and archive the results, providing a history of each file. Once the server is configured to create these archives, users can be instructed on how to restore their own files, removing that burden from administrators.

Configuring VSS
To configure VSS, begin with the Windows 2003 computer where the documents reside. (Sorry, Windows 2000 doesn't provide support for VSS.) VSS works on a per-volume basis, which may force you to consider what you will store on each volume before you start to chop up your hard disks. From the Windows Explorer console you can toggle VSS on and off. Select the volume that will use VSS, then right-click on the volume where VSS will be configured. Select properties from the menu. When the volume properties sheet appears, move to the Shadow Copies tab.

Tip Box

It might sound like a grand idea to make a continuous backup of files throughout the day. However, if you make more than one backup per hour, the server will feel it. VSS is a volume-based tool, and a single volume can contain Gigabytes or Terabytes of information, which does tax the server when it makes its copy of the documents. By default, the server will make two copies per day. Therefore, in practice, you're bound by the range of two to 24 backups per day.

Within the VSS tab, you have control over the VSS properties for this volume. This is where you initially enable VSS and locate VSS archive files. Another setting that you have control over is the maximum size of the shadow copy storage. This should be considered when you are sizing the hard drives and volume for the data. The final setting to consider is how often the copies will be made for this shadow copy. By default two copies are made daily, at 7 a.m. and 12 p.m., Monday through Friday.

VSS Support
The clients that support VSS are Windows XP Professional and Home, Win2K Pro with SP3 or higher and Windows 98. You'll need to install a VSS client, namely twcli32.msi. This file can be found in Windows 2003's C:\Windows\System32\clients\ twclient\x86 folder. Once they have the VSS client installed, users will see a new Previous Versions tab on the Property page of each file they view on the VSS server (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. VSS Previous Versions tab.
Figure 1. Once the Volume Shadow Copy Service client software is installed, users will see this Previous Versions tab, which allows them to view and restore earlier versions of files stored on VSS servers. (Click image to view larger version.)

From there users can view the versions of the files listed and quickly restore any previous version listed. If the user is unsure of the contents of a previous version, a view command provides access to the archived file without restoring it to production. Users can also use the copy button to access both the current and older versions. Best of all, once you provide some instruction, users can restore lost or damaged files on their own, rather than contacting an administrator to do it for them.

Small Price to Pay
The drawback to VSS is that the archives must fit in whatever server hard disk space you have available, which effectively means files can be archived only for a limited period of time (see Tip Box). That's a small price to pay to provide users with immediate access to older versions of their files—without bugging you.

About the Author

Derek Melber (MCSE, MVP, CISM) is president of BrainCore.Net AZ, Inc., as well as an independent consultant and speaker, as well as author of many IT books. Derek educates and evangelizes Microsoft technology, focusing on Active Directory, Group Policy, security and desktop management. As one of only 8 MVPs in the world on Group Policy, Derek’s company is often called upon to develop end-to-end solutions regarding Group Policy for companies. Derek is the author of the The Group Policy Resource Kit by MSPress, which is the defacto book on the subject.

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