Microsoft System Restore Failure Leaves Me Hanging

So, I’m minding my own business, just getting ready for another seminar, setting up our one and only Windows laptop to our projector when Power Point decides to crap out.  Reboots didn’t help and time was running short.  No problem, right?  Just roll back to a previous restore point and I should be fine.  Well, that didn’t turn out to be true.  I’m actually not that torqued that rolling back didn’t fix anything, I’m torqued that the rollback failed and the chose to wipe out all my other restore points!

I chose a restore point that was just before the last Microsoft update, thinking that may have been the culprit and knowing that everything worked fine the last time I used the laptop.  However, the system restore failed with an “unspecified error” and told me I should disable my antivirus and try again.  It then informed me it would have to undo the attempted restore.  Ok, sure, why not?  Here’s the fun part; the system restore got to the end of the rollback, failed and spit out an error that says something to the effect of “unable to rollback from system restore since the system restore did not complete correctly”.  That’s genius!  So, I have to rollback due to a failed restore, and simultaneously can’t rollback due to the same failed restore.  Oh, and just for good measure, we’ll destroy all the other restore points that were there so that you can’t use any of those or attempt to do this again.  Nice.

If you were wondering, the antivirus I run on this laptop is Microsoft Security Essentials, which apparently Microsoft System Restore doesn’t know how to interact with.

End of the world?  No, we proceeded with our broken PowerPoint and showed our video clips outside of PowerPoint and lived without answers to all of our audience response slides.  Once back home, I was able to uninstall and reinstall Office 2007 and get things working again (no, repair didn’t work).  I also had an image I could have used to perform a bare metal restore, though I failed to bring it along on my external drive.  It wouldn’t have mattered as I didn’t have an hour or two to wait for a bare metal restore.  I have, however, managed to get the audience response system(the only reason we need to run PowerPoint on a Windows computer) working on Windows running on Parallels on two of our Macs, so I have multiple redundant systems moving forward.

When Web Apps Aren’t

I think it’s great that there are companies using web applications and not requiring me to install yet another application on my laptop.  One nice advantage of a web app is that it is a thin client, utilizing my existing browser,  allowing the work to be done on a server somewhere else and not on my computer.  Properly written, it also allows me access from any internet connected computer.  However, if your application only works in one particular browser, then I say phooey to you!

We have one application that only runs on Internet Explorer.  It bears mentioning that I am a Mac user, so I can’t just install Internet Explorer.  I do have Parallels installed to run any Microsoft apps that come my way, though it turns out the only app I’ve had to run on Windows so far is Internet Explorer!  I was expecting to have several applications that I would need to install in Windows, but no, just the web browser.  To make things worse, I updated Internet Explorer and then was unable to use the single application I have that depends on that browser and thus had to downgrade.  As for one of the advantages of a web app?  I hardly think that Windows 7 (since I can’t just install IE on Mac) counts as a thin client.  Even if I were still on Windows, I’d prefer to just install an app, rather than relying on a single browser and hoping that one of the many Microsoft OS patches doesn’t affect the usability of such a narrowly defined web application.

Ok, that’s it, I’ll step off my soapbox now and return you to your regularly scheduled programs (which can hopefully run in at least more than one browser).  And No Thank You to those of you about to offer me some cheese to go with my whine.

Backing Up With CrashPlan

We moved into our new office in February of 2011.  One of the first things we did was to get our lab back up and running (well, after installing the new fridge to cool my soda).  Having heard good things about CrashPlan, we decided to give it a test run.  The short version of the story is: it’s easy to install, administer, restore from and even easier to migrate to new hardware than I originally anticipated.

Environment

Just a quick review of our environment. We are backing up 2 Macbook Pro laptops and 1 iMac using the free version of CrashPlan.  We are backing up to a Windows 7 box in our lab with a 16TB Drobo attached to it.  Yes, we could have backed up each laptop to the CrashPlan site and not had to point it to our own server and storage, but where’s the fun in that?  We may add that functionality in the future.

This is not intended as an in-depth review or detailed walk-through of the product.  I was actually impressed with the ease of migrating to a new server and decided to share my experience with the product.

Installation and Use

Installation on all 4 machines (the macs and the backup server) took only minutes and was a simple process.  The initial backup to our local server took the better part of a few days to complete, mostly because one of us actually has some 200+ GB of stuff on his 500 GB drive (I can “name fingers and point names”, but we’ll just say his name rhymes with Wurtis).

Restoring a file was as simple as walking through my filesystem in the CrashPlan GUI and selecting the file to restore, which restores the most recent copy to the Desktop by default, but it is easy to click and change which version and where to restore.  I even did a restore while the backup was still running.

I’ll note here that administration with this version is rather minimal, as it was designed for personal backups, CrashPlan Pro is really where you would go to manage backups for multiple computers.  With the version we have, I can see the status of all 3 laptop backups only if I log into CrashPlan on the backup server, and only get notifications for backups of my own laptop.

Migrating to New Hardware

Ok, so this would not have been a problem I would have to worry about if I had simply enabled the offsite feature and backed up to the CrashPlan site.  However, there would not have been as much to test or play with had we gone that route.

The problem was our backup server which started to flake out on us.  Since it is running on hardware that wasn’t exactly the newest and fastest when we bought it some 3 or 4 years ago, I didn’t even bother trying to spend much time troubleshooting and fixing. I just bought a new box from Fry’s.

Once I had gone through the 5,000 or so windows updates/patches, I installed CrashPlan on the new server, shutdown CrashPlan on the old server and moved the Drobo to the new server.  I was anticipating re-configuring each of the 3 clients to point to the new server and having them re-sync themselves.  I knew they wouldn’t need to start over on the backups since we essentially have the backups seeded on the Drobo.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was even easier than that.  Once I started CrashPlan on the new server, and signed in with the same account as the old server, it showed me both computers the account was assigned to and asked me if I wanted it to take over (adopt) backups for the other computer.  Why yes I do, thank you very much!  That was all it took.  Backups resumed for all 3 clients with no additional configuration needed.

Summary

As I said, easy to install, easy to restore from and even easy to move to new hardware if you’re using the onsite option.