Windows Vista CompletePC – backup and restore from DVD media

WinvistaOver the past couple of days I’ve been finalizing my demo environment for this quarter.  Like many of you, disaster recovery is forefront on my mind when I hit the road, especially with a new laptop and desktop operating system.  Windows Vista CompletePC to save the day!!!

I’ve been using Windows Vista CompletePC full drive imaging off an on for several months.  All of the backups and restores were using big heavy external hard drives.  Not exactly the kind of thing you want to travel with.  This time around, I wanted to build a DVD set I could throw in with my usual DVD road crew.  There are a few tricks you need to know about, otherwise your restore may fail needlessly.

Doing the backup is pretty straightforward.  The laptop I have has a DVD+RW burner so that is what I used to create the DVD set.  I figured if it can create it, it damn sure better be able to read it later on a restore.  When you launch the CompletePC backup tool and tell it you want to do a backup, it will look at your attached hard drives and DVD burners and give you the option of choosing the target. 

When you backup to DVD, CompletePC will write a bunch of information into some XML files on the first and last disk of the DVD set.  It will also capture the physical state and data and write it to a virtual hard disk file.  In my case, and in most of your cases as well, this .vhd file will be too large to fit on a single DVD so it will be split into chunks as you are prompted for blank media.

The process of writing the disks is rather slow.  What else is new, right?  One of the reasons for the time consumption is the formatting of the disk, writing to the disk, and verification of the data written to each disk.  As long as it works, I don’t care about a little time up front.  As it completes the write of each disk, it will tell you to label it and request the next blank disk.  The format requested for the label is as follows:

machinename mm/dd/yyyy hh:mm am/pm disk number

As you can see, it’s a pretty straightforward set of information to label the disk with.  However, the disk number is slightly misleading so let me explain why I say that.  In my case, the hard drive I captured doesn’t have much installed.  CompletePC only needed to write two DVDs to make the disk set.  So I labeled them Disk 1 and Disk 2.

When it comes time to restore, you take the Windows Vista media you have and boot from it.  This boots the Windows PE 2.0 environment from which you can do various things like install or recovery.  We should probably change the text of the link to something like “Recovery and Diagnostics” because there’s some kewl tools in that area.

Running the restore on a laptop with a single DVD drive obviously means you’ll be swapping disks to do the restore.  After you have the WinPE recovery environment running and can see the CompletePC link, you can remove the Windows Vista media disk and insert the backup data disk. 

What disk would you put in the DVD drive at this point?

I think most of us would stick disk one on the drive at this point, but most of us would be wrong.  The first disk that is needed is actually the last disk that was written.  So, if you are paying attention, you would have removed the Windows Vista boot media, inserted the last DVD of your backup set, and clicked the CompletePC restore link.  CompletePC will read the XML and prompt you for confirmations on the backup, partitioning and formatting of the drive.  After you’ve confirmed everything, CompletePC will prompt you for Disk 1.

When you insert Disk 1, do not click the big highlighted OK button on the disk prompt dialogue box.  The disk will be read and the dialogue will be dismissed automatically.  If you click OK, most likely the XML for the disk will not have been read yet and you’ll get an error.  I wonder how I know that.  So resist the temptation and be patient.

Recovery will start and it will start laying down the bits.  You’ll be prompted for the remaining disks.  Again, resist the OK button and let those dialogue boxes disappear all by themselves.

If you’ve been living right, the restore will complete and the system will reboot to Windows Vista glory.  The above testing was performed with this weeks daily builds and is subject to change.  In fact, I hope it does.  We need to clean the wording up and make it a little more intuitive.  I provided that feedback directly to the feature program manager.  You know, the guy that took the sledgehammer to the hard drive on stage at TechED 2006.  Reminds me of the demo we wanted to do for the SQL Server 2005 launch.  Sorry, that one is still a secret.  We may try it for the Microsoft Internal Demo Competition.


Comments (6)

  1. Rob says:

    Kinda reminds me of the old DOS PKZip.  When you made an archive that spanned multiple floppies you had to start with the first, then put the last, then put the first in again.. then you run thru them in order.  It was a pain.

    Bet you can’t wait till you get a BlueRay drive, huh?  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Or, as a wise man once said "Same as it ever was"…

  2. Is it possible to restore the backup on different hardware?

  3. Keith Combs says:

    I don’t believe that’s possible at this point. If you want to do those type of captures and restores, look at the imaging tools we have coming out (ImageX).

  4. Thanks for your reply.

    After reading this blog, I found myself playing with this nice feature, for several hours last night 🙂

    When I found out that the backup/image format was VHD, I almost jumped off the chair…

    Would this thing mount i Virtual PC / Virtual Server?

    It would 🙂 But only as an additional drive in an existing VM guest. Will booting these backups in Virtual PC / Server be supported in a feature release of Vista and/or Virtual PC?

  5. Keith Combs says:

    I was wondering when someone was going to ask that question.  Yes, it mounts but boot support will not happen nor be supported.  Frankly, I would prefer that it can’t be mounted at all.  In the earlier versions of Windows Vista, you could not mount it.

    I’m afraid if people mount the files or monkey around with them, then they’ll hose the file(s) up and it won’t rescue them if needed.

    However, patch management and offline forensics comes to mind so I can see some cases for access to the backup data for security or legal issues.

  6. John Ball says:

    Wow, sounds really neat! I hope it is cleaned up but can’t wait to play around with it. I hope I’ll never have to use (restore) my pc with them though but it’s a heck of a lot better than what I have now!

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