Previous Versions in Windows Home Server

Hi there and happy new year!

Last year the server I used at home went dead, and since it was pretty customized it’s also pretty ugly to repair. I’ve used it as virtualization host and file server, with three hard drives – the first for the operating system and stuff I don’t need highly redundant, the other two mirrored with all the data I prefer to keep (fotos, projekt, personal stuff, music I’ve bought). Even my home-drive of my laptops is just a share which is always synchronized for offline usage. Remote Access was possible either using STTP (VPN via SSL, built into Windows Server 2008+ and Vista+) or Remote Desktop Gateway (RDP via SSL, same OS requirements).

So … Server dead … no money … but highly important data on it. So I’ve done some research, and also got recommendations from follow MVPs, and decided to go with Windows Home Server, and got it up the same way (OK, without virtualization and the Windows Server 2008 features, but works for now until budget allows me a virtualization host again, and even then I’ll keep the home server and run the virtualization separatelly – WHS is a great product and base of my home network, data backup and recovery and home media strategy now).

However, to get back to the subject…

Today I’ve consolidated some of the data and made some error and deleted stuff from one share (personal) which was not yet in the project share. However, I’ve implemented Volume Shadow Copies and should be able to get the Files back via the previous versions client. So I went into previous versions, located the files, they were still there, but I was unable to open them / copy them / restore them. I always got the message “Das Gerät ist nicht angeschlossen” which translates to “The device is not connected”. Weird. After searching in some German Home Server Forums, I’ve found the statement that VSS (Volume Shadow Copies, the supporting technology of Previous Versions or Windows Backup or AD-Snapshots) are not working on Windows Home Server but on by default because MS might use it in the future. However, WHS is also keeping your Data redundant across multiple drives, and in the forums it was mentioned that the Data is like Tombstones which points to the real data in other locations.

To make the post not overly long, this is how you get previous versions back on a Windows Home Server:

  • Open up \\servername\d$\DE\shares\ (you also need to go via UNC if you do it from the WHS-console, Windows Server 2003 where WHS is based on only supports previous versions via UNC or mapped, not locally).
  • Navigate to the folders or files and use previous versions there, then copy the files back to \\server\share.

This is because:

  • \\server\share is the location where the tombstones of the data are stored, if you navigate there via previous versions you get the structure but only tombstone files which you can’t access or restore.
  • \\server\d$\DE\shares is one of the location where the real data is stored, might also vary depending on your setup (I’m not sure if it’s always d$ or if it depends how the drives are configured) and across which volumes the data is kept redundant (which is automatically decided by WHS).
  • \\server\c$\FS\<driveletter, e.g. F>\DE\shares would work as well, however VSS/Previous Version apparently has issues with the mount point, so you need to create a “Help Share” e.g. at c:\fs\F\DE\shares and then navigate via the new share [1].


Note: There are some things to consider:

  • WHS automatically decides where to keep the data redundant, so you might have to search across the volumes (d:\de\shares, c:\fs\f\de\shares, c:\fs\g\de\shares …)
  • Shadow copies are using by default 12% of the volumes space. If the “changed data” exceeds this limit the oldest snapshots will be released. Since it is likely that the volumes on your home server have different sizes (which is the default if you have to similar harddrives in your WHS, since the first one has one volume for the OS of 20MB usually), the default storage size for Volume Shadow Copies has different sizes. Therefore it might be that if you can access older data on one of the volumes which is not available on newer ones.
  • Since I don’t know exactly how the “redundancy algorithm” of WHS works (and I don’t need to know, that’s the beauty of WHS) I recommend not to restore the data in the original paths (d:\de, c:\fs\f\de,..) but to copy them to the default shares.

I hope this is valuable information to some WHS-Users out there, it would have been valuable for me earlier today ;)

 

Happy weekend,

Ulf

 

[1] The issue here is apparently that the previous versions client is getting the information whether Volume Shadow Copes are set up or not from the share it accesses. This is not the case on the C-Drive by default. However, even if we enable Previous Versions on the C-Drive, the Previous Versions Client will only show the Volume Shadow Copies of the C-Drive and not from the Mount-Points, so I recommend keeping VSS turned of on the C-Drive (ehm – Volume).



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