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Server 2003's Shadow Copy Service Ends File Restore Burdens

If you had to choose one chore in the life of a network administrator that everyone hates, it would be backup administrator -- or perhaps I should say “restore administrator.” No matter the size of the corporation or number of users you support, you will always need to be at the rescue of a victim who accidentally deletes, incorrectly modifies or corrupts a file, or wipes out an entire folder. The scenario usually turns the most level-headed employee into a suicidal maniac and it’s up to you, the file surgeon, to save the day.

Deleted or destroyed files can always be recovered as long as you are doing regular backups every night and make sure the backups are always working and that you have reliable recovery procedures. You can talk your colleagues off the balcony or ledge they may be about to jump from by advising them that the file can be recovered because a backup of the file exists on tape.

But being able to recover a file from a tape backup does not cut it any more. Once users realize that the file they get back is current only to last night, they can quickly turn from being suicidal to homicidal. In addition, it's extremely time-consuming to request tape cartridges from storage, load them up in a tape drive, fire up the restore software to find the files and then restore them to a location on the network. While it does not happen often, a tape drive can take umbrage to your request for the file and decide to chew the tape to pieces, leaving you no way to recover the file.

In short, the entire file restore burden is one you can live without. On a network supporting hundreds of users, it is not far-fetched to get restore requests every single day, enough to send the network admin to that ledge on the top floor.

There is a solution -- a very elegant one. You can end the file restore burden forever and only maintain tape backups for historical or archival purposes by backing up to disk. File recovery can be achieved without ever resorting to tape backups by simply implementing the shadow copy service. The Shadow Copies of Shared Folders service (shadow copy for short) is not new, yet it is one of those overlooked services that go unused on far too many networks.

A shadow copy of a file is a file that is copied at certain intervals, while users are working with it, to a special location on the file server. The shadow copy service on Windows Server 2003 lets you select a shared folder as a candidate for shadow copies and makes copies of the files being used several times a day, as determined by the file server administrator. Recovering the files is simply a matter of accessing the copies, which can be user-driven; thus, you can completely eliminate the restore burden and the problem of losing the most recent changes and additions to a file that was backed up some time ago.

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