Posted by: tranquilpc | September 1, 2007

The Keys to Success

WHS is remarkable – and all the better now it’s likely to be available within the next few weeks (unless you were hoping for a HP unit of course).

I’ve really got one concern – the SYSTEM partition.

bigstockphoto_Making_Adjustments_to_the_Staf_815330_400The data, which is pretty important to be protected (one of the main points of WHS, is the data duplication feature) – is quite safe. 

The WHS backup (which is excellent, and data easy to get to, even at file level) just works – automatically.

But, the OS partition (20GB allocated, normally 5GB used) is where the data drive mapping, user configurations etc is held – not to mention the operating system itself.

So with mind in gear I set to reviewing how, on a headless system (no keyboard,mouse, or screen), one could take a secure snapshot of the system after users / shares / folders / backups / etc were all set up, and recover it back to this state. 

Of course a WHS client plug in is not the solution, as the OS may not boot.   Perhaps an application on the OS itself, again ‘no’ as the OS may not boot, and you can’t ‘see it’ anyway.

So the only solution was to work up from scratch.  The answer was to ‘image’ the OS partition,and provide a solution to ‘recover’ this image, at pre OS level – ie immediately after P.O.S.T. -oh, and to do this, without ANY screen, keyboard, mouse, or remote desktop !

First Issue – getting the BIOS to ALWAYS boot from a USB(Flash)HDD (the device with the tricky imaging software on it).  This is easy when you have a screen/keyboard – you just change the HDD boot priority.  But without a screen, it’s near impossible – as the ‘physical HDD’ will always rank 1st in the boot order, even if a bootable USB (in HDD mode) is present.  Fixing this for the T7-HSA was not simple – but eventually we did ‘fix’ the BIOS.  This ensured that if a USB stick (with bootable files) was ever present the system would always boot from it – 1st step completed.

Second issue – to ‘image’ the OS partition to a ‘secret’ new partition.  This is normally done by user intervention, but here we had to get it done, without any user control – we succeeded – not easy – but it was done.  So now we have an optimised BIOS, with a bootable USB key, that whenever inserted boots and images the OS partition ‘as is’ – then shuts down the system – just to say ‘it’s done’. You’ll have to keep your eye on the power LED for this – as the unit is so quiet, you’ll not know it’s shut down.

Third issue – to ‘recover’ the image to the OS partition.  This was relatively easy, as it is a reversal of the second issue (above).

This HAD to work, without affecting the USER data, USER settings, USER folders, etc – and I’m pleased to say it does – phew !

(My thanks to Christian in Germany, for exceptional assistance, in helping us in this project – you know who you are !)

So now with these two ‘magic’ USB keys, I am able to ‘securely image’ a configured WHS OS partition – and then, as needed, if needed, bring back the latest configuration and OS partition. All without a keyboard, mouse, screen, or remote desktop ! Viola

The above ‘magic’ keys will be shipped with the Tranquil T7-HSA (Harmony Home Servers) – as we know that ‘if’ or ‘when’ a recovery is needed, there must be a quick and easy solution – this is it.  (either operation takes approx. 6-7 minutes)

Remember this is not a ‘factory’ recovery button – it is a ‘user setup’ recovery.  If it was a ‘factory recovery’ or ‘system re-installation’ we are very worried what happens to the ‘data’ especially that on the ‘additional HDDs’ (as they ‘may’ be seen as ‘new devices’ and only way to ‘add them’ to the pool, is to format (ouch) them.

Keeping It Simple 

UPDATE : The recovery kit !!

WHS_Recovery_CD    

front1     back1

Update – Recovery Operation  Real World experience

Once the T7-HSA has been set up and ‘Imaged’ – it can be ‘taken back’ :

Process is :-

1. Remove any USB HDDs.
2. Power up unit with ‘Recovery’ USB stick plugged in.
3. USB ‘Green’ LED shows activity (flashing) whilst the unit is prepared (approx 5 minutes), then –
4. System ‘Red’ HDD LED shows activity (flasing) indicating the recovery is in process (approx 6 minutes), then –
5. System shuts down (all LEDs are OFF) – system has been successfuly restored. 

Advertisements

Responses

  1. […] restore your server back to its fully setup state – sounds like it’s caused a few headaches. Check out how he did it. Share this post at: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and […]

  2. Hiho from Germany again,

    great idea!!! Your are doing your job!!!

  3. Hi from the USA,

    Great extension towards a badly needed solution, but I didn’t see any mention in you solution for a ‘every day’ potential show-stopping problem:

    How will boot via USB handle multiple USB flash HDD’s?

    (Since WHS is explicitly meant to allow such storage, not being able to differentiate between the ‘magic’ USB HDD and your stored-data USB HDD’s could be horrendous.)

    Also, do you intend to sell your solution in the US?

    Ta!

    REPLY :

    Good to hear from you. The we have set our systems for strict BOOT order :
    Example 1. If only SATA (real HDD) is available, and OS is OK, then it installs from that.
    Example 2. If one of our USBFlash keys (USBHDD mode) is plugged in – the unit will ALWAYS boot from that.
    (we do recommend unlpugging USBHDDs (real HDDs) during the process, to ensure data security – not that they would affect the boot process.

    Re US – we can ship direct to US (at present).

    Just trust the solution – it works.

  4. […] Tranquil have taken a novel approach to the issue, by including a USB-key powered recovery kit for the T7-HSA. Two USB keys are included with the server, packed in a jewel case. To back up your server, you simply image your home server to one of the USB keys, and in the event of a major system issue, simply boot the server with the “Recovery” USB plugged in which prepares the server for re-imaging, switch to the second USB key when the preparation is complete, and in a few minutes, your server is back ready for action, with all user settings in tact. You can learn more about the recovery process over at Tranquil’s blog. […]

  5. […] Tranquil have taken a novel approach to the issue, by including a USB-key powered recovery kit for the T7-HSA. Two USB keys are included with the server, packed in a jewel case. To back up your server, you simply image your home server to one of the USB keys, and in the event of a major system issue, simply boot the server with the “Recovery” USB plugged in which prepares the server for re-imaging, switch to the second USB key when the preparation is complete, and in a few minutes, your server is back ready for action, with all user settings in tact. You can learn more about the recovery process over at Tranquil’s blog. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: