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Why Windows Home Server is awesome…

I forget I even have it.

I don’t think there can be any better recommendation for a backup solution.  My computers are all backed up daily, and I don’t even know it happens.

On top of that, there’s so much more that can be done with WHS.  A list of some things I use my WHS for:

  • Storage. I keep smallish hard drives in my PC’s (most of them are around whs_places250GB) and then put big honkin hard drives in my WHS.  Each of the indicated places in the screen shot on the right (take from Explorer in Windows 7) points to storage on my server.
  • Reliability.  You can selectively enable folders on the WHS to be “duplicated”.  What this means is that every file in that folder is stored two times…on seperate hard drives.  This is done transparently to the end user so you don’t have to worry about knowing which copy is the newest.  The benefit is that if a hard drive dies (it will), your important data is not lost.
  • Reliability, Part Deux. In addition to the safety of data stored on the server, the safety of each of my computers is important as well.  If your hard drive in one of your PCs dies, or you royally screw up your system messing around, or some sort of malware just totally infests you, WHS makes it easy to restore your system.  You just pop in the restore cd and reboot your computer.  As long as your BIOS is set to boot from CD (if not, it’s an easy thing to turn on), the restore cd will take over and let you pick a backup from your WHS to restore.  By default, WHS keeps one backup for each of the previous 3 days, one for each of the previous 3 weeks, and one for each of the previous 3 months.  I set it to keep a just-fresh-from-a-new-OS-install backup so it’s easy to go back to that point.
  • Development. I do a bit of hobbyist programming.  Because many of the things I write depend upon a MySQL database, I installed MySQL on my WHS.  This allows me to test my scripts on my local LAN.

How I recovered my photos and much of the metadata with a few tools (Part 2)

This is a continuation of another post detailing how I recovered thousands of photos from an accidentally formatted hard drive. Read that post here.

The Problem – Part 2

At this point, I was definitely breathing easier, but there was still a lot of problems to deal with.  The problem with what PhotoRec does is that, it doesn’t look at the data on your hard disk at the file/directory level.  It looks at the raw data on the hard drive and recognizes if it’s a picture and then restores it to the location of your choice.  This means that filenames and directory structure are lost.  This also means, that nearly every jpeg file on the formatted hard drive was recoved…including tens of thousands of images from Firefox’s cache along with hundreds(thousands?) of other various images like wallpapers that I’ve downloaded over the years, with no obvious way to distinguish between them and actual photos.
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How I recovered my photos and much of the metadata with a few tools (Part 1)

There I was looking to centralize all the storage in my house on a Windows Home Server. I have 8 hard drives that were scattered among 4 PCs and it was just getting impossible to manage in any sane way. As part of this process, I was taking all but one of the hard drives out of each PC while at the same time carefully managing the process of backing the important data on each one into the free space amongst the others.

The Problem

Where I ran into problems is when I went to bed one night during this process. When I woke up the next morning I forgot that I hadn’t finished completely backing up one of the most important hard drives in the house. So, I went ahead with my plan and formatted it.

Big mistake.

It was a little while before I realized what I had done and by the time I did realize it, I had already installed a fresh copy of Vista on it and a few applications. As anyone who has tried to recover data before will tell you, the first thing you should do after accidentally formatting/deleting data is immediately stop writing data to the hard drive!

This hard drive contained all of our personal photos. While the fact that these were personal photos was bad enough, what was even worse was that a huge portion of them (gigabytes) were photos that my wife had spent countless hours manually scanning in and she was in the process of organizing and labeling them.

Getting the data back

So, after realizing my error, I immediately shut off the computer and removed the hard drive.  While I knew the general ideas behind data recovery, I wasn’t really aware of what I should do next, so I hit the internet and did some research.  After awhile I decided to put the hard drive into another PC and try out some various utilities I had come across to scan it and see what kind of data could be recovered.  This turned out to be an exercise in frustration, as all the tools I used just turned out reams of information that would of taken me years to go through and find anything of use.

I was beginning to brace myself for the inevitable storm that would follow after telling my wife that all the photos were gone.  At this point, a friend of mine pointed me towards a tool called PhotoRec.  At a high level, PhotoRec operates like many data recovery tools in that it looks at the unused space on your hard drive for orphaned data, which is often the data you had on their previously.  Where PhotoRec saved me was that it was written specifically to recognize photo data, which saves me from being buried in a mountain of information.

Since we had thousands and thousands of photos, I don’t really have any way to know if any of our photos were lost, but PhotoRec recoverd so many (after 6+ hours of processing) that it seems like I have our whole library back.

In my next post on the subject, I’ll talk about how PhotoRec wasn’t all I needed.

See part 2 of this post here.