On my list of least desirable IT tasks, right behind rebuilding a degraded RAID array, sits the BMR or bare metal restore. It has little to do with the difficulty or complexity of the process and more to do with the fact that BMR is finicky.
BMR is the process of recovering a failed system by restoring it to another system from scratch. Ideally, you have a similar system to which you can restore, but no two systems are 100 percent identical. Even if your hardware is identical, driver and BIOS issues can make for an error-prone process.
IT professionals typically use their skills to avoid any scenario in which their only available option is a BMR. But sooner or later, you’ll have to find a way to make it work. This week I’d like to discuss a few best practices to help you navigate the tricky BMR process.
Challenges of Bare Metal Restore
We’ve all seen it, and we all dread it. You finish the restore process only to be met with a BSOD on initial boot. Not only can BMR be finicky, but its unpredictable nature makes for a very frustrating experience. The three most popular reasons the BMR process fails are the following:
- Hardware Incompatibilities
- Corrupt Backup or Database
- Driver Failure
Any one of these issues can result in a BSOD. To make matters worse, it usually takes a fair amount of detective work to determine the cause. I’ve attempted a restore on what I thought was identical hardware. This simple file share had very basic components, and I assumed the process would go smoothly. Yet I ran into a BSOD due to chipset drivers being different versions.
Let’s get into how you can increase the odds of performing a successful BMR.
Hardware Independent Restore™ (HIR) allows you to restore a computer volume to a different physical or virtual environment. HIR products detect and automatically load the drivers required to successfully boot into the new environment. HIR is a term StorageCraft uses to describe this feature in products such as ShadowProtect SPX. To be fair, a number of other companies include similar technology in their products. Sometimes they refer to it as universal restore. One of the benefits of using HIR is that it’s useful in a number of backup scenarios. You can use HIR to restore:
- From a PC to a different PC
- From a PC to a VM
- From a VM to a PC
- From a VM to another VM
HIR is especially helpful when you need to migrate to new hardware. HIR will locate the drivers needed to perform the restore, and then delete them if no longer needed.
Get Your Drives in Order
Performing a BMR for a system with a complex drive configuration can be difficult. Taking a backup each time you change the drive configuration will help keep the odds in your favor. You could still run into issues, especially if you’re using Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE). As many of you know, Windows RE is picky when it comes to the number and configuration of drives. For example, if you used Microsoft’s System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) to create backups of your server, you may run into issues booting into WinRE from a USB stick.
If you boot into WinRE from a USB stick, it may cause Windows to create a visible “drive” from the list of available drives. The differing number of drives can cause your restore to fail. WinRE might present you with a “Parameter is incorrect” error. If you see that error, you may have created an extra drive. One tip to get around this is to boot into WinRE from a DVD instead of a USB stick.
Don’t Assume the Cloud is a Quick Fix
With the proliferation of cloud services, you might wonder if you should use one of them to perform a cloud BMR. You could do it. But it might not be economical because of how cloud services charge for data store and transfer. No matter the costs, you’re still constrained by the fact that you’re relying on your Internet connection to move large files.
If your goal is to get your new server up and running as soon as possible, accessing your backup images locally is the best option. Some advanced products and cloud services may allow you to spin up VMs in the cloud, but I’ve found that option works best for desktops and workstations rather than servers.
Test Your Backup
The first rule of backups is that they don’t exist unless you test them. The time to test your backup is before you’re in a state of emergency. You can be doing everything correctly, but none of that will matter if you can’t restore the backup. The only way to know for sure, is to test it. Bare metal restore is a lot more complex than a simple file restore, which means you should test often.
You will need to test your latest backup to see if it will boot off another system. If it’s not configured with the same hardware, that’s even better. The goal is to get a working backup booting off another system. Prepare to run into issues, but consider them a blessing. Solving problems now is a lot less stressful than doing so under the gun of a downed server.
I don’t know anyone who gets excited about performing a BMR. I’ve found most people consider them about as fun as doing your taxes at the last minute. I hope that following a few tips will help you if and when you have to perform one.
Have you found tips that have helped you perform a successful restore? If so, please share in the comments.