Windows Server 2003 : Preparing for a Disaster (part 2) - Creating a Boot Disk, Specifying Recovery Options

8/29/2012 1:49:03 AM

Creating a Boot Disk

With Windows Server 2003, you can still create a useful boot disk that can help with recovery in the event something corrupts a critical file on your hard disk. Although this is less important these days—because you can add the recovery console to your boot menu or run it from the Windows Server 2003 installation CD-ROM—we’re the cautious type; we like to have every possible way to recover available. Although a Windows Server 2003 boot disk doesn’t get you to a command prompt, as a Microsoft Windows 95 or Microsoft Windows 98 boot disk does, it does permit you to boot the system under the following circumstances (provided that your actual Windows Server 2003 installation isn’t damaged in any other way):

  • Corrupted boot sector

  • Corrupted master boot record (MBR)

  • Virus infections of the MBR

  • Missing or corrupt Ntldr or files

The boot disk can also be used to boot from the shadow drive of a broken mirror set, although you might need to edit the Boot.ini file on the boot disk.

Why MS-DOS Boot Disks Won’t Help

More than one person new to Windows Server 2003 has accidentally deleted or corrupted a key file required to boot the system and tried to recover by digging out an old MS-DOS or Windows boot floppy disk. Alas, it doesn’t work.

The files you need to get your hard disk back to booting condition aren’t even on an MS-DOS floppy disk. When you install Windows Server 2003, it modifies the system’s boot sector to look for and run a file called Ntldr. When you format a floppy disk under MS-DOS, even when you make it a system disk, this file doesn’t get created, because MS-DOS doesn’t know anything about Windows Server 2003.

As such, a boot disk is occasionally useful, and because it’s easy to make and floppy disks grow on trees (although these trees are rarely seen outside of the Microsoft campus), you might as well make one. The boot disk is not generic for every Windows Server 2003 machine. However, if you have a standard configuration across several machines, this disk will work for all the machines that use the same partition and disk controller as their Windows Server 2003 boot partition. Follow these steps to create a boot disk:

Insert a blank floppy disk into your floppy drive.

At a command prompt, type the command format a: /u.

Copy the and Ntldr files from the \i386 folder on the Windows Server 2003 CD-ROM to the floppy disk.

Create a Boot.ini file, or copy the file from the boot drive to the floppy disk.

Real World: ARC Naming Conventions

Understanding how the hard disks and partitions are named on your system is not a trivial task, unfortunately. To provide a uniform naming convention across multiple platforms, Microsoft uses a fairly arcane designation for all the disks and partitions on your computer. Called ARC—short for Advanced RISC Computing—this is a generic naming convention that can be used in the same way for both Intel-based and RISC-based computers.

The convention describes the adapter type and number, the disk number, the rdisk number, and finally the partition number. The format is as follows:


where <adaptertype> can be either SCSI, multi, or signature. Use multi for all non-SCSI adapters and for SCSI adapters that use a BIOS—as most adapters used with Intel-based processors do. The (x) is the adapter number, starting at zero. If <adaptertype> is signature, (x) is an 8-character drive signature.

The value for (y) is the SCSI ID of the disk for SCSI adapters. For multi this is always zero. The number for (z) is zero for SCSI, and is the ordinal number of the disk for multi, starting with zero. Finally, the partition number (n) is the number of the partition on the target disk. Here the partitions start at one, with zero reserved for unused space.

Installing the Recovery Console

One of the most useful recovery features in Windows Server 2003 is the Recovery Console. This is basically an enhanced, NTFS-enabled, secure command prompt that can be used to copy files, start and stop services, and perform other recovery actions if you can’t boot the system using Windows Server 2003’s safe mode. The Recovery Console is always available for use through the Windows Server 2003 CD-ROM; however, you can also install it as an option on the Boot menu for use in those instances when you can’t boot using Windows Server 2003 safe mode. You’ll still need to use the boot disk if you can’t get to the Boot menu or if the Recovery Console is damaged. To install the Recovery Console, follow these steps:

While in Windows Server 2003, insert the Windows Server 2003 CD-ROM.

Close the Autorun dialog box.

At a command prompt or in the Run dialog box, type the command d:\i386\winnt32/cmdcons, replacing d with the drive letter of the Windows Server 2003 CD-ROM or network share.

Click Yes to install the Recovery Console, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. The Windows Server 2003 Setup window

Specifying Recovery Options

You can specify how you want Windows Server 2003 to deal with system crashes by changing a few options in the System tool in Control Panel. To do so, follow these steps:

Open the System tool from Control Panel, and click the Advanced tab.

Click Settings in the Startup And Recovery box to display the Startup And Recovery dialog box, shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. The Startup And Recovery dialog box

If you have multiple operating systems on the machine, select the operating system you want to have boot by default from the Default Operating System list box.

If you want to boot the default operating system automatically, without waiting, clear the Time To Display List Of Operating Systems check box. Otherwise, specify how long you want to display a list of options in the box provided.

If you want recovery options automatically displayed in the event of problems, select the Time To Display Recovery Options When Needed check box, and set the time for it.

Select the Write An Event To The System Log check box, if available, to record an entry in the event log when the system experiences a crash.

Select the Send An Administrative Alert check box to send an alert to administrators over the network when the system crashes.

Select the Automatically Restart option to instruct Windows Server 2003 to reboot the system in the event of a crash. Otherwise, the system remains at a blue screen until an administrator manually reboots it.

Select how much debugging information you want to record from the Write Debugging Information list box. Note that if you have a large amount of RAM you need the same amount of free disk space if you want to use the Complete Memory Dump option.

Enter the filename for the dump file in the Dump File text box, and select the Overwrite Any Existing File check box to maintain only a single dump file.

Creating and Using a Recovery Drive

An excellent way to recycle an old, small drive that’s not good for much else is to use it as an external recovery drive. This drive needs to be only about 2 GB or so, smaller than you could even buy today. The recovery drive can even be used for several servers if you set it up as a portable device. Using a recovery drive in this way offers a somewhat cheaper alternative to mirroring the drive.

To create the recovery drive, perform a minimal install of Windows Server 2003 on the drive, configuring your paging file to be on that drive. Make sure that the installation includes the tape driver you will be using for tape backup. Create a bootable Windows Server 2003 floppy disk, following the procedure outlined earlier in the “Creating a Boot Disk” section, and edit the Boot.ini file on it to point to the SCSI address of the recovery drive.

When a system failure occurs, simply cable the recovery drive to the server and boot from the boot disk that points to the recovery drive. If the recovery drive has sufficient user accounts and software to keep your system running, you can run off the recovery drive until you can schedule a full-scale repair or replacement of the failed drive. When you are able to take the system down and replace the failed drive, all you need to do is restore your backup tape to it and restart the server. You can even do the restore in the background while you continue to run off the recovery drive if necessary.


Using a recovery drive in this way presents some interesting licensing and activation issues. If you have one dedicated drive for each machine, you’d need to install, license, and activate a copy for each machine. And if you have only one that you can attach to multiple servers, you’re going to run up against activation if you plug it into a different machine. Consult your Microsoft Account Manager or other licensing resource for information about how to do this most effectively.

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