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August 27, 2007

Recovery (I hope) Log

Bottom line, if you don’t care to read about my mistakes, is that using offsite backup service Mozy did save our bacon (or at least our data) when a hard drive went bad. The process is more difficult than it needs to be but does work. More lessons and suggestions in the next post.

8:10 AM: Mary’s six year old Dell is showing a blue screen of death. Message says Windows is terminating to avoid damage to her machine.

8:15 AM: Reboot seems to work but the hard drive or fan (please let it be the fan) is making a funny noise.

8:17 AM: Mouse response is erratic.

8:18 AM: Blue screen of death. Same message.

8:20 AM: Reboot fails with a similar but not identical message. This one suggest removing newly installed devices. There aren’t any but I did move some USB connections around in the last couple of days.

8:21 AM: Try rebooting from “last good configuration”. Same message.

8:22 AM: Take the machine out of the docking station (isolates from all devices) and reboot. Noise is still there. Message says to run CHKDSK (hard to do on a computer that won’t boot).

8:24 AM: Reboot consistently says it can’t find the boot drive. Time for Plan B.

In theory I could reboot from one of the CDs that came with the machine and then run CHKDSK, perhaps even repair the drive. That’s pretty theoretical though because I didn’t bring the CDs (assuming I still have them) to our summer place. Besides the noise from the drive probably means it’s really kaput.

However, we have a desktop machine which I’ve been meaning to install as the house computer for guest use. Most important, we’ve been using a service called Mozy to backup critical data from our machines to somewhere in cyberspace. Now’s the time to see whether I can actually restore from there (Yes, yes, should’ve tested this when it wasn’t critical but didn’t).

8:35 AM: Have scrounged together a monitor, keyboard and mouse and snaked a cable out of the utility room to the box (this machine doesn’t have WiFi installed). Machine boots normally although it complains about its internal battery being run down (hasn’t been used in a year).

8:40 AM: Brief panic. Did I store the Mozy password for Mary on Mary’s machine? No, it’s on mine which also means it’s on my phone in case my machine should be down.

8:41 AM: Mozy says that Mary’s files were backed up last night. I request recovery. Mozy says it’ll take a while to get the files ready for download (I’m not sure why) and that it’ll send me an email when they’re ready. Also offers to sell us a DVD with the files on them as an option.

8:50 AM: No email from Mozy. Go the account screen and it says that 400 of the 4000 odd files have been gathered and it’s working on the request. A refresh tells me the number is incrementing although slowly (still can’t figure out what it’s doing but it seems to be OK).

9:00 AM: Figure I might as well run Windows Updates on the machine while waiting for Mozy. It has been a year. Of course Updates has to install a new Updater and has to verify our copy of Windows (I was afraid it would ask me for the code on the Windows CDs which aren’t here but it didn’t).

9:10 AM: Updater complains that the clock is wrong. Sure enough, machine thinks it’s 2004, probably because it’s internal battery ran down.

9:12 AM: 67 Updates! This’ll take a while. Well, Mozy’s not ready yet anyway and I haven’t had breakfast.

11:30 AM: Windows says its done updating and wants a reboot. Done. McAfee wants to refresh itself.

11:40 AM: McAfee refresh crashes into a script debugger but McAfee now says it’s current.

12:44 PM: Mozy emails that the restores have been completed and are ready to download. Turns out there are three files of 3.6 Gig, 3.6 Gig. and 1.3 Gig respectively. No idea why there are three files but decide to see if I can find some way just to download Mary’s outlook.pst so she can get back on email properly.

1:00 PM: Nothing specific in the Mozy doc about restoring from a dead machine to a live one. Would think that would be a fairly common situation. But it looks like the Mozy client can look at the backed up files as if they were a virtual disk.

1:05 PM: Windows decides it has 10 more updates it needs badly, badly. Let it start doing that.

1:10 PM Download and install the Mozy client. Since this is a new machine, I have to pay for now having three machines registered. But turns out that this client – logically, I guess – wants to backup the new machine, not find and restore files from the old machine. Decide to try live chat with a tech rep but that’s only available Monday to Friday during office hours. Yuk! Not good for an emergency service.

1:12 PM: Look on the Mozy virtual drive but it is empty (of course) on the new machine and no apparent way to shift it to be the backup of the dead machine.

1:30 PM: Start downloading 1.3 Gig file. Better to find any problem with that than after waiting to get the bigger files. Hope I don’t need all three before I can do anything. Doc doesn’t say why there are three files but I suspect it is to avoid even huger single downloads. My connection (nominally 3 meg) usually tests out at a download speed between 1.0 and 1.5 and it looks like I’m getting close to one meg. Still, this’ll take a while. Sent an email to Mozy support to see if I can get some hints this way.

3:27 PM: Mozy robot responds to my email: “Thanks for contacting Mozy Support.  This is an auto response, just to let you know that our hours are between 7:00AM and 5:00PM Mountain Time Monday through Friday.” Wonder what the robot was doing between 1:30 and now?

6:30 PM: Have the 1.3 Gig file down. It’s self–extracting and a number of Mary’s files from her old machine reappear. I look through the files and don’t see the mail pst so start to download one of the 3.6 Gig files. That’ll take until tomorrow morning.

Next morning 8AM: The good news is that the download seems to have accelerated overnight and has finished. The bad news is that I apparently clicked run instead of save (the doc says to click save) when the download began last night. For some reason the file can’t unpack (probably because it’s in the temporary Internet folder) and promptly erases itself. Yuk!

8:15 AM: Because the objective is to get Mary’s email up as fast as possible and she can wait for the rest of her backed up folders, I do what I should have done in the beginning and see if I can isolate just her pst files and download them. Mozy has a nice search capability of what it has in storage. No problem finding both outlook.pst and archive.pst and queuing them for restore. They’re just a few hundred meg so shouldn’t take long.

8:20 AM: While waiting for the pst files to download, I decide to search the new machine for any existing pst files both to know what to replace and to double-check that there’s nothing good in them. What I find is that the pst files from Mary’s dead machine ARE on this machine. How can this be? I didn’t see them in the unzipped stuff downloaded yesterday.

8:22 AM: OK, I’m stupid. Of course I didn’t see them. The Windows default is not to show system folders and files and that’s what they are and where they are. They did come in the first download (just good luck) but I couldn’t see them until I did a search (which I had told to look for system files and in system folders). I drag them into the folder where Outlook expects to find them after renaming the existing outlook.pst (doesn’t look like it has anything relevant in it).

8:24 AM: Outlook opens fine. Mary’s mail is there, A little configuration and it is attached to our mail host from which it downloads about 2000 old emails for some reason but new stuff as well.

8:30 AM. Mary has a lot of stuff to delete that she deleted once before but she’s back in business (or back doing public sector, non-profit stuff which is what she does now). In the background, the 3.6 Gig download is running again.

Next post, lessons learned and suggestions everyone with data at risk (that’s everyone on a computer, of course) and Mozy.

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