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Can you retrieve files if Windows gets corrupted?

A Windows Server Backup utility is built-in for Microsoft's server, which is not a mainly robust tool for managing system backups. The design makes it apt only for system-level backups hence leaving scope for a little more. As the application facilitates the establishing of backups, the utility is useful, and when configured properly, it provides a simple and free way to back up data on a server. Hence it supports several diverse modes, which include capturing system state data. It offers a push-button for restoring data, metadata, and attributes through catalogs, ensuring that you can retrieve files to the original location.

However, what can you do if a backup that seems to be completed successfully cannot retrieve files due to failing or a corruption in the catalog file that acts as a table of contents for the entire backup set? Because obviously, if the utility is unable to read the catalog, the whole restore fails.

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However, it is not necessary! Let's discuss how we can tackle things that IT can do to mitigate against such corruption in data and retrieve files from a server failure.

1. Back up the backup

It might seem a bit useless, and you might be ignorant regarding it. However, if you have made sure that the catalogs are corrupt, you might still be able to retrieve files that are located within the archives. You definitely don't want to try several solutions on the sole backup archive. Hence you should keep a copy of it before you proceed.

2. Retry restoring on another server

At times when a server backup is created, certain variables affect the backup utility performance. It includes OS type, updates on the server, or even hardware-related issues. Therefore you can try to perform restoring process on another server which might possibly offer you a solution. But the factors listed above need to be different enough to allow the whole process to execute and complete.

3. Mount the VHDX file in the archive

Within the archive, you can get the hostname for your device, where you were keeping all the backup. Then, you will find a VHDX file (or virtual hard disk) present by moving down further. In that file, you will find the data that you had successfully backed up. WSB uses the VHDX file format for storing data which you can easily transport and mount using the most modern Windows OSes.

Apart from the benefits of this format, you can import it to a VM for simple recovery even if the server goes offline. So it helps immensely in receiving the server back online. Moreover, the VHDX file is flexible enough to mount on the desktop and extract the real hard data from the archive for data restoration purposes. But since the catalog files are corrupt, you might not be able to retrieve files that include permissions and metadata. However, using the next couple of steps, you can work on that too.

4. Audit file/share/security permissions

Since the catalog and the XML files are prone to corruption, it is significant to have a fallback to restore your data. In addition, it helps you restore proper ACL permissions so that data is reachable once the server gets back online.

Using commands which include ICACLS, IT can proactively export the ACLs for serious data to files. You can later re-import it after data restoration occurs, and you make sure that proper permissions are restored. The suitable time to perform such audits is before you find out that restoring didn't work out for the corrupt catalogs. Hence it is nonetheless a good exercise to document permissions settings in such a case.

5. Verify the reliability of mission-critical file data

Performing integrity or a checksum on files specifically on mission-critical data is an optional step. However, it is an important step which IT should perform in order to attest data's integrity and create an exclusive hash value for every file. Then, as data is getting restored from backup, you can check it using the hash values to see if the original file is modified or whether it can maintain integrity.

6. Perform backup restore testing regularly

This suggestion does not directly help you protect against corrupt data but helps you mitigate it by carrying out backup restores for a testing environment. IT can detect possible issues in these dry runs. Hence, if you encounter a problem, you can implement corrective actions. It ensures that data backup is there and restoring procedure occurs as intended.

If the whole testing verifies backups and restores work as designed, then data loss and corruption can be reassured until the next testing phase. Consequently, the last thing you want to happen when you need to restore data is to determine that backup is corrupt and data is either lost or unrecoverable.

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