Windows Home Server and the 12 hour undelete

6 10 2009

A thoroughly scary and disappointing thing happened to me this weekend that made me reevaluate my cavalier way of doing IT work at home (you know, where the data is actually important).

I admit I was over-confident about certain things.  Heck, the thing we were doing worked before, so why shouldn’t it work again?

Here are some of the lessons and quirks that I uncovered:

You’ve got 720 minutes

Windows Home Server (WHS) does some really great things.  It mirrors your files so that in case of most hardware failures, your content is safe.  It backs up your other computers so that you’ve got peace of mind when your computers start making funny noises… but what’s backing up your WHS box (I would link in JungleDisk here, but they just pulled their WHS backup beta until further notice)? 

What if you make a mistake (or something else does), and you lose some files?

The good news is that you actually can recover files that are accidentally deleted from a WHS network share.  For 12 hours.  You may be able to right click on the folder in question and look through the “Previous Versions” of it and recover the lost content (review the link to see the steps – there’s also a client tool that could help there, but I’ve not used it).

Here are the key points to know about when it comes to previous versions in WHS:

  • Depending on your disk space, you may only have 12 hours to figure out there is a problem AND recover the files (recovery isn’t instantaneous)
  • If you only have 1 previous version available (due to disk space), it will disappear at noon or midnight.
  • You must do the recovery from the network shares (log into the machine and open explorer, type in “\\<your machine name>”, right click on a folder and select Properties and work from there), not the “d:\shares\” folder in WHS.  You won’t see any previous versions from the “d:\shares\” folder.

So, if there is all this protection involved – even without a backup of WHS itself, why was this such a problem?  Enter the next set of factors…

Windows 7 and media libraries

A challenge for a friend and I has been figuring out how to seamlessly incorporate a vast collection of Apple Lossless (ALAC) .m4a music into his Media Center and Windows Media Player.  Zune seems to be a lost cause since it decides to use its own DirectShow filters and its own special media library. 

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, but have ALAC encoded files without DRM, I would suggest you:

  • Install iTunes somewhere
  • Open your vast ALAC library of music
  • Change the default music encoding scheme in iTunes to WMA Lossless or something similar
  • Go away for a while and let iTunes churn

Anyhow, let’s just say I’m thoroughly convinced that ALAC files are just not meant to live together with any Microsoft Media Center type product.  Go to some other media center type application for your HTPC, use iTunes, or convert your files.

We were able to get the files to play in Windows Media Center and Windows Media Player 12 (in Windows 7) by installing QuickTime and the RiverPast QuickTime DirectShow Filter.  The catch is that you can’t see the “tag” information in the files.  So song name, album etc. are all going to be empty unless you install some sort of Windows Media Player plugin.  It’s possible this could let you stream music over http on your WHS box if you install QuickTime and the DirectShow filters there too (untested).

I’m not going to suggest an AAC music information plugin for Windows 7 WMP 12.  Somewhere along the line of attempting to get these ALAC files merged into the Windows Media Center and WMP media library, something started deleting the music files silently.

This could have been any one of several moving parts in this setup (note, this did work in Vista).  However, we did not discover there was a problem until about 10AM when we noticed that all the music files in the artists beginning with “A” and most of the “B’s” were already gone.

By the time we figured out how to recover files from the shadow copies (we tried using the d:\shares folders at first instead of the actual \\<machine name> shares), it was 12:01 PM.  The previous versions disappeared, and all was lost.

Note, his WHS volumes were very full, so it could only keep one shadow copy around.

Other Windows Media Player 12 and Win 7 Media Center quirks

Independent from the above problem, we couldn’t even add any music to the WMP / MCE library.  We also could not view the library setup at all in Windows Media Center and Windows Media Player 12.  The symptoms of this problem are:

  • In Windows Media Player 12, right click the Music entry on the left and select “Manage Library”, and nothing happens.  Or find another way to select “Manage Library” and again, nothing will happen.
  • In Windows Media Center in Windows 7, if you select Tasks and Media Libraries, the option to “Remove a location” will be grayed out and unselectable.  You can attempt to add a new location, but you’ll never know for sure if it worked.

If you run into this situation, this may have happened to you:

  • You mapped a network shared folder to a drive (say “M:” for your “\\homeserver\Music” shared folder)
  • That drive mapping somehow disappeared

On a whim, I added his M: drive into the mix to see if that changed anything.  I didn’t realize he used to have drive M: in his setup. After doing this, I was suddenly able to manage his media libraries in both WMP and MCE.

Moral: Test test test

Yup.  It seems simple enough… we should have copied a bunch of his ALAC media to a temporary location and pointed all our efforts toward that.  The drawback there was the colossal amount of time it takes to rebuild the media library.  But then again, he wouldn’t have lost any media by my hand.

Oh, and maybe throw an extra drive into your WHS box if you get near 70% capacity.



11 responses

7 10 2009

I would also point out that PP2 added the ability for WHS to backup the server’s shared folders. I do this about once a month or so with the Music folder on my server just in case I screw something up.

7 10 2009

Yes! Thank you for that addition. I should have put that in my post since it’s something I’ve been meaning to do on my own system. Actually, I had better tell my parents to get that going too…

13 10 2009

Senor, I think you forgot…..

8 10 2009
8 10 2009
Bruce Berls

AFAIK, shadow copies have always been disabled in HP’s MediaSmart boxes. I haven’t been able to discover why that’s true but at one time HP advised not to turn it on and everyone assumes it must be for a good reason.

That creates a real problem for use of WHS in business – when a file is accidentally deleted from an HP WHS, it’s gone. Poof! The HP units are really appealing so I’ve had to develop some workarounds for that. (Jungle Disk was one – disappointing not to have it.)

I’m waiting for word about HP’s new Data Vault, more business oriented, to see if anything has changed.

Bruce Berls

8 10 2009

That’s interesting… I haven’t tried this on the HP MediaSmart server. Ours are homebrew Frankenstein machines that are pretty much installed with all the defaults. I will see if I can access the one I have and look into the shadow copies issue.

The d:\shares vs. the \\servername\shares for shadow copies difference surprised me. I figured there was no way that the network share would be the correct route to getting shadow copies.

If you find out something about the Data Value WRT shadow copies, let me know. Obviously, they aren’t a substitute for backups, but they certainly are a lot easier to work with than unarchiving a backup for a single file…

Thanks for stopping by!

19 10 2009

Thank you!!!

11 12 2009
The Home Server Show 68 | Datasafe Eurosafe

[…] The 12 Hour Undelete for WHS […]

22 01 2010

I just deleted some files from my hp mediasmart server and can’t receover them. I read your “Windows Home Server and the 12 hour undelete” but I don’t fully understand the following from your article:

You must do the recovery from the network shares (log into the machine and open explorer, type in “\\”, right click on a folder and select Properties and work from there), not the “d:\shares\” folder in WHS. You won’t see any previous versions from the “d:\shares\” folder

Do I just open my windows explorer and find the server/folder or do I have to click on my WHS icon log in and do something there? Sorry that I don’t fully understand.

I am the EX485 with WHS and running an HP Pavilion, with Vista Home Premium.


22 01 2010

Hi there,
I hope this helps… I think the “\\” part in my original post got removed when I published it.

I just used the regular Windows Explorer (the file system browser), not anything specific to Windows Home Server’s software or console.

You can remote desktop to your Windows Home Server if you want. It might go faster if your do.

The first thing to check is if there are any previous versions available. The easy way to do that is:

1. Open Windows Explorer shortcut on one of your other computer’s your desktop to “Shared Folders on “, or just browse to “\\” in Windows Explorer.

2. Find the folder that has the files you want to recover.

3. Right-click that folder

4. Select “Properties” from the right-click menu

5. You should see a tab at the top of the Properties dialog that says “Previous Versions”

6. Click that tab, and see what turns up. They are sorted by date. If you have enough disk space, you might see several versions. If you have very limited disk space on your home server, you may be out of luck if you don’t get back to this in 12 hours.

7. Select the entry in the previous version list that looks like it would be the right date for your needs and click “Open”.

8. From there, a new Windows Explorer windows will open with a special title that indicates the date of this previous version image.

9. You can copy files to other places on your local machine or your home server. Remember that this window you just opened is the backup of your folders… so don’t delete anything there or copy anything into it.

If you have a LOT of files (MP3’s, videos, pictures), it is best to log into your Windows Home Server directly via a Remote Desktop session. You can perform the same steps, but the restoration should take less time. You can also walk away (i.e. close the Remote Desktop window) and the operation will continue. You can always log back into that Remote Desktop session and check the progress.

Hope that helps.

3 03 2010

Thanks! I knew it was possible to restore deleted files (or folders!) but in my panic it really helped to have it spelled out for me step by step.

I had focus on the wrong window and pressed delete and then OK’d the “permanently delete?” confirmation. Whoops! 6Gb went swirling down the drain, but now it’s all back the way it was.

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