Windows Server 2003 Backup Conflicts With Windows XP

Terabyte Computers is recommending that its customers hold off on deploying Windows Server 2003 because of an incompatibility with Windows XP.
A solution provider has discovered an incompatibility between Windows Server 2003's new backup features and Windows XP.

Terabyte Computers is recommending that its customers hold off on deploying Windows Server 2003 because of problems restoring data from a backup tape created on Windows Server 2003 to Windows XP and, potentially, Windows 2000 Pro and Windows 2000 Server.

The solution provider has developed a workaround for the problem but is awaiting a fix from Microsoft before rolling out Windows Server 2003, which shipped last month. "My concern here is that a company may deploy 2003 Server and assume they can restore data on a 2000 Server or XP Pro box should the 2003 server fail. This is currently not the case," said Brian Bergin, president of Terabyte Computers. "This pretty much affects anyone using 2003 Server who may ever need to restore data to an XP/2000 system."

Microsoft has confirmed the problem and is working with Terabyte Computers to come up with a solution. In an E-mail to Terabyte Computers, Microsoft said the problem is that Windows Server 2003 uses a 64-Kbyte block size on tape media and previous versions of Windows "don't recognize block sizes of that size." Microsoft is looking at "which component is going to be responsible for handling this and how it will be handled at a code level."

In a prepared statement, Microsoft Windows Server 2003 product manager Bob O'Brien said, "Microsoft is engaged and actively working through this scenario with our customer and, of course, is committed to sharing important information with all our customers who may need to support this occasional server-client scenario. It's too early to say specifically what actions and unique operating situations are affected until we've completed further testing."

Microsoft has touted new features such as Volume Shadow Copy Service as part of its launch of Windows Server 2003 because storage and enhanced backup is increasingly important to customers, Bergin added. "Backups are like homeowners' insurance. You hope you never have to use it, but if you do you want to be sure you are covered," he said.

Terabyte Computers, which has been testing the server product for more than a year, was looking at deploying its first Windows Server 2003 implementation for a small-business customer when it discovered the problem in late April.

Bergin has come up with a workaround for the problem that involves using a copy of Windows Server 2003 NT backup.exe to restore the tape in Windows XP. However, he stressed that the problem with the workaround is that by using it, the shadow copy feature in Windows XP is disabled--meaning that open user and system files wouldn't be backed up during a backup procedure on the XP system. If a Windows Server 2003 server shut down, a solution provider wouldn't be able to move the tape drive and controller to a Windows XP box and restore the data while the server is being repaired, he said, noting this backup for tape backup capability is offered for the Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP.

Overall, Bergin said he's been very pleased with the performance, stability, and compatibility of Windows Server 2003 compared with previous versions of Windows.

Nevertheless, he said it's critical for Windows Server 2003 to back up to tapes that are compatible with Windows 2000 and Windows XP systems. "Microsoft's response to this issue has been forthcoming and professional," he said.

Bergin said he expects Microsoft will update the NT backup programs in Windows XP and Windows 2000. The other possible solution, he said, is that Microsoft updates Windows Server 2003 to add a compatibility option.

Tom Derosier, co-owner of CPU Guys, a Hanson, Mass., white-box system builder, said he's also experienced the tape-backup problem. "I've been chasing this tape-backup problem for the last several weeks," Derosier said. "This is a big issue. It's something they absolutely have to address. A server is a critical piece of equipment that needs backup." He said a possible workaround is to run a RAID system that mirrors the data.

Overall, Derosier said he's extremely pleased with the quality of Windows Server 2003. "I love the product," he said. "They did a great job."

This story courtesy of CRN.