How to set up a bare metal restore with Windows ASR

Learn how to prepare your system to use Automated System Restore, and how to troubleshoot common problems that might arise during the process.

What you will learn from this tip: How to prepare your system to use Automated System Restore, and how to troubleshoot common problems that might arise during the process.


Windows Server 2003 now contains Automated System Restore (ASR), a utility that allows users to do bare metal restores. The process is highly automated, but it isn't completely automatic. There are things you need to do to prepare to use ASR, as well as some issues you should know about.

The first step in the restore is to create a floppy. You have two options for this step: ASR or RIS. As part of its setup, ASR automatically creates a floppy disk which contains disk configuration information and disk signatures for the system. This is conceptually similar to the rescue disks created with older versions of Windows, but it works quite differently. If you choose not to use ASR, you can create a floppy using the Remote Installation Services (RIS) server to perform the restore over a TCP/IP network through a network adapter on the client that supports Microsoft's Pre-Boot Execution Environment (PXE).

For the next step, use ASR to read the ASR state file (asr.sif) off the floppy and restore the signatures and volume information on the critical disks, i.e. the ones the system uses to boot up. Since non-critical disks are not normally backed up by ASR, they are not included in an ASR restore and must be backed up separately. Similarly, ordinary data on critical disks (i.e., information not needed by the operating system) will not be backed up by ASR. Once the critical disks have been recreated, ASR installs Windows Server 2003 and automatically starts a restore using the backup media. Any plug-and-play devices are detected and restored as well.

One issue to keep in mind is that for ASR to be effective, backups should be run regularly. Microsoft also suggests performing any needed file conversions before running the first ASR backup. Since the ASR floppy disk is critical to the restoration (unless you use RIS), the files they contain (asr.sif and asrpnp.sif) must be carefully protected and available. Microsoft suggests making an additional copy of the files on the backup media as part of the backup process. The files are kept in the systemrootrepair folder on the system. Before beginning the restoration, make sure you have all the needed resources, including tape backup drives, removable and hard disks available.

The final issue to consider is that some kinds of non-critical disks, especially remote media such as Firewire, USB or Jaz drives, will not be restored if they are not found by the restore process. However, ASR will go on to do the balance of the restore.

For more information:

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About the author: Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80 K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last 20 years, he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.

This was first published in November 2004

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