How to: Bare-Metal Recovery via USB Windows Server Boot Disk

Probably by far the best option to do bare-metal recoveries and other bare-metal operations is to have a USB pluggable boot disk or USB stick with Windows on it.
You can prepare such a boot disk ahead of time and be prepared in case you do not have a second PC or server where disk restore operations can be performed. In addition, in case you need to restore to a unique hardware system configuration, it makes sense to have a USB boot disk prepared with all the drivers you may need.

Once you boot Windows from your USB hard drive, you can access BackupChain‘s disk image and disk cloning features to restore your hard disk images to new hardware.

Materials

First: Download the Windows Server 2016 or Windows 10 ISO from Microsoft. The 180 day trial for Windows Server is available here and the ISO for Windows 10 can be downloaded here.

Note: you could also use an older version of Windows; however, Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 adapt themselves very well when you switch hardware, so it’s a major plus since you really want a portable Windows system. The trial version of Windows is perfectly fine. You could also use the ISO of the free Hyper-V Server system (download here) if you want the boot disk to work forever, i.e. beyond 180 days.

If you are going to use the Windows 10 ISO or Windows Server 2016 ISO, you must have at least Windows 8.1 installed in order to proceed.

Second: Download Rufus, either from the developer or use our mirror. It’s a freeware tool that will prepare the disk for you.

Third: A USB stick or USB hard drive, with a capacity of at least 15 GB.
Unfortunately most USB sticks on the market are quite slow for random access. Therefore, we strongly recommend using a USB hard drive instead of a USB stick for better performance. Consider using a portable SSD drive with USB 3.0 interface. It’s very small, doesn’t require a power supply, and as fast as an internal drive.

 

How to Create a Windows Server 2016 Bootable USB Disk

The procedure is always the same, regardless of the Windows version contained in the ISO file you downloaded. You should have Windows 8.1 or later, otherwise the “Windows to Go” option below will not show up.

Configure Rufus as follows:

rufus settings

Click on ‘List USB hard drives’ in case your drive does not show up under ‘devices’. Be sure to select ISO image and the button to the right, which will open a dialog to browse for the ISO file you downloaded in the previous step.

Before clicking start, make sure you selected the correct drive. It will be deleted!

Hit start and wait until it’s finished.

Boot Windows from USB

When the operation is finished, the USB disk is ready to boot from. You may need to configure your BIOS to boot from USB or try F8 or F10 during the BIOS startup to access the boot menu (varies, depending on installed BIOS). Select USB and let Windows boot up. It may need to reboot once to finalize all settings. The Windows USB disk is now ready.

Install Drivers in the USB Windows System

Now that Windows is booted, if need be, you can install all drivers you need. You will find, however, that Windows 10 and Server 2016 ship with a large database of preinstalled drivers. Installing drivers might, hence, not be necessary.

Install BackupChain on the USB Disk

Now that you have the Windows USB system running, download BackupChain and place the installer somewhere on the USB disk. Do not install BackupChain yet unless you are going to do a recovery right now. Install it when you need it, as the trial is fully functional for 20 days.

If you have installed Windows Server 2012 and later, you will need to install .NET 3.5, which is a simple command via the command prompt:

DISM /Online /Enable-Feature:NetFx3 /All

Or, alternatively, open the Server Manager and click add features. Add the feature ‘.NET v3.5’, which includes .Net v2.0.

On Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 you need to install the .NET framework 3.5 which includes .Net 2.0 via the Programs & Features menu of Windows. To install, hold the Windows key on your keyboard and press X, then choose Programs and Features. Then select “Turn Windows features on or off” and continue to Features until you see .NET Framework 3.5 listed. Check and continue installation

Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 already have .NET 2.0 preinstalled.

Finished

The USB boot disk (or stick) is now ready to use whenever you need it. You could augment this type of rescue disk with anti-virus tools and all kinds of other emergency utilities that you may need. The great thing about it is that it’s a full blown Windows operating system, with user interface and all drivers. It has the network capabilities you may need to cope with all kinds of recovery scenarios.

You will find that having a Windows USB boot disk is by far more convenient and powerful than a boot CD or Windows PE system with just the backup software on it.

Hint

You could prepare your backup drive as described above so that the same disk can boot Windows and also contains your disk image backup. In case of a recovery, the bootable USB disk will also have the disk image on it to recover from. You would then install BackupChain, create a new disk backup task, select the disk image file and the target disk and you are ready to go.

As always, please feel free to contact us with questions, suggestions, and comments.

How Well Does this Work?

 
…really well:

Gary Fleming, DP Technical Analyst, State of CT, Department of Education, 85+ Enterprise Servers with BackupChain installed (June 23, 2017)
After upgrading to v3, Gary tried our new disk imaging and bare-metal recovery features. He created a portable, bootable USB stick with Windows Server 2016 and BackupChain on it:
“What a fantastic product – BackupChain on a stick! We did it and it works as advertised with no issues, our server booted up perfectly!”
Gary Fleming, DP Technical Analyst, State of CT, Department of Education, 85+ Enterprise Servers with BackupChain installed (June 23, 2017)