SharePoint 2010’s New Configuration Restore Capability

In a short series of posts I’ve been documenting some exciting new disaster recovery functionality included in SharePoint 2010. (As a side note, this may be the only post you find on Google that contains both ‘exciting’ and ‘disaster recovery’ in the same sentence…)

Restoration is usually needed in one of three basic scenarios:

  1. A user has deleted or messed up some critical content.
  2. An administrator has had a configuration mishap.
  3. A natural / man-made disaster or hardware failure has completely taken down the farm.

The way you would go about recovering from each of these scenarios would be very different. In a previous post, I addressed the first – Content Deletion. Now let’s talk about the admin-level mishaps and recovery from a true disaster.

2. Admin-Level Mishaps

There are many times we as admins make a change to a farm’s configuration that seems logical at the time, but messes up something else in unanticipated ways. Sometimes these changes are very large and / or complex and therefore difficult or impossible to put back manually. If you’ve been performing scheduled full farm backups via PowerShell, or even just did a manual backup beforehand in the Central Admin site, you can usually find a way to restore just the affected pieces. Let’s pretend that our boss’s nephew who’s spending the summer as our IT intern has messed up the configuration of our search content sources. (Of course WE wouldn’t have messed it up…)

  1. Go to Start > Administrative Tools > SharePoint 4.0 Central Administration, and then click the Backup and Restore link on the left.
  2. Click the Restore from a backup link in the top section, then pick the relevant full farm backup from the list provided and click Next.
  3. Scroll through the list of components to find the Search Service Application, select it, and then click Next.
  4. Select the Same configuration button to overwrite the existing, wrong configuration and replace it with the known good configuration from the farm backup. This will cause one of those ‘are you sure’ kind of prompts. Just click OK and then click the Start Restore button.

That should do it. The job will take a few minutes to complete, but when it does your content sources will be restored to their previous condition.

This restore operation could also be done via PowerShell using the Restore-SPFarm cmdlets with the –Item parameter. (See its topic in the online SharePoint 2010 PowerShell Reference forum for more information.)

3. Total Farm Rebuild

Whether it’s a natural disaster like a flood, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake or a man-made one like a building fire or hardware failure – we must think ahead to the possibility of losing our entire farm. The PowerShell full farm backups you’re running on a scheduled basis, and possibly the PowerShell content database backups too, can rebuild all of your configuration and content. Let’s think happy thoughts, and pretend that only the SAN holding our virtual server drives died instead of picturing a wall of water through our town. What do we do now?

There are many external and / or third-party solutions used to protect entire servers. Let’s assume in this example that we have none of that. We are starting with a blank Windows 2008 Server image and we need to get our portal operational as soon as possible. We are assuming that we have the following at our disposal:

  • A fully restored and functioning Active Directory
  • The installation media for SharePoint 2010 and any third-party or custom developed solutions that we were using pre-disaster
  • A copy of our SharePoint backup directory that has been dumped onto our new server or a file share via tape backup

    (IMPORTANT: Including the spbrtoc.xml. This is your backup history file, and without it you are toast. Make sure you do not delete this file accidentally when reclaiming disk space, and make sure your off-site backups include it from the root backup directory. The spbr##### folders ARE NOT ENOUGH by themselves.)

Now what?

  1. Reinstall SharePoint from the installation media, and run the initial SharePoint 4.0 Products and Technologies Configuration Wizard to create a farm and configuration database.

    The Central Admin site should open automatically and begin the web-based Farm Configuration Wizard. (If not, you can find it by going to Start > Administrative Tools > SharePoint 4.0 Central Administration, and choosing Configuration Wizards from the left-hand navigation.)

    (Now this feels a little counter-intuitive to me, but it is a good idea to let this wizard startup all of the relevant service applications before performing your restore. When I did not do this, I received errors as the restores tried to configure the web and service applications from scratch. If you opt not to run the wizard before the restore, you can do so after the restore completes to catch any service applications that did not restore successfully. However, you may have to restore and run the wizard multiple times to get everything to finish.)

  2. Choose to ‘Walk me through…‘ and click Next.
  3. Choose an existing managed account or enter one in the blanks provided, select all service checkboxes, and click Next.
    (If you are restoring a multiple-server farm, you would need to perform steps 1-3 on each server – starting only the relevant service applications on each server in turn.)
  4. When the ‘Processing…‘ page completes, the wizard will give you the option to create a new site collection. Click the Skip button and then the Finish button.

  5. If you have any third-party or custom-developed solutions / features to install – now would usually be the best time.

    Now you are prepped for the farm restore. You could do this using a process very similar to the one documented and illustrated in section ’2. Admin-Level Mishaps’ above. The only difference would be selecting all components in the tree instead of one. For a little variety though, we’ll do this restore using Windows PowerShell instead.

  6. Go to Start > Administrative Tools > SharePoint 4.0 Management Console, and type the following command:
    restore-spfarm –directory yourbackupdirectory –restoremethod overwrite –percentage 1

    (For a complete explanation of the Restore-SPFarm cmdlet, its parameters, and its usage, see its topic in the online SharePoint 2010 PowerShell Reference forum.)

  1. The SMC window will prompt you to verify the action and the overwrite, and eventually to enter credentials for your user web applications.

    That should restore all relevant content and configuration to your SharePoint 2010 farm. Like most disaster recovery situations – your mileage may vary according to the complexity of your environment, the integrity of your backup data, and a million other wrinkles you couldn’t have seen coming. If the SMC window gives you an error message, the sprestore.log file in your backup directory will give you more detailed information about the problem encountered. In my own trial runs with this functionality, I did receive an error now and then. Usually they had to do with a file or some other dependency not being available. In some cases simply running the restore-spfarm cmdlets again was successful the second time. In other cases I had to start the problem service application through the Central Admin site and its web-based Farm Configuration Wizard, and then run the restore again to inherit my previous configuration.

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