I’m a little .EXE that is out of date and the company that made me went under. If you lose me, you cant reinstall that program Accounting has to have if a PC fails. I’m all the shared files on a File Server of which you company needs to function daily. I’m the backup of all your company email .PST files. If someone’s computer dies and you don’t have me, all the old contacts and emails are lost forever. This sounds like an ode to image backups or possibly an attempt to persuade the use of proper RAID setups.
If you have a file server, terminal server, or other specialized server and want to be protected in case of catastrophe, there is another solution as well as a RAID and an image backup. File Replication is one of my favorite parts of the Windows Server family.
Lets get theoretical here for a second. Lets say you are a small business, home based business, or even possibly a mid ranged one. You have your main File and Print Server set up. Windows Server 08 in a RAID 5 with Acronis Backup and Recovery 11 Server sending an image to a NAS attached via USB sitting in the Server Rack, on the floor in the Server Closet, or if at home next to your desk. You have another Server 08 setup exactly the same way but it is your AD/DNS DHCP server if in a business environment or your Accounting and Tax Software server if a home business.
It’s located in a different Server Closet on a different floor or part of the building/house. You like your assets and want them protected which is why you have a RAID 5 setup for multiple redundancy and a NAS backup with the Acronis image. But what if a fire, tornado, or other disaster destroys that part of the house, taking your server and NAS along with it? But thankfully you used File Replication to essentially give you an exact copy of your original data on the other, non-effected server. Now all you have to do is reinstall on a new system and copy or Replicate back over. If you also replicated your image, you are only out the time it takes to set up the RAID and re-image on the new server.
But what if you are an unfortunate individual who doesn’t know about the glory of File Replication? We’re here to describe what it is, where it is, and how to set it up between two servers.
What is File Replication
Now that we are all aware of File Replication, lets discuss exactly what it is and how it works. There are minor differences between the DFS (Distributed File System) Replication and FRS (File System Replication) of Server 00 in that on a Server 08 R2 box, you cannot use FRS to “replicate the contents of any replica set apart from the SYSVOL share” states Microsoft. Since DFS allows for AD Replication between two Domain controllers, it is a bit more well rounded than FRS which cannot. This doesn’t affect us in what we will be doing because as the site explains, DFS has overall greater performance and has more depth than FRS. DFS is what we will be using for basic file replication onto our secondary or backup server.
DFS Replication functions using an RDC (Remote Differential Compression) algorithm which allows for detection of changes to a file’s data and then copies over only the changed file blocks instead of the entire file as FRS used to. This means that the amount of bandwidth needed to copy over a a changed file is greatly reduced with the DFS method. You can also set the times of this replication with the DFS File Replication manager to times when you will not be using the network to allow it to copy at its full potential and not slow down the internal network during working hours.
Initializing File Replication
File Replication is set in the Server Manager window under Roles-File Services-DFS Management-Replication. That being said, you have to have the File Services Role installed on the server before you will see this option.
To add this or other Roles, click on the Roles part of the file tree on the left and then Add Roles on the right-hand side of the window. For this walk-through I created a File called Test with some random files inside to test the replication process. We will be using that folder to set up replication between our two Windows Server 08 boxes. Now, go back to the Server Manager window and click on the Replication part of the tree and to the right-hand side of the window you will see New Replication Group. Click that and lets get started. You will be greeted by the New Replication Group Wizard. First we will select our Replication Group Type and select the second option, “Replication Group for Data Collection”. This will allow for our two way communication between our Primary and Backup server.
Hit “Next” and now we get to name our Replication Group. For simplicities sake, I named this one “Testing.” Clicking “Next” again will take us to the Source Server where our files currently exist. If you know the name of it you can simply enter it or you can click “Browse” and search for it by partial name. No need for the double slash server call, as in testserver. All you need to enter in the Name field is the character name. After selecting our Source server and hitting “Next,” we get to specify our Folders which we want to replicate. Click “Add” and select whatever folder you want to replicate to your Backup server.
After we chose “Test” and clicked “Next,” the wizard will ask you for your Destination Server. The same rules apply for the Destination Server as did in the finding of the Source Server.
Once our Destination Server has been selected, you will choose the Local Path of the files to be Replicated. Basically, on the Backup Server you are deciding where you want to keep these files. For ease, I just picked “C:” and hit “Next.” Now we arrive at the “Replication Group Schedule and Bandwidth” section. There are basically two choices, full replication which replicates 24 hours a day or a scheduled one. I always choose the scheduled option and set it for times when no one is going to be using the server so everything that day can be updated. Directly below the second option is the “Edit Schedule” button which allows you to pick on what days you want it to replicate, what time in those days, and what amount of bandwidth you would like it to use. I usually set it off a couple days. That way if someone deletes a file and cant get it back, or one gets corrupted, you have a 2 or 3 day old copy on your other server to fetch from. Don’t have to pull up the image back and extract it from there, just need a USB stick and some legs. Clicking “Next” brings us to the second to last page where we review everything we told the DFS Replicator and make sure it is right. Hit “Create” and then “Finish” and you are good to go.
If your other server doesn’t list the Replicated folder like mine does in the first picture of the article under Roles-File Services-DFS Management-Replication, on the right-hand side of the Server Manager window, you can click “Add Replication Groups to Display” and select your Replication Groups. Should be good to go! Just check out the Server Manager window to make sure that your DFS Role is functioning properly. You can also set up an alarm with DfsrAdmin.exe along with “Scheduled Tasks” to pass an email if something should go awry.
While that may seem like a lot to chew on, it is definitely information that could save your small business a major headache. Image backups are a must with any important system especially servers. What happens if RAM or a RAM slot becomes corrupt and messes with all of your data. A RAID will not save you from that but backup and replication will. Its not all planning for natural disasters but anything can happen at any time. Always best to be prepared. You can always go with an offsite backup company like Carbonite or the many others but they are expensive and slow to retrieve that important data. Even setting up your own offsite FTP servers will have you at the mercy of external bandwidth. With all of the mission critical data that my company has on hand, I cant think of what they would do if they lost all of it. And think, they were running a RAID 0 with no backup on their financial server.