Backup and Reinstall

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Backups and reinstalls are one of our most frequent duties and 90% of the time will be somewhat time-consuming yet relatively painless. The key here is to double-check and triple-check before you click Enter that last time and wipe the drive clean. As long as you know the files are backed up (or in some cases, don't need to be backed up), you can essentially do whatever it takes to get the machine working.


Measure twice, cut once. That is the absolute simple truth of this process. So to make sure you measure correctly in the first place, do yourself a favor and take steps to be certain of what needs to be done before and after the reinstallation. For the simple, pre-made, really-no-one-to-blame-but-yourself way, take a look at the document in the link below.

Re-install Check List.

This form will help you organize your tasks for the reinstallation. Fill out the form, and be thorough. While you're filling it out, approach it as if you are filling out the form for someone else to do the installation. It's always possible that you may not be there to perform certain tasks due to school, holidays, or even other duties, so it's important that the information is detailed enough and legible so that someone else can perform the tasks if needed.

Once you've finished the form, print a copy and bring it to your supervisor. They may need to point out that a certain requested software is unavailable, or suggest additional folders to back up. Domain object changes may also need to be made by your supervisor.

Now that you have the details written down, make sure you've set a time with the user(s) of the computer to perform the re-installation. For Windows installs, you will need to bring the machine the workroom to do the re-install; Linux machines may be installed on location, provided there is an active network connection.


The most time-consuming part of the process, and also the most important. We do not have any tools or capability for effective data recovery, so once you take that drive and wipe it clean and install an OS on it, any data that was there before is effectively gone forever. So it cannot, cannot be stressed enough that you should be very careful and thorough during the backup process. Do not reinstall a machine until you know the files have been backed up.

That bears repeating. DO NOT reinstall a machine until you confirm that files are backed up. If you backed them up yourself, double-check; if someone else was performing the backup, confirm they did so and make sure nothing is missing. Etch this in stone in your mind.

A typical backup for a Windows machine requires that you back up the following folders:

  • C:\Documents and Settings\<primary userID>\My Documents\,
  • C:\Documents and Settings\<primary userID>\Favorites\,
  • C:\Documents and Settings\<primary userID>\Desktop\

and any locally saved email. Outlook Express mail is stored in "C:\Documents and Settings\<primary userID>\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\{Profile ID}\Microsoft\Outlook Express\". Office Outlook mail is stored in "C:\Documents and Settings\<primary userID>\Local Settings\Application Data\Micrsoft\Outlook\". Mozilla Thunderbird stores local mail in "C:\Documents and Settings\<primary userID>\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\<Profile ID>\Mail\".

Students and Faculty will often save data to the C:\ drive, or to other location. Certain research programs can also have \work folders in the program directory where a user's work has been saved. When a user gives you the list of files and folders to backup, look over it and ask questions if you don't see something. Ask if they use an email client and save emails locally, ask if they have any files saved within research programs, and so forth. When you start copying the files, keep an eye out for unique folders on C:\ or inside the user's DocSettings folder, and don't hesitate to back them up. The user may not need them, but it doesn't hurt to back them up anyway just in case.

Once you know what to backup, boot up the machine, connect the external Maxtor HD and create a folder on the HD with the computer's name, then start copying over the files. Be aware that users' data stores go high into the gigabyte range nowadays, so the file copy will take anywhere from one to several hours. However, do not just start the copy and then ignore it. Check on the progress at times, because Windows will often ask questions about copying read-only files, executables, and permissions or file errors are very common as well. Unfortunately, when Windows hits an error copying files, it simply stops, and gives you no indication of where it was last working. You will need to determine where Windows stopped, fix the permission error, and then re-start the copying.

  • If there is an error with the machine or with Windows but the hard drive is fine, remove the hard drive and connect it to your machine with the external bay. Your machine should detect and mount the drive, and then you can copy over the backed up files to your machine.
  • If there is an error with the drive and your Windows machine cannot properly detect it, connect it to the external bay and bring it to Micah. Ask him to try accessing the drive via his Linux machines and he may be able to pull off data for you.
  • If the drive is making clicking, scraping, or strange beeping sounds, it is probably dead and no data can be recovered.

If the machine you are backing up is a Linux machine, then all of the necessary data should be in /local or /home. Ask Micah to help you back up the data, and do not reinstall the machine until he has let you know it is ready.

And lastly (because repetition is the glue for your mind), once you've gotten the data backed up, double-check.


Before re-installing the machine, disconnect any zip drives that are in the machine, and disable them in the BIOS. Windows has a tendency to accidently mount them as C:, which can cause issues with domain packages in the future. Reconnect the drive after Windows is installed.

Windows - Clean Install

Do this if you are installing Windows on the machine and all data is backed up, or if there is no data to back up, or if you have installed a new hard drive in the machine. Reboot the machine and connect to RIS. Use the appropriate install image for the version of Windows you need to install and ask your supervisor to make any necessary changes to the computer's domain object.

Windows - Leave Alone

Do this if the computer has secondary partitions that must be preserved, or if a user has requested that you set up additional partitions. Again, reboot the machine and connect to RIS. However, choose the "LeaveAlone" version of the install image. RIS will start the set up process and then pause to allow you to make changes to partitions.

  • If there are existing partitions that must be saved, find the C: partition. Hit 'D', then 'Enter', and finally 'L' to confirm the deletion of the partition. Then select the unformatted space, hit 'Enter', and choose a Quick NTFS format. Setup will now proceed with the installation on that partition only and preserving the other partitions.
  • If a user has requested additional partitions, highlight the unformatted space (after deleting other partitions if necessary) and press 'C'. Input the desired size of the partition in MB (1 GB = 1000 MB, so 10 GB = 10000 MB), then hit 'Enter'. After you've finished creating the partitions, choose to install to the C: partition and choose a Quick NTFS format. Set up will now proceed.
    • Do not install Windows to any partition less than 20 GB, and also do not install it to anything but the C: partition.

Sun and Linux

Clean up

Time for the post-install checklist:

If Windows

  • Log in with your .admin account and make sure the computer has all necessary critical updates, either by the Automatic Updates icon, or via Windows Update.
  • Control Panel -> System -> Hardware Tab -> Device Manager. Download and install any drivers that the machine is missing.
  • Update the computer BIOS if there is an updated version available.
  • Start -> Run -> gpupdate, and restart the computer to make sure it installs all of its assigned domain software.
  • Restore any backed up files.
  • Add users as administrators if necessary/requested.
  • Finish any hardware updates that were requested and install any requested programs that must be done manually.
  • If you created additional partitions for Windows during Setup, go into Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management. Go into Disk Management, and format those partitions as NTFS.
  • Return the machine!

If Sun/Linux

  • Make sure you can log in.
  • Ask a supervisor to add users to the machine, or if you have the correct permissions, add them yourself.
  • RHEL4 sometimes has issues with video cards on newer machines, so ask Brian or Micah to look into any display issues.
  • Return the machine if you brought it to the workroom for install, and ask a supervisor to change the IP address assignment if necessary.