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Back-up Drives No Longer Being Assigned Them Same Letter

Posted on 2007-04-09
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Last Modified: 2010-03-17
We installed a Windows 2003 SBS Server for a customer about a year ago. After going over a few backup options, they decided to use 2 external USB hard disks that would be switched out every day. One employee would be given the responsibility to change the USB drive every day before leaving and take the un-attached drive home with them.
This solution worked fine for several months. One day I got a call because the Server would be "froze-up" every morning when they came in, and a hard re-boot would be necessary to get the Server up and running again. It would then run OK, but like clock-work - the next morn it would be froze again.
I do not know how long this went on before they finally contacted me, but one of their problems was that, for some reason, they stopped swapping out the USB drives, at least for the most part, and there was literally no free space on these drives at all. I assumed that the freeze-ups were related to NT backup trying to run at midnight every night, with a 100% full target location.
I explained the problem, made some reconfigurations to the back up plan, and checked in on how things were going via a remote connection every day for about a week. After that I was satisfied that the drivers were being switched out , and the backups were completing successfully.
Now here is the problem, it has been about 2 weeks since I stopped checking in on the backups, and everything went smooth according to the customer until today. The server was froze-up again today, but it is not full. What is different is that no matter how many times in the past year the USB drives have been swapped in and out, both drives always received F:\ as the drive letter. When I logged into the server remotely this morning, I noticed some NT backup errors, and that the USB drive was now drive E:\ which certainly explains why the back-up failed, but no other hardware has been added to or removed from this Server.
Does anyone know why this would happen? Is there a way that I can ensure that these drives will always be F:\, or perhaps some other work around?

Thanks in advance
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Question by:Drizzt420
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7 Comments
 
LVL 38

Expert Comment

by:Shift-3
ID: 18875955
Right-click My Computer, hit Manage, expand Storage, and click Disk Management.  Right-click the USB drive and select "Change drive letter and paths".  Click the Change button.  You then have two options.

You can manually reassign the drive letter.  This is fine as a short-term solution.

For something more permanent, you can mount the drive in an empty folder such as C:\Backup.  You can then point your backup program to this folder.  This will keep the location consistent over time.
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MarkMichael earned 500 total points
ID: 18876030
Perhaps, the user decided to connect the 2nd drive to the server before unplugging the first drive. This would result in the drive gaining a new drive letter.
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Expert Comment

by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 18876768
Or perhaps the user connected the drive to a different USB port.

I would recommend you have a look at my backup script - it's not THOROUGHLY tested for others to use, but it IS in use at a couple of my clients.  My script eliminates the concern about what drive to put the backups on because it checks for the backup drive on all drives after C:

http://www.lwcomputing.com/mysoftware.asp
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Author Comment

by:Drizzt420
ID: 18884368
I understand that I can change the drive letter manually. The problem I have to deal with is ensuring that it doesn't need to be manually changed. Let me add some background info to give you a better idea of my situation.


A different user was recently given the responsibility of "back-up duty". It is NOT likely that the USB drive for that night was plugged in before the other one had been removed because of the way we set it up. The only thing that the user has to do is unplug the power and USB cord from the drive containing the previous nights backup, and plug in the other drive using those some power and data cables. The cables are easily accessible and plug into the back of the server which is all but inaccessible to them. Since the system worked for so long without a drive letter change, the only thing that I could think of is that this new user might not have "stopped" the device before unplugging and replacing it, write cache is enabled on the backup disks so windows wants the device to be stopped before removal - I am not sure if swapping the drives out without going through the stop procedure first can cause a drive letter change, but I suppose it would be easy enough to test.

I do not see how mounting the drive into a folder would work as a solution.

Say you are planning to take a USB drive that is currently labeled “Drive F” and mount it as a folder called “Backup” somewhere on the C: drive. After the disk is successfully mounted as a folder, it is no longer identified with a drive letter. Then, the time comes when you need to swap out USB drives, and either for the same reason, or for a different reason, it gets identified as “Drive E”, instead of “Drive F”, I would think that it would show up in Windows as “Drive E” and the folder mount “Backup” would no longer work.
Even though only one of the backup disks will ever be active at any given time, I don’t think that it is possible to mount Disk E into that same “Backup” folder that Drive F had previously been, and still is mounted in, am I wrong about this?

I also don't want to mount each disk into a separate folder. The way it was working, occasionally forgetting to swap drives doesn’t cause the  backup to fail because as far as windows backup is concerned, there is one hard drive that just loses power for a minute every weekday around 5:00pm. Using 2 separate folders would require a certain drive to be present dependant on the day of the week, and forgetting to change drives would result in a failed backup.

I am not very affluent in scripting and would rather not go that route, I am leaning more towards a solution that will allow offsite backups to continue, but not require completely computer illiterate users to be in charge of it. The more I think about it, there should probably be a ghost type image of the whole server being backed up instead of just backing up all of the data, system state, etc and here is why: We converted this network from a remarkably ancient Novell Netware/ win95 based network, the companies most important program, containing tons of crucial data, ran from the server and was old enough to be almost completely DOS based. We upgraded every workstation to XP Pro, and the server to SBS 2003, and through a miracle got their old program to work just like it did before, able to print to all of the old dot matrix printers, and speak with the CNC machines out on the floor. Even with a respectable backup, anything short of a complete image of the server would be a nightmare to recover if it ever became necessary.

Does anyone know of a program that will allow me to make a ghost-like image of a running server, back the image up to a remote location, and not need a VPN connection to make it all work? Is there something a little more on the simple side that I am overlooking?  Keep in mind that cost is going to be a major issue with these guys, they also take IT related issues for granted so spending $20.00 on IT related issues puts frowns on their faces.
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Expert Comment

by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 18884408
Scripting... you may not like it - but if you learn it, you'll be grateful you did.  Do you know DOS commands?  If so, batch scripts are just sequenced commands... Most any other solution, long term, will cost you MUCH more than scripting - ESPECIALLY software.
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Author Comment

by:Drizzt420
ID: 18884451
Is there any way at all to force all USB drives to recieve a mandatory drive letter every single time, and If you tried to connect a second USB drive to the Server it would either give you a custom error, or just refuse to recognize it?

How much of a negative impact would it have on the back-up if I were to disable write cache on the USB drives so that it would not be neccessary to stop the device before swapping the drives? The system state gets backed up, and I was under the impression that write cache needed to be enabled for the VSC service to work effectively.
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by:Drizzt420
ID: 18928709
Thanks Mark.

Although your suggestion wasn't exactly what had happened it was pretty close. There was an external USB DVD burner connected to the Server that had drive E: assigned to it. It had been connected for quite some time and the day before I strated to notice this issue, they removed it due to lack of use.
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