Recover Data off of a Windows Home Server Failing Drive
All hard drives will eventually fail. Some earlier than others. As some readers may remember, The Big WHS lost three of eight new Western Digital Green 1.5TB drives earlier this year within a three month span, leading me to procure more and more Hitachi 2TB 7200rpm drives. Recently, I experienced my first Hitachi drive failure when a six month old drive started dropping from the Areca controller and started seeing rising error counts. One of the advantages of Windows Home Server is that pulling WHS drives and recovering data is a very simple task. I used my latest drive failure experience to take some screen shots for a guide on recovering data off of a WHS disk.
Recovering Data off of the Failing Drive
The first step, of course, is to physically remove the offending disk from the Windows Home Server. If possible, it is best if one is able to remove the drive from the storage pool, however if there is a massive hardware failure or the drive dropped from the WHS pool, one may need to remove the drive without going through the formal process.
Second, simply attach the drive to a different PC using a standard SATA cable and power connector. I actually have a tray-less hot-swap bay on my machine to facilitate this process as it makes the installation and removal of drives very easy. At this point, one should see the new drive attached to the system in the second machine’s operating system:
Investigating the G: drive above (volume name DATA), many users with Windows Vista and Windows 7 will see something strange, the DATA volume appears empty even though 277GB are free out of 1.81TB as can be seen above.
The reason one cannot see anything on the DATA volume from the old WHS drive is that the files are hidden.
One needs to unhide the files by going to Folder Options (Organize -> Folder and search options in Windows 7) and select “Show hidden files, folders, and drives” from the window above. Once one completes this step they can see the DE hidden folder:
This “DE” folder stands for Drive Extender and is where WHS stores data. A quick survey of the folders within the DE directory shows that shares contains most of the 1.54TB of data.
One can see that in the DE -> Shares -> Photos the sub folders from the Photos WHS share from the failed server drive:
Luckily, this drive was only starting to fail, so I was able to quickly transfer data to a backup location.
Here I was able to get vital tax information and work information off of the drive easily by just copying directories. Sometimes, copying files off of a failing drive can be a futile effort. Others have virtually every file that can be salvaged (of course except for the most vital). This process was as easy as transferring folders in Windows and orders of magnitude easier than recovering a RAID array drive.
I will note that some drives with major mechanical or firmware problems are totally unreadable making this guide moot. If one monitors the health of their drives and removes them at the first sign of problems, one has a much higher chance of being able to move data off of the drive before it becomes a complete loss. Since drive failures tend to never get better and instead always worse, moving data off of the drive should happen from the most critical to the least critical in the event a catastrophic failure happens in the middle of transferring the drive’s data. In this case, I was able to get all of my data off and secure erase the dive without issues before RMA’ing the drive.
Being able to quickly and easily remove drives from Windows Home Server and read them easily is perhaps the feature that people will most miss moving from WHS v1 to V2 VAIL. Easy data transfer from a failing drive is a hallmark of the Windows Home Server platform, and it will be missed. While this guide did not go into hardcore data recovery, I have found that by removing a failing drive early greatly increases the chances that one can recover most of not all data off of the drive. Hopefully none of my readers will have to experience this, but if they do, I do hope this makes the process a bit easier.