Tactical Advice

Train Employees to Restore Files with Previous Versions

This story appears in the March 2007 issue of BizTech Magazine.

Previous Versions, a file restore feature available by default as part of Windows XP (Service Pack 2) and Windows Server 2003, restores files stored on Windows Server 2003. On Vista, it can also restore local files. You can also install Previous Versions on Windows 2000 (Service Pack 3 or higher) and Windows XP (pre-Service Pack 2) by downloading the Shadow Copy Client software from Microsoft’s Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?
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On Windows Server 2003, Shadow Copies can be scheduled per storage volume to let users see a history of previous file versions when connecting to a share on the server from Windows XP or Vista. This feature allows users to roll back to an older version of a file if unwanted changes were made. Giving users the ability to restore previous versions of files may help alleviate the reliance on the information technology department from restoring files from backup.


Figure 1


Figure 2


Figure 3


Figure 4

Before configuring Shadow Copies you should consider how often you want to create a Shadow Copy of a volume (the default setting is twice a day), and how much extra storage space you’ll need. Ideally, Shadow Copies should be stored on a separate disk for improved performance, but by default they are stored on the source volume and you can set a size limit. A maximum of 64 Shadow Copies can exist per volume before old copies are automatically overwritten.

Configuring Shadow Copies on Windows Server 2003

Go to My Computer and select any volume shown under Hard Disk Drives. Click the Shadow Copies tab and highlight the source volume for which you would like to enable Shadow Copies (figure 1). Click Settings, and you will see that by default the storage area for Shadow Copies is the same as the source volume. On this file server, I have a volume on a separate disk that I will dedicate to Shadow Copies, so I will select F:\ from the drop down Located on this Volume and select No Limit under Maximum Size, because there is nothing else on the disk (figure 2). If the volume you select for storing Shadow Copies contains other data, you should consider enforcing a limit.

Click Schedule, and on the drop down menu at the top of the dialog box you will see that there are two default scheduled tasks to create Shadow Copies at 07 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday. My users work on the weekend, so I will modify both tasks to include Saturday and Sunday under Schedule Task Weekly, and then press OK. Press OK again on the settings dialog box. Back to the Shadow Copies tab, let’s kick off the first Shadow Copy by pressing Create Now, making sure the source volume is still highlighted (figure 3).

Training Employees to Restore Their files from Shadow Copies

Before showing users how they can use Previous Versions to restore files, you should explain a little about how it works, what the feature can do and what it can’t do. Make sure your employees know the following:

  • How often Shadow Copies of their files will be created
  • In Windows XP, Previous Versions may not be used to restore a file that has been deleted
  • In Windows Vista, they can use Previous Versions to restore local files that have been backed up if users are storing files locally and Vista’s backup is enabled
  • Shadow Copies of files are not stored indefinitely
  • Approximately how many Previous Versions of files will be available at any time based on the storage space allocated for Shadow Copies and the frequency with which they are generated
  • They can view previous versions of files, copied them to an alternate location, or replace the file in its existing location

To demonstrate the Previous Versions feature, use this example:

Suppose a user creates a file at 10 a.m. on a shared network drive that is hosted on a storage volume where Shadow Copies are enabled. After lunch at 1:30, the user changes the file, has second thoughts, and wants to revert to the “before lunch” version of the file. Our schedule automatically created a Shadow Copy of the volume while the user was at lunch, so an older version of the file will be available to restore.

On Windows XP or Vista, right click on the file you want to restore, and select the Previous Versions tab. You will see an older version of the file available to restore, along with the date and time it was created (figure 4). You have the option to view the older version of the file, restore it to an alternate location (Copy), or overwrite the file with the older version.

Previous Versions does not provide true document versioning because copies are created based on a schedule, but it can save time and let uses restore their own files in certain situations.

Russell Smith is an independent consultant based in the United Kingdom who specializes in Microsoft systems management.
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