When Windows 2000 won't boot

A server crash is always a nightmare. Follow these techniques to track down the source of the problem and get back online as soon as possible.

 By Brien M. Posey
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Have you ever come into the office in the morning and discovered that one of your servers crashed in the middle of the night? (For information on server repairs, see the article Repairing Windows 2000 through the Recovery Console ) When this happens, there's only one thing to do: Hold your breath, reboot the server, and pray that it comes back up. Often you'll get lucky, and the crash was merely a fluke or the result of a minor change made the day before that can be easily corrected. Sometimes, though, a server crash is an indication of a very real problem. In this article, I'll discuss some techniques that you can use to recover, should your Windows 2000 server fail to boot.

Before You Begin

Recovering a server is a very touchy subject for many people. I can't count the number of times when clients have called me to come fix a server that has crashed. During many of these recoveries, the concerned client hovered over me. People get really nervous when a server goes down--they lose productivity while the server is down, but more importantly, they may lose the data stored on the server.

Because of the sensitive nature of the server and of the people who own the server, I tend to take a minimalist approach during recovery. Formatting the hard disk and reloading the operating system from scratch will get a server back on line every time (assuming the hardware is functional), but doing so isn't the preferred recovery method--it destroys settings, user accounts, data, or whatever may be stored on the server. Instead, even though doing so can be tedious, I start with the simplest possible causes and work toward the more complex possibilities. Doing so guarantees that you perform the least invasive procedure, thereby preserving the integrity of the server's settings and data as much as possible.

What Changed?

When I'm called to look at a server that has crashed, typically begin by asking the people involved what has changed recently. Almost always, the answer is, "Nothing." However, if you ask more detailed questions--has the client added any new drivers, service packs, hot fixes, or hardware?--you'll often get a more helpful answer. Usually, the most recent change to the server is related to the problem. If you can find out what this change is, you'll be much more likely to fix the problem quickly than if you had to figure out the cause totally on your own.

What Tools Are Available?

VGA Mode or Boot Logging

Usually when I write an article like this, I receive dozens of email messages pointing out tools that I have forgotten. In this case, such tools might include VGA Mode or boot logging. However, these tools are both automatically implemented through Safe Mode, as are a few others. Debugging mode is also available. However, given that you could write an entire book on debugging mode, and that you need a PhD to understand the output, I won't cover debugging mode in this article.

When a server won't boot, the first trick to getting it to boot is to know which tools are available for correcting the problem. For example, here are a few things you have available during most crashes (later, I'll explain how these tools may come in handy):

  • The error itself
  • Last Known Good
  • Safe Mode
  • Recovery Console
  • Emergency Repair Disk (ERD)
This article was originally published on Jun 13, 2000
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