Dell PERC 6i “Fast Initialize” – how to restore

TL;DR: Make a BartPE boot disc, with Dell RAID drivers and EASEUS Free Partition recovery. Undelete those partitions LIKE A BOSS.

Yesterday at 6PM, while installing a new drive in our Dell PowerEdge 2900, I accidentally “fast initialized” the system drive in the machine.

Yes, this is pretty much as stupid as it sounds. When you install a new drive (the guide I used), you basically turn the machine off, remove a drive bay cover panel, insert the new drive (wrapped in a $45 caddy and a $48 interposer – woo Dell!), boot up the machine, press Ctrl-R/M to get through to the RAID config, create a new “virtual disk”, add the just installed “physical drive” to it, and finally initialize the new virtual disk. Unfortunately, the Dell RAID config software is a little unclear, when you finish creating the new virtual disk, it asks you if you want to initialise it, then takes you to a selection screen – I just picked the first one. Big mistake! In 1/3rd of a second I’d effectively deleted the first and last 8MB of our main server’s boot disk, which includes the MBR, bootsector, partition map, etc, etc… You know that “oh fuck” feeling you get when you’ve done something horribly wrong?

Anyway, here’s how I restored it.

First, I figured out what a “fast initialize” actually is. An article on the Dell support website says:

A fast initialization on a virtual disk overwrites the first and last 8 MB of the virtual disk, clearing any boot records or partition information.

Great, so the data is still all there, it’s just missing the MBR and partition stuff.

So next I needed a boot CD so I could run some recovery software on the machine. At first I considered using an Ubuntu LiveCD, GParted and GNU DDRescue, because there’s a great recovery guide on the Ubuntu community site, but I was worried that I’d have to mess around with drivers to get Ubuntu to recognise the Dell’s PERC 6i RAID array.

So I settled on BartPE, which is basically a modifiable version of the Windows Preinstalled Environment akin to the Linux LiveCD concept. BartPE CDs are created using the PE Builder, which allows you to customise drivers and software, so I added the Dell PERC 6 drivers (downloadable from the Dell website) using this guide.

Now I needed a partition recovery bit of software. Unfortunately I actually tried 3 before I found one that worked just right. I first tried’s GetDataBack for NTFS which can be added as a plugin to Bart PE, and after a 1h40m scan I realised to my horror that GetDataBack is just a file recovery tool – it doesn’t recover partition information at all. It did find all of the data on the drive, but recovering this way would have meant an enormous copy/format/paste shuffle. No good.

So next I tried Active@ Partition Recovery, whose website is really dodgy looking. I added it to yet another BartPE disc by adding its Windows executable in PE Builder as a custom directory (the DOS version of Active@ PR does not work with BartPE’s command prompt, as it is 16-bit native). I had to open a command prompt once this BartPE disc had booted on the server and navigate to the executable to run it, but it did work. After another 1h10m “fast scan”, Active@ had detected one of the two partitions on the drive, and seemingly not the other. Fortunately it was the boot drive, so I restored it.

Now all I had to do was mark the drive as active and fix its MBR, which I did by booting from a Windows 7 disc, running the recovery console and running DISKPART, then BOOTSECT /nt52 C – there are hundreds of guides on this process out there.

Unfortunately, even after this it didn’t boot. I had no idea what was wrong. Then, after removing most of my hair I realised that because the partition information had changed, the boot.ini file would need to be updated. Being a Mac user I sort of expect this kind of stuff to “just work”, but if the boot.ini file doesn’t have a correct partition specified, it will just give up, and peace out, not bothering to display an error message of any kind.

Restart, and bingo. Server back online. Now for that second partition. Frustrated at Active@, I installed EASEUS Partition Recovery and decided to give it a shot. Literally SIX seconds later, I had the second drive recovered, mounted and back up and running.

Seriously, WTF. EASEUS Partition Recovery is black magic and totally free and awesome. I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you accidentally “quick format” a drive, EASEUS Partition Recovery is the tool you’re after. There’s even a guide on their site of how to add it as plugin to BartPE.

So at the end of the day I spent $114USD and learnt a valuable lesson – EASEUS is free and the best partition recovery software out there.

Symfony 1.4 on IIS 6

Getting Symfony to run on anything that isn’t Apache is basically a pain. Before even attempting it you should first make sure it’s completely impossible to spin up a Linux box (Turnkey LAMP anyone?) and run your project on that, or if you’re totally stuck with Windows, consider installing Apache (directly, or by way of WAMP or something similar).

This post is for the unfortunate few who are forced into running Symfony 1.4 on Windows Server under IIS 6 via PHP using FastCGI.

There are a couple of things you’ll need:

If you already have a copy of PHP that’s fine as long as it supports Symfony 1.4 (5.2.4 and above) but keep in mind early versions of 5.3 suffered from unusual date bugs that can be really annoying. Otherwise, install PHP using the installer, or copy the contents of the zip to somewhere like C:\PHP.

Installing FastCGI is relatively painless – everything you need to know is in this guide on the website. Just keep in mind that if your path to the php-cgi executable has spaces in it, you will need to quote it, or write it as something like C:\Progra~1\PHP\php-cgi.exe instead.

Installing Symfony can be tiresome if you have no experience with SVN, but trust me it is totally worth it. Pick yourself up a free SVN space at Assembla. If you’re running Symfony, you’re probably a “professional”, and if you’re doing development without an SCM you’re a fucking idiot. Checkout a working copy of your Symfony project trunk to a “dev” folder on your hard drive – NOT to the IIS web root directory. Symfony is designed to be setup as a virtual directory, so all your backend scripts aren’t exposed.

If you want your Symfony project to be the web root of your server, then in the IIS Manager panel, just change the root directory for your site in IIS to your project’s working copy’s web directory. So http://localhost/ should point to something like C:\dev\my_sf_project\web

If you want your Symfony project to be a sub-directory of your server, then you’ll need to add a virtual directory that similarly points to the web folder of the working copy. Just select your server in the IIS Manager panel, and  choose Action->New->Virtual Directory… and select the web folder of your checked-out Symfony project. So http://localhost/my_sf_project/ should point to something like C:\dev\my_sf_project\web.

You’ll also need to create a second virtual directory to the C:\dev\my_sf_project\lib\vendor\data\web\sf directory as per the Symfony 1.4 webserver configuration instructions – this step gives you all the built-in images and crap like that.

Now you need to set up ISAPI rewrite. This is the hard part. Installing it is easy, but tweaking the config that actually rewrites URLs is not easy. Many web admins balk at implementing mod rewrite scripts, and virtually none feel comfortable modifying them once they’re even close to working. You’ll need to edit the config file httpd.conf in C:\Program Files\Helicon\ISAPI_Rewrite3, and depending on your Symfony setup you’ll need different configurations.

Rewrite config for Symfony project as webserver root

Options +FollowSymLinks +ExecCGI
# uncomment the following line, if you are having trouble
# getting no_script_name to work
#RewriteBase /

# we skip all files with .something
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} \..+$
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !\.html$
RewriteRule /.* - [L]

# we check if the .html version is here (caching)
RewriteRule ^/$ /index.html [QSA]
RewriteRule ^([^.]+)$ $1.html [QSA]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f

# no, so we redirect to our front web controller
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ index.php/$1 [QSA,L]

Rewrite config for Symfony project as virtual directory

Options +FollowSymLinks +ExecCGI
# uncomment the following line, if you are having trouble
# getting no_script_name to work
#RewriteBase /

# we skip all files with .something
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} /my_sf_project/.*\..+$
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !/my_sf_project/\.html$
RewriteRule /my_sf_project/.* - [L]

# we check if the .html version is here (caching)
RewriteRule ^/my_sf_project/$ /my_sf_project/index.html [QSA]
RewriteRule ^(/my_sf_project/[^.]+)$ $1.html [QSA]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f

# no, so we redirect to our front web controller
RewriteRule ^/my_sf_project/(.*)$ /my_sf_project/index.php/$1 [QSA,L]

Obviously you’ll need to replace my_sf_project with whatever the name of your project’s virtual IIS directory is. Once you’ve done this, everything should work. The ISAPI Rewrite program doesn’t require you to restart IIS when you make changes, they’re reflected immediately.

Other reading:

  • Symfony 1.4 on IIS7 – apparently quite easy!
  • The Symfony 1.0 guide on IIS 6 – still quite relevant, but their rewrite rules are stunted – they don’t deal with the case of http://server/module/action – i.e. no index.php or app name in the URL.