Restoring a Time Machine Backup That’s Stored on a Windows Home Server

I think that may be the longest title I’ve ever had on my blog. Anyway…

Last week, my Macbook Pro hard drive suddenly died after about two years of dedicated service. While it’s a bit surprising, I did push the little guy pretty hard – I regularly run OS X alongside Windows 7 on VMWare, and I keep both platforms busy. Considering the VM is actually running off the Boot Camp partition, it’s a lot of work for the drive. But I digress.

I’ve been running Time Machine for a while, so I was hoping that I could restore its most recent backup onto my replacement hard drive. There was just one snag, and I knew this would be an issue: my Time Machine backups are stored on my Windows Home Server. As you can imagine, doing this is a bit of a hack (here are some instructions if you don’t know how to do this yet). And as I’m sure you can also imagine, doing a hack like this makes a “normal” Time Machine restore impossible.

What I mean by “normal” is that if you boot off the OS X installation disk, you can choose to restore a Time Machine backup instead of installing a brand new copy of the operating system. When you choose this option, it scans for a Time Machine backup – but only the locations it supports, like external hard drives or Time Capsules.

Now, sure, you could probably copy the Time Machine backup on your WHS to an external drive, since the backup on the WHS is essentially just a disk image. But I didn’t have an external drive large enough to spare – and besides, there must be a better way.

Perhaps my Googling was sub-par at the time (I was in the middle of restoring my laptop, after all), but it took a while to find the answer. You can’t do a normal Time Machine restore, but you can use the Migration Assistant:

  1. Install a brand spanking new copy of OS X. Make a throw-away account when you’re prompted to create your first account. I named mine “Admin”.
  2. Mount your Time Machine backup. In Finder, use the menu option Go –> Connect to Server…, and type the address to your Windows Home Server. This is usually “smb://” plus the server’s name. (For me, it was “smb://beat”.) OS X should find the server, connect to it, and list the available shares. Connect to the share that contains your Time Machine backup, and double-click the .sparsebundle file to mount the disk. (Enter your Home Server username and password, if prompted.)
  3. Run Migration Assistant. This tool is located under Applications –> Utilities on your Mac hard drive. Start it up, and read the intro if you’d like. Click Continue when you’re ready. Choose the “From a Time Machine backup or other disk” option, and click Continue. If you were able to mount the disk image in step #2, then it should be an option to choose from. Select it and Continue.
  4. Restore the backup. The last screen shows you the available items to restore, and how much space they’ll take up. If you created the throw-away account in step #1, then there should be no conflicts with restoring your real account from the Time Machine backup. Select what you do or do not want to restore, and then click Continue. The restore can take a while depending on how much data you have.

That’s it! When it finishes, your account should be back to the way it was, exactly as you left it (as of the last Time Machine backup). You can now throw away your throw-away account, or leave it as a battle scar.

Since it took me a while to find this on Google, I’m writing it up to hopefully give it more exposure. And if this is already well know and I just missed it, well – at least now I have a record in my blog of when my hard drive failed and I was sad. :P

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9 thoughts on “Restoring a Time Machine Backup That’s Stored on a Windows Home Server

  1. AlexF says:

    Whilst you had a backup on WHS, the instructions seem generic. Shouldn’t the title be “Restoring a Time Machine Backup stored on a NAS”?

    • mageuzi says:

      Since I was storing everything on a WHS, that’s how I framed the article. There may be a more elegant solution for a generic NAS — for example, I believe FreeNAS can emulate an actual Time Capsule. But you’re right, the instructions for both setting up and restoring the Time Machine should work for essentially any NAS.

  2. Ray Barnett says:

    Thank you! For whatever reason, when restoring my Macbook after a disk failure, Migration Assistant couldn’t see my Time Machine on my FreeNAS server. Your instructions saved the day!

  3. Larry says:

    Thanks for this info! When attempting to mount my sparsebundle file from my share, upon doubletapping I get this error:

    “The following disks could not be opened.” In the details is lists my sparesbundle id and a message “no mountable file system”

    Any help you can provide? Trying desperately to restore due to 100% failed hard drive.

    • mageuzi says:

      This seems to happen a lot with sparsebundles, especially in combination with Time Machine. They seem rather fragile. I haven’t had this problem myself, but I found this blog post. It’s a little technical, but it might be worth a try. Hope it helps.

  4. Larry says:

    Thanks. Crossing my fingers and will post outcome.

  5. Sandeep says:

    Hi, I have a similar problem. I am running Parallels and running win 7 as a VM. My VM was backed up on to time capsule. When trying to restore my windows VM, it doesn’t even detect my Time capsule. Any suggestions?

  6. Mike says:

    How long should it take to find the mounted volume where the back up is located? I mounted my sparsebundle file, Time machine recognizes it. When I open Migration Assitant, it “looks for the source” with no results. The volume is mounted and accesible in finder

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