One of the greatest things about the Windows Server operating system is that it is designed to be flexible enough to run using just about any type of hardware. In addition, you can install many different types of software onto the server and have it run smoothly. While this flexibility is a big benefit in many cases, it can make it very difficult to troubleshoot when something goes wrong.
If you find that your server will not boot up properly, you will need to go through a number of different steps to identify the root cause of the problem. Once that cause is identified, you can begin researching the best way to implement a permanent fix to the problem.
Take note of the following steps so you can use them the next time you are having difficulties with one of your Windows-based servers.
Gather Details and Identify the Precise Problem
The first thing you will want to do is gather as many details about the issue as you can. If the problem is easy to replicate, go through and produce it multiple times. Each time that the issue occurs, take note of the following things:
- Specific Error Messages – Take a screen shot or write down the specific error messages. Make sure you get the full error codes and other details as they may be important for troubleshooting.
- Event Logs – In addition to the main error message that is displayed, browse to the server’s event log (if you are able to get into the OS) and copy down the information provided.
- Steps Leading to Problem – Document what is happening that leads to the problem occurring. If this is during the bootup sequence of the server, write down what is displayed on the screen just prior to the errors (if any).
- Diagnostic Tool Information – All modern versions of Windows Server include a variety of diagnostic tools, and many people install third party tools as well. If you have any diagnostic tools available, run them and document the information provided. (Remember, many diagnostic tools can be run from a DOS prompt that is pulled up during the boot sequence so you can use them even if you cannot get into the operating system at all).
Of course, any other data that you can gather will also be helpful. These are just some of the most commonly available examples of information that you can collect to help get started with troubleshooting an issue with your Windows Server.
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Remove Variables from the Server
If the data gathered above does not immediately tell you exactly what the problem is, you will want to start trying to eliminate variables. Since Windows servers can be set up so many different ways, it is best to remove as may different variables as possible.
In some cases, going through this process will actually reveal the root cause of the problem. For example, it is often possible to disable additional RAM or hard drives in the BIOS so that they are not accessible.
If that hardware was causing the problem, you will know that it needs to be repaired or replaced. Some common examples of variables that you can remove from your server include the following:
- Disable or Remove Hardware – Any hardware that is not strictly required for the server to boot can be disabled or removed to help with troubleshooting.
- Uninstall Recent Patches – If you have recently installed any patches (either to the server OS or to software on the server), consider rolling them back if possible.
- Remove Network Connectivity – Remove network connectivity when booting to see if that is causing any issues.
- Minimize Startup Processes – Disable or remove as many things from the startup process of your server. This is especially helpful if the issues present themselves shortly after a reboot.
While removing these variables one by one can be a great way to identify what is causing a problem, it can also be helpful to boot your server into safe mode first. Safe mode is a Windows feature that starts the operating system up with only the required services.
If you do not run into problems when in safe mode, you will have significantly narrowed down the possibilities of what is causing the issues.
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Research Errors and Unusual Events
Once you have gathered as much information as you can from error messages, logs, and the other steps listed above, it is time to do some research. Perform searches on the various error messages that you received in order to see exactly what they mean.
It may be necessary to include something like, “Windows Server 2019 Error XXX” in order to get the specific meaning for your Windows Server version. You can even put in multiple errors or symptoms into one search to get more tailored results.
Since there are millions of people using Windows Servers, it is almost certain that other people will have experienced the same issues as you in the past. You will likely find multiple pages of suggestions from people who have found solutions to your problems.
While it is often best to start by looking at results from official Windows sources, there are many other websites that can offer reliable information.
Attempt One Fix at a Time
In most cases you will discover multiple different potential causes for the issues that you are facing. Do not attempt to implement every recommended fix at once since that will make it so you do not know which one actually solved the problem.
Instead, look at all of the recommended courses of action, and decide which one to perform first. You can choose based on which you think is most likely to fix the problem, which one will be the fastest to test, or any number of other things.
If the first thing you try does not fix the problem, back out any changes you made and move on to the next potential solution. This will help to ensure you are not making a problem worse or more complicated by making multiple adjustments related to the same problem.
Document Your Solution
Once you have found the correct solution to your problem, make sure you document for use in the future. Since it is likely that you will have more than one Windows server with a similar setup, you may find that you run into this problem again in the future.
Having a single place to store all of your troubleshooting and technical solutions for your company will help streamline the process of fixing issues going forward.