March 2009
Vol. 25, No. 1

A Technology Newsletter for Extension Specialists

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R: Drive Synchronization
by Charlie Baerwald

Since the deployment of Windows Vista with the Computer Replacement Plan most specialists have been using laptops instead of the traditional desktop.  The laptop,  hooked up to a docking station (port replicator) with an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor, can be used as if it were a tower or desktop computer, but with the advantage of being able to undock it and take it with you.

A few years ago Extension Technology & Computer Services deployed servers in all counties for the purpose of backing up our most important data.  On your computer, what you see as the R and Q drives really represent space on the server.  The R drive is space on the server with restricted access for your use only, and the Q drive is space on the server shared by everyone in the office.

The data on your computer is backed up automatically because the Documents folder, Internet Explorer Favorites, Pictures, Videos, and Music are “pointed” to the R drive.  In other words, when you save a file to any of the above listed folders, it’s actually being saved on the server.  The server makes backups of everyone’s R drive as well as the Q drive every night.

For the convenience of the specialists who work at home and in the field, ETCS set the laptops to synchronize data from the R drive with the local disk (the C drive), so that when taken out of the office, the laptop shows all data stored on the R drive (but it’s been copied to C).   This is the same as when you have no network connection and you open Outlook.  The files are offline, so you can access them and compose messages, but it’s not until you connect to the network that your changes take effect on the email server.   Synchronization of the R drive is set to occur when the specialist logs on to the computer with a high speed connection to the server, which means for the most part – in the county office.

Note the Sync Center icon in the System Tray:

After you log in, take a look at the icon and you’ll notice that the arrows are rotating, indicating that synchronization is occurring.

So what exactly does it mean to “synchronize”?  The first time it happens, all the data that exists on your R drive is simply being copied to your C drive.  If you have gigabytes worth of data, this process takes a long time – hours.  Once the initial sync occurs, subsequent syncs are “incremental”, i.e. only the files that have changed get copied, so it takes far less time.  Imagine that you’ve taken your laptop home. You work on a few documents, and you create a few.  You’ve save them to your Documents folder.  Until you’ve synchronized, the only copies of the new and modified documents that exist are on the C drive.  If the C drive were to fail, those documents would be potentially gone for good.  That’s a problem. If the documents are so important that you can’t risk even a slight chance of losing them, copy them to a flash drive as part of your backup routine after every major modification.

Now you go into the office, dock the laptop, fire it up, and log in.

If you look at the System Tray Sync Center icon, you see that synchronization is occurring.  The new and modified files from the night before are being copied to the R drive, replacing old versions.  In addition, any files that have been modified on the server R drive get copied to your C drive (if you happen to also have a desktop computer, and have used it to modify files).

Sometimes, the Sync Center doesn’t know what to do with a file, because there’s a file of the same name on the R drive it wants to replace, but is unsure of which copy you’d like to keep.    These are called “conflicts”.   Conflicts usually occur when a file has changed in both locations since the last sync, or if a file has been deleted in one location but has been changed in the other.

Note the exclamation on the Sync Center icon (in the System Tray) when conflicts exist.

How to resolve?  Double click the System Tray icon to open the Sync Center.

Double click the Conflicts icon.

There you’ll see a list of conflicts – files that need a decision from you about what to do with them.

Right clickeach one, and you’ll have an option to “view options to resolve

A window will open that shows both files in conflict, including information on size and date modified. Here you get to decide which one to keep.  If in doubt, it’s generally best to keep the one that’s been most recently modified.  Proceed until all conflicts have been resolved.  For some this may take a short while, but after the first round of conflict resolution you’ll see far fewer of them.

Sometimes the sync will simply fail.

What to do?  Double click the icon to open the Sync Center, then under Tasks, click View sync results.

The error will be displayed along with a brief explanation why it failed.  In most cases you can right-click and choose Ignore.

Now close the window, and to re-initiate the sync, right click the System Tray Sync Center icon and choose Sync All.  You may have to repeat this procedure several times till sync occurs successfully.

A common issue I see is for folks to be in the office connected to their “high speed” line and the R drive is still “offline”.  If you try to change a file name or modify the file itself, it just doesn’t work.  Note in the following screen shot that in the blue bar at the bottom it says Offline status: Offline (slow connection)

Now take a look at the dark blue bar above the main field, at the right most option, to Work online.

Click Work Online, and the problems you were having renaming or modifying files will be gone.

You may have noticed synchronization is set to happen only on one event – logon.  So what happens when you’re in the county office and modify and/or create lots of files on the R drive, online, that you want to modify somewhere out of the office?  Manually synchronize before shutting the computer down. Just right click the Sync Center icon and select Sync All.  Synchronization of files in your Documents folder can occur “on the fly” whenever the file is saved, but if you really need a file that’s on the R drive while away from the office, it’s safest to sync manually before leaving the office.

For more information about Sync Center and resolving conflicts, see:

Sync Center recommended links - Windows Vista Help.url

A final note - if you notice that when you log in, synchronization takes a long time, even though you’ve not made many changes to the R drive (Documents or Favorites), try letting the synchronization occur before starting VPN software.  If the automatic VPN prompt is gone by the time sync has finished, there’s a shortcut on the desktop for Extension (yellow padlock) - double click to start VPN.   

As always, if you have questions or problems email or call ETCS.


Last Revised: 03/02/09



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