Windows Update Fail

The other day I needed to update a server blade with Windows Server 2008 R2 installed on it. The system hadn’t been running for a while and now had about 100 updates available. I wasn’t looking forward to this as Windows Update always finds reasons to reboot the system a lot (which takes extra long with server systems), and this blade is a bit special in that it has a rather slow an small flash disk.

In fac the blade has a 16GB (flash) drive and 64GB RAM. This upsets some older OS installers in an amusing way, because they want to create swap space twice as big as the RAM. That just isn’t possible with this sort of hardware…

The first attempt at applying updates took quite a while before spitting out Error 80243004. A repeated attempt fared no better. A quick trip to Google revealed a very unexpected cause: The Windows system tray was confused and this was causing the Windows Update to fail! For all I know, the batch of updates even included a fix for this problem, and the best Microsoft can do is throw some hexadecimal number at me. It’s as if Microsoft were trying to prove that putting a GUI on a server is a really, really bad idea.

Sure enough, changing the tray settings helped (why?!) and the updates could finally be installed. Which of course triggered a few reboots, a few more updates, and finally the Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 became available. There I hit a wall because the system ran out of disk space.

Naturally I attempted to run the Disk Cleanup tool, only to realize that it wasn’t there. Except that’s not quite true either. Google fairly quickly led me to Microsoft’s own website, which explains that by design, the Disk Cleanup tool is not installed with Windows Server 2008, but it is in fact present on the disk and can be run if one just copies two files over to the \Windows directory tree. Why anyone would want to call such schizophrenic craziness โ€œdesignโ€ is beyond me.

Sadly, even after Disk Cleanup was brought back from limbo, it couldn’t free up enough disk space. At that point I realized that during installation, Windows had created a swap file (pagefile.sys) which was taking up about 25% of disk space (nearly 4GB on a drive a bit smaller than 16GB). Very helpful.

After removing the swap file, there were over 4GB free and I hoped SP1 could finally be applied. But no dice. After more than an hour of trying, Windows Update finally announced that it needed more disk space. How much more is apparently a secret.

So I grabbed an ISO image with SP1, remotely mounted it on the server, and tried to update the system that way. This failed too, but now at least the setup program told me what Windows Update didn’t, i.e. that it needed 8GB of free disk space. And unlike Windows Update, the standalone SP1 installer told me this before chugging away for an hour or two.

There’s no way to free up 8GB on this system (again, the Windows partition has slightly less than 15GB total). So now I’ll flip a coin as to whether I should cut my losses and probably disable the useless pile of junk called Windows Update, or reinstall the system with Server 2008 R2 with SP1.

But it’s not all bad. Windows Update is clearly providing work, possibly even perverse entertainment, for thousands if not millions of system administrators. That’s not a bad thing in today’s economy. Let’s just hope that the powers that be don’t realize that there has to be a better way of doing things…

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7 Responses to Windows Update Fail

  1. Wack0 says:

    well, could this box be exploited in anyway?

    that’s what should make the choice of reinstall or not to reinstall, i think.

  2. michaln says:

    The server is not publicly accessible at all… so it shouldn’t be in too much need of security patches.

  3. The hex error code thing that has persisted in NT is just unforgivable IMHO. Ok in OS/2 we get something useful like say a SYS0043 error. At least you can type in HELP SYS0043 and get an explanation, in English that at least alerts you that there is an error reading the disk….

    In the age when an OS update can be several GB, why oh why can’t there be a simple db lookup tool that just tells you what is going on??

    Hell at this point, I’d be happy if clippy popped up offering to ‘assist’ in what went wrong, or at least try to explain why again and again windows update has freaked out this time.

    /end rant

  4. michaln says:

    I like “Clippy is better than this” as a shorthand for “it’s excruciatingly, mind-bogglingly, inexcusably awful” ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. ender says:

    Isn’t the minimum requirement for Server 2008 R2 20GB of disk space?

  6. michaln says:

    If it’s not enforced by the installer (and it certainly isn’t – there’s not a peep that the disk isn’t big enough), such a minimum requirement isn’t worth the paper it’s not printed on…

  7. do you have access to iSCSI storage? Maybe you can setup all the temp variables to secondary storage, then detach it….. ๐Ÿ˜

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