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There are several causes for this failure, the one described here points to a problem even Microsoft do not want to fix. The solution is simple but fiddly and dangerous to the uninformed computer user. It has existed for many years and I am at a loss why Microsoft have not offered a solution, when pressed for an answer a vague acknowledge that there maybe a problem. The VSS and SPP event logs report useless information for anyone trying to work out what is really wrong. Drilling down through the logs, the reports effectively state the same problem, a lack of space; but why and where.
In protecting their operating system and to stop the trashing of the file allocation table a small hidden reserve disk of 100 Megabytes in size is created, where the Master Boot Record (MBR) is kept. Your PC BIOS scans for boot-able drives and sees this drive to boot off, which in turn boots into your Operating System and is usually assigned as the C: drive.
Upon requesting a BACKUP to be done, Windows will take a shadow copy of the reserve disk data. To do that it must have enough space to copy all that data again plus any temp data it creates on the same disk. If there are junk files from previous failed backups or remnants of some virus attack there will not be enough space to make a shadow copy and hence the backup fails. A failed backup will usually erase all temp data and any copies if allowed to complete normally, but interrupts/aborts may leave junk or the recycle bin may store these deleted files/folders and run out of free space.
The Microsoft backup program flags a lack of space but fails to say exactly where, or misdirects you to your target drive being low. Which can be true but is not the real, or sole cause. The hidden drive is failing, not the visible target drive and the computer owner has no way of knowing that the hidden drive is at fault. The misreports that your target drive is at fault are unhelpful and even after you clear space off the visible drive, it can still report a lack of space. (I wonder how many people have bought a new hard disk, or worse, a new computer to get around this problem... !@#$%^ Microsoft!)
I wish this could be a simple set of steps for you to follow. Unfortunately it can not be, because of the complexity of what can go wrong, the requirements to limit such damage and the need to use other programs to achieve safe operation of what should have been a straight forward exercise, backing up your computer. Once done this solution should work every time, however we are dealing with Microsoft products are they are well known to be buggy.
You eventually have to increase the size of the 100MB reserved disk with some considerable difficulty. You can still end up with the same problem further down the time line, a lack of free space, but if you increase the 100MB disk to about 500MB +/- 10% you may never have this problem in the designed life-time of the computer system. Clearing off any junk files/folders initially may allow backup to work again without the need of using a partition manipulator but experience has shown this reserved disk needs to increase in size.
The physical boot disk, usually disk0, is partitioned into two logical drives or disks. As this reserved disk is a fixed length partition of 100MB, hard up against the operating system disk partition, you will need to move the operating system partition along, but to do that, you will need to create some empty space. To create the empty space you will need to reduce the size of the operating system partition and using a disk partition manipulator program to move the operating system data along. This must be done at the physical disk sector level and hence you will need a disk partition manipulator program. There are a few 'free' programs of this nature and as you'll only need to do this once 'free' sounds like a bargain. Refer to PC magazines or your favourite/trusted on-line blog for latest references or seek out 'MiniTool Partition' as a starter.
Usually the operating system partition is not full but if it is, you'll need to buy a bigger physical disk and partition it into 500MB and the remainder to operating system use, then copy a disk image on to it, or, re-install the operating system then all your programs and data from backups done previously.
To save you time and heart ache.
Read all the below instructions FIRST, then act.
Best to do the following in Windows "Safe Mode".
Select safe mode by typing "msconfig.msc" into the windows start search box,
find and select safe mode, then reboot!
Disk Management will find all of your disk drives and hopefully one disk will show a 100MB NTFS Partition as Healthy (System, Active, Primary partition) and your Drive C: as NTFS Healthy (Boot, Page File, Crash Dump, Primary partition)
Any other disks stated should also be Healthy.
If not, you'll need to look into them later. If you have a 'gadget' app that monitors the hard disks you'll need to disable it. Safe Mode should have done that.
Best practice; WHEN the SYSTEM IS OFF,
disconnect any other drives you are not going to use
from your system, then reboot into safe mode.
Alternately use a non-windows program to take an image of the disk(s). CloneZilla is free and straight forward to follow, but read the on-screen instructions carefully.
If something does go wrong, the operating system files and installed programs can be recovered by re-installing from original disks, or saved downloads, kept elsewhere, not on the drive to be worked on. All your data, user-names and passwords should also be backed up, in a separate place where loss is unlikely. (e.g. usb external hard disk, or portable flash drive.)
DO NOT store in "the cloud", you have no idea who else can see your files, or how long they will exist in the cloud after you delete them. Regardless of encoded or scrambled storage, ISP promises or policies, if your data is not out there, it can not be discovered, copied and used against you...
The only cloud you should have, is one at your home, also known as NAS, Network Accessible Storage. This is an external drive connected directly to your modem or stands as an independent device on your Local Area Network (LAN). It is visible to Windows as a network drive and can be accessible to the Internet, if you allow your modem to accept external connections for your LAN, by default this option is usually off. If you want to know more, research on-line or at your local computer supplier.