Best image testing strategy?

Discussion in 'backup, imaging & disk mgmt' started by darkroomdevil, Jul 31, 2011.

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  1. darkroomdevil

    darkroomdevil Registered Member

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    What might be the smartest way to test disk image software?

    I did searches and find references to virtual drives, partitions, multiple image programs ... but no discussions on strategies specifically. Does one have to do a complete restore from the boot CD to prove it will work or are there other methods?

    I only have my main laptop and the computers at work - no machines I can use just for testing.

    Or does one just search the forums and hear enough reports that a program is solid - and call it good?

    Thanks!
     
  2. wat0114

    wat0114 Guest

    That's basically the approach I've used when deciding upon which imaging software/recovery disks to use.

    FWIW, it seems Image for Windows and ShadowProtect are two of the very best, getting lots of positive feedback in these forums. I've got licenses for both products and both have served me very well. If you are only looking for no-frills backing up/imaging, then several freebies work extremely well:

    1. Windows 7 built-in
    2. Clozezilla -http://clonezilla.org/downloads.php
    3. Macrium Reflect free -http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx
    4. Paragon Backup & recovery 2011 -http://www.paragon-software.com/home/br-free/

    There may be others, but these are ones I know about and have used with positive outcomes. The Paragon product is actually quite full-featured.

    *** just a side note, check out posts from Wilders member BrianK in this forum (Imaging forum). He offers tons of expert advice :)
     
  3. Sully

    Sully Registered Member

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    I like to hear/see other people experiences, gives me some indication.

    I also like to test for myself, usually in VM. It isn't always which has the most features or fastest performance. Sometimes it is about the interface, which makes more sense to me.

    Sort of like browsers. They are all fast, and all capable, but we all our chosen for reasons specific to us, even though others might have other features that we might want.

    I think you should research based on opinion, then test drive a few and see the differences.

    Sul.
     
  4. SourMilk

    SourMilk Registered Member

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    Drive Snapshot every morning.
    Acronis True Image v.11 cold image weekly every Monday morning.

    Both set of images kept on a separate internal hard drive with a copies to an external usb drive on occassion.

    I use DS like a super Windows Restore and ATI as an image backup. This may not be an ideal way to do it but it works just fine for me.

    SourMilk out
     
  5. darkroomdevil

    darkroomdevil Registered Member

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    VM = VirtualMachine? How do you do this ... Is there a particular program / workflow? Thanks!
     
  6. claykin

    claykin Registered Member

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    Depends on how much you want to rely on the imaging software to rescue you from disk failure, OS corruption or other hardware failure. Also, what OS is in your system(s)? Some imaging apps have had problems conflicting with other apps so trial before you buy is wise. Is this for personal use or for use in business?

    Well look it at this way. You begin to rely on an imaging program as your critical backup and one day your laptop harddisk kicks. You buy a new disk and want to restore from the boot CD. It doesn't work even ater hours of troubleshooting, visiting forums, and trying to get help from the publisher. Now do you think you should test the boot cd prior to relying on it?

    Worse case, your laptop suffers a motherboard failure and due to its age you deem it senseless to pay hundreds of $ for repair. You choose to obtain a new laptop and wish to pickup where you left off since you've already lost too much time. You try to restore to dissimilar hardware and it doesn't work. Now what do you do? Assuming you cannot find a solution to restore to dissimilar hardware, best case is you mount the image and manually copy off your important files. Still means hours and hours of reinstalling apps, customizing settings, restoring files, etc....

    You can test a restore to the same hardware. I would recommend you obtain a new harddisk for this test so as to not mess with your working disk. Dissimilar hardware test is impractical if you don't have other machines to try. You can try restore to VM (Virtualbox), but thats not exactly the same as a dissimilar recovery.

    You can read reviews and make an educated decision based on product and company reputation, product reviews, etc.. You'll also find more professional reviews if you spend time doing educated searches.

    If time is money and you just want a reliable solution, here's my take after weeks of doing my own tests, reading reviews, and some real world experiences.

    1) Shadowprotect from Storagecraft. Best of the best but somewhat pricey. They have good support if you get into a pinch. Some Fortune 500's rely on Shadowprotect.

    2) Symantec System Recovery (Formerly BESR). Solid imaging app. This is the enterprise version of Norton Ghost. One of the main differences is it has over Ghost is proper support for restore to dissimilar hardware. SSR is fairly heavy and bloated in my opinion and does have some quirky behavior, but it works. You'll likely find its a bit tough to find a single license desktop edition @ etailers. some carry the boxed version such as CDW and buycheapsoftware, but they seem to still be selling BESR 2010. Pricing is a bit less than Shadowprotect. Symantec enterprise support is pretty good, but they can be slow (make sure you buy a boxed version that includes support). They also have forum support. Fortune 500's also use SSR/BESR.

    3) Terabyte Image for Windows. This is a solid and reliable imaging app, but in my opinion is too techie for most users unless your needs are simple. Most things are run through scripts that they provide some examples for, but you often have to customize. Its a very manual program however if you spend time reading the manual you can figure out most functions. Its very lightweight and solid. Support is also good via email and knowledge-base. They still use newsgroups (as opposed to more user friendly forums) for online support. Their newsgroups are unimpressive IMO. Finally, its a bargain and well worth it even if you keep it in your toolkit.

    There's others that work such as Drivesnapshot but I can't find an inexpensive solution as good as IFW.
     
  7. siberianwolf

    siberianwolf Registered Member

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    that's not necessarily valid. well, not most of the time at least. why? cuz, people don't find it necessary to publish their opinons about sw's on blogs and/or forums, long as they don't encounter a problem with them. thus, most of the topics / posts about those sw's reflect problematic sides of those sw's and/or issues w/ them.
    w/ the exception of forums like wilders security, of course. cuz folks here @wilders discuss apps/sw's in many aspects, w/ cons and pros from their pov and under the light of their experience w/ those appps.
     
  8. darkroomdevil

    darkroomdevil Registered Member

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    I meant Wilders of course! :) Honestly, I am very impressed with the feedback and the people on this forum! Great culture here - congratulations! I know it takes work to keep it that way.
     
  9. darkroomdevil

    darkroomdevil Registered Member

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    Laptop at home (Windows 7) which is personal use. 4 XP Pro machines and 1 windows 7 machine at work networked peer to peer. The drive the machines will back up to is to a networked shared drive on the windows 7 machine. The question of testing strategies was inspired by having tested many of the image programs on the laptop at home, but not wanting to jeopardize any of the machines at work with possibly failed tests ...

    Exactly - trying to test with the least risk to the system :)

    Thanks

    And thanks for your recommendations. I have trialed ShadowProtect and was very impressed. The cost for 6 machines would be about $400. It does seem that there is software that will do my job for ~ $150. So my squeaky point with SP is just feeling like I might be wasting my money ...

    I will give Symantec a look at - I looked at Image For Windows and found it way too techie ... the other issue for us is others in the business who are not techie should be able to manage the software also.

    Thanks
     
  10. claykin

    claykin Registered Member

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    I agree that this forum has a better all around discussion as compared to many forums that typically discuss issues. That said, read reviews here and use them wisely. I highly recommend you don't take any single forum review as gospel.

    Everyone's requirements are different and you should fully consider your needs prior to pulling the trigger.

    For some on a serious budget, free imaging tools are the only option. These users have to be more flexible and understand that feature sets are more limited in free software and support is often close to non existent. Unfortunately some free software just doesn't work well at all.

    Others don't mind paying, but look for a bargain. My take is that this is the bulk of the discussion on this forum. Its not necessarily a bad thing to search for a bargain (such as IFW) but there's also cases where people classify their data and backups as critical and they are willing to pay a bit more for "insurance". Whether it be a more stable, more polished, better supported product, etc..

    Then there's those who only want the best. Definition of the "best" can vary widely. Some like Acronis Workstation products (not the home stuff), Symantec BESR or Shadowprotect. Some even say IFW is the best. Whatever you determine to be the best is the best as long as it works for you. As far as I'm concerned Shadowprotect is the best for my use.

    Ask yourself how much your data is worth if you were in a position to rely on your image backup for recovery? How would you feel if you found out your backups were unusable?
     
  11. claykin

    claykin Registered Member

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    @darkroomevil

    If you want to test on production machines (because you have no other options) get yourself some spare harddisks and use those for restore. You remove and safely keep the production disk in a safe place while you play with restore on the blank disks.

    Do a dissimilar hardware restore from your laptop to a desktop, etc... Of course using a blank disks for the restore test.

    Be sure to note BIOS settings for the production disks first. Note IDE/AHCI settings before changing any disks.

    To make you feel worse, Shadowprotect Desktop for 6 PC's is $540. I suspect you were looking at the Home user 3 license bundle. Thats OK for your home use but not for business use. You can check and confirm that with Storagecraft.
     
  12. Robin A.

    Robin A. Registered Member

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    I use both Paragon (not free) and ShadowProtect regularly, and I have not found difference in reliability between them.

    If the computer is a desktop, an easy "strategy" to test images is to install a second internal drive and set up in it a partition to restore images and boot from them.

    If the computer is a laptop, I would use two different image programs and test images by restoring and booting from them.

    Also, I think a very good "strategy" is to separate system from data. This way, if there is a computer failure, the data can be restored easily to any other computer. I backup my data just by copying them to USB disks using a file synchronizer (FreeFileSynch).
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2011
  13. Osaban

    Osaban Registered Member

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    Lots of good advice in this thread. I'd like to say first that I use ShadowProtect on 2 machines, Acronis TI 9 on 1, and Paragon on another. I have never had a failed restoration, although I only use ShadowProtect to image regularly, and I only do cold imaging (IMO less prone to errors).

    I think ideally the best way to test an image, at least for the first time, would be to have the Windows OS installation CD handy (for emergencies), and copy important data onto another HD. At this stage using the recovery CD to back up, validate, and test a restore should be attempted. Normally with cold imaging, there should be no problems. Yes, users' feedback about reliability is also very important, but in the end a test restore on a healthy system is the only way to tell whether it works or not. ShadowProtect is expensive, but reliable, fast, and easy to operate.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2011
  14. Sully

    Sully Registered Member

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    @darkroomdevil

    There are many discussions here about nearly every imaging type program available, especially the bigger names. And with many discussions, involving a great many people, you have a great many opinions as to which is best and for what reason.

    While I love wilders for its wealth of information and knowledgeable users willing to share, it is pretty evident that with so many using such a diverse array of different software, that you will not fit into one or the other without actually trying them.

    If there were only discussions about 2 or 3 different options, you could likely stick with the majority, but when there are a dozen different options, to me it makes it hard to go on advice, especially if you know nothing about them.

    Pick one that is defined as "rock solid" and free, and start with that for your base image. Make sure it restores, preferably to a different drive. If it does, then start playing with any software you seem interested in, knowing that the "rock solid" one will get you back to where you started. Maybe that "rock solid" one is not the one you end up with, maybe it is not. Until you play with them, you cannot really know what the best of the best is for you. It isn't what is best for us. Its pretty clear around here that we are a diverse bunch.

    Thankfully almost eveyone can agree to disagree but still share the infos. That is what makes this place so great.

    Sul.
     
  15. darkroomdevil

    darkroomdevil Registered Member

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    @claykin You are right - $90 a pop, I was looking at the home 3 pack. :(

    and @ everyone who has responded to this thread - Thank You! I really think this conversation about testing strategies can be a help to others.

    My conclusions from the recommendations ...

    1) Back up all files of importance

    2) Pick an image program with a solid reputation (free or paid - there are free ones that are solid)
    - Create an image (cold is recommended - so from the boot CD/USB) or Hot if the system is not as mission critical (in other words, not the end of the world to reinstall).
    -Boot into the Boot CD and make sure it recognizes the drive the image is on and likes the image it made.

    3) Pick a second software to test ...
    - Create an image (cold or hot depending on what one wants to test)
    - Boot into the Boot CD and make sure it recognizes the drive the image is on and likes the image it made.

    4) Restore and test away ...

    Note: Depending on ones paranoia and importance of the system, when testing ... Restore to the main drive or restore to a separate drive that you then boot into.

    Personally ... once knowing that both imaging programs recognize the drive that the image is on and can load / find the image. I would be fine with backing up and doing test restores to the main drive. The idea being that if one program fails we have the other program to fall back on.

    For me, testing for different hardware is overkill - if it doesn't work, the image can be mounted and all important stuff copied. Not everything in life is easy, but doing those kind of 'all possible scenarios' tests seems like it could take somewhat equal to the time spent to reinstall if it doesn't work (and it probably will).

    This is my 2 cents / 'take away' from this discussion. If anyone wants to add ideas or correct me on any of this all thoughts are welcome! :)

    Thanks!
    ~ddevil
     
  16. noone_particular

    noone_particular Registered Member

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    The safest way I've found to verify that a backup image/application works is to test it on another hard drive. You should be able to get a used hard drive at any computer shop dirt cheap. The drive doesn't need to be big or recent, just large enough to hold your OS.

    Acronis is the only backup software I've tried. I no longer install Acronis on any of my OS. The rescue CD can make and restore drives and partitions, which is all I need. When I first used it, I was concerned that it wouldn't work and that I'd have to build my OS all over again. It worked just like it was supposed to. The only time it's failed was when I tried restoring a Linux OS from an image I saved on a CD. I'm pretty sure that the CD itself was the problem, not the program.

    If you've separated your operating system and data files to separate partitions or drives, the easiest way to back up data files would be an app like 7zip. Since 7zip has better compression than apps like Acronis, the backup archives will be smaller. They'll be easy to open and extract individual files if needed, and it can all be done from within Windows.
     
  17. claykin

    claykin Registered Member

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    To wrap this up (maybe) Imaging should be just one part of your backup strategy. Consider the possibility that your backups may not work, you may encounter a natural disaster, theft, etc that will deem your images.....gone.

    Also backup important data using 2 methods. A local backup to disk (separate from your image) and offsite using cloud backup. Some might think its overkill, but there's plenty of examples where people will say 3 distinct methods is imperative if your data is irreplaceable.
     
  18. darkroomdevil

    darkroomdevil Registered Member

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    Amen! For us - all of our important files that could not be replaced we keep on networked shared drives. We sync those drives to hot swappable eSata drives that rotate from home to work. So all data in 3 places - and if there was a natural disaster the drives from home would go with me - if I don't make it then I am screwed :)

    Our email is IMAP so all of our email is on our web hosts server, synced to all computers - so that is cloud. We do some of our documents to the cloud for ease of access from any computer (home or work). But we are photographers, so our clients files are big and many - for the reason of expense and time we don't use the cloud for those files.

    So, for that reason (for us) imaging the computers is not about the data on them, it is about saving time reinstalling operating systems, programs and any setup / settings.
     
  19. Robin A.

    Robin A. Registered Member

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    Same here.
     
  20. napoleon1815

    napoleon1815 Registered Member

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    I might be alone here on this one, but I prefer every year or two to rebuild my PC from scratch (imaging is critical here to both roll back and move data back on). If anything, it's a worthwhile experience and allows me to only reinstall the stuff I really need...and allows me to install all those Microsoft SP's and hundreds of hotfixes before installing all my third party apps.
     
  21. treehouse786

    treehouse786 Registered Member

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    your not alone, in fact i do it every 6 months, partly because i enjoy reformatting :thumb:

    i used to reformat every week due to due to experiments gone wrong but since i discovered imaging i quite miss reformatting
     
  22. moontan

    moontan Registered Member

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    i don't miss reformating at all since discovering imaging.
    it can take days to tweak your machine just the way you like it.

    but i do reformat for a new OS or Service Pack.
     
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