Getting into disk imaging... where to start?

Discussion in 'backup, imaging & disk mgmt' started by atomomega, May 1, 2013.

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  1. atomomega

    atomomega Registered Member

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    I've wiped my HDD on my personal machine and want to create a fresh OS clean image so I can use to startup fresh whenever the need arises, I also want to say that I'm totally unfamiliar to Disk Imaging/Cloning. I've been searching around but I keep feeling like I don't even have the technical knowledge to actually understand the terms and all that. I thought that It would be a good idea to have a sticky for reference material, sort of like the one we have in the Firewall Forums, the one in the UNIX Forums or in the Sandboxing/Virtualization Forums.
    Can you guys please share your knowledge about Backups, Imaging and Cloning? We can start by explaining the difference between these three?

    I'm sure not only me but many more people will appreciate it.

    Thanks in advance.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2013
  2. Gorkster

    Gorkster Registered Member

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    There are many posts which answer these questions and help someone starting out both here and elsewhere. The easiest way for me to get my feet wet would be to pick two or three of the most popular programs which have instruction manuals and read through them. Or, if you prefer, pick a free version of any of the softwares which offer one and play with it on a temporary OS install for awhile.

    Backups:
    This is a general term which simply means that you are keeping a duplicate copy of data so all data isn't lost if the main copy is lost. The two main types I know of are file backups (backing up specific files or directories), image backups (taking a sector backup of a volume, partition or disk) . The backed up data can be saved to any media type, including internal (not recommended) hard drives, external hard drives (to include thumb, USB and firewire drives), tape media, network shares and optical media.

    Cloning:
    This term is confusing because it is sometimes used differently by different software vendors. Generally it means attaching two drives to a computer, one with data and one without, and performing a sector by sector (the user can normally choose whether or not to skip blank sectors) copy of the data laden drive directly to the blank drive. The blank drive them becomes a "clone" of the original.

    Imaging:
    Again, can be confusing due to software vendors sometimes using terms differently. But generally imaging means to perform a sector by sector copy of a volume, partition or drive and save the resulting data to an "image file" on media of the user's choice. The image file can then be manipulated in different ways by the imaging program. One can normally "mount" the image in the OS and access individual files from it. One can normally use the imaging program to restore some or all of the data in the image file back out to either the same hard drive it came from (basically taking the hard drive "back in time" to how it was when the image was taken) or a new hard drive (useful in the case of a hard drive crash.) Most imaging programs allow you to restore the image to a larger or smaller hard drive as well. (There must be enough room for the data on a smaller hard drive, obviously.) Imaging is best for boot drives/partitions/volumes because it backs up all data on the disk, to include partition tables and other data which is not normally stored in files.

    In the case of imaging, most imaging programs come with or allow the user to make an "emergency boot" media, whether it be a bootable CD, thumb drive or whatever. The use should keep updated and properly working emergency boot media safely tucked away. In case of total data loss, most especially to a boot hard drive, the user can boot the emergency media into a special version of the imaging software which would allow you to access prior image files and restore them back out to the hard drive, or to a new hard drive if the original hard drive failed.

    This should answer the basics of your questions, but there is also more information to be gleaned about the process, such as incremental and differential file and image backups, scheduling and retention. Scheduling allows image and/or file backups to be created automatically so the user can have data available in the event of catastrophe or just because they need to "roll back in time" to a previous saved version of their hard drive for whatever reason. For instance, my imaging software takes a full image of all hard drives in my computer on the first day of every month and saves the data to a network share. Then once per week during the month it automagically runs an "incremental" imaging process, which saves only data which has changed since the full image OR the last incremental. The full backup with its corresponding incrementals is often referred to as a "backup chain," "backup set," or "image set." In my case, when a third image set is successfully created the imaging program automagically deletes the oldest one. This allows me to keep two complete image sets on hand at all times without filling up my image file location. I can restore and/or access data back to any point either a full or an incremental image was taken.

    Many people just run an "image backup" process manually every now and again. Perhaps they don't want to bother learning how to set up an automatic process. Or maybe they just like to be in control. Or some don't even like to install the imaging software on their computer. In this case they use the emergency boot media to run a manual image process of their drives (or volumes/partitions) every so often. I like to have constant backups running automatically so I don't have to concern myself with the process. It takes a little more up front to set up, but if properly set into motion it can run for years with no intervention.

    Very specific issues can crop up sometimes which require more time to wrap your head around, but these issues normally only effect a small percentage of people. (GPT vs MBR formatted hard drives, UEFI vs BIOS booting and who knows what else.) So things CAN get a little hairy sometimes, and I think that might be what turns people away. But normally these imaging programs are great workhorses designed to work well, since they're often needed most in worst case scenarios. Hopefully this is enough information to get you started.

    FWIW I've used Norton Ghost (many versions over the years), Acronis True Image and Macrium Reflect. Ghost was very popular and worked decently for me. It has been usurped by Symantec System Recovery. ATI is quite popular as well, and though I only used version 2011 it was, quite frankly, a nightmare that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I purchased ATI 2012 but returned it without ever installing it. Reflect has been my favorite of the three and is, in fact, one of my most favorite pieces of software to ever use. Of the three, Reflect is the only one which offers a free version, though all three offer trial versions. Reflect has incredible online resources, but they do not offer a very comprehensive manual for their product. Their customer service is STELLAR.

    See https://www.wilderssecurity.com/showthread.php?t=327781 for a list of the most common imaging programs.

    EDIT:
    I added an entire backup regarding my own backup (imaging) scheme.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2013
  3. atomomega

    atomomega Registered Member

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    Hi Gorkster!

    Thank you very much for your reply. It's very informative and a nice read to get me on track. I'm installing Macrium Reflect Free as of now considering your recommendation. I know Macrium doesn't allow Free users to register to their Forums, so I guess if there's anything that goes wrong and can't find the answer myself elsewhere, I'll be posting here.

    Thank you again. ;)
     
  4. DBone

    DBone Registered Member

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    You didn't state your OS, but for me on W7 x64, the on-board System Image tool works flawlessly. I did a clean install, did all Windows only updates and installed the current drivers and no software whatsoever. I mount this image 3 times per year, do all Windows only & driver updates and save. That way I always have a parachute ready that is no more than a 3-4 months behind on updates.

    Never ever had an issue, and I use this all the time.
     
  5. atomomega

    atomomega Registered Member

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    Hi DBone,

    My systems specs are particularly low, reason being that I use this PC just for myself, web surfing, emailing, word processing, basic stuff.
    I'm running XP Pro SP3 and my HDD is rather small, only 40 GB's, I have 2 partitions, System with ~25GB's and Vault with ~15GB's. The System partition is the one I'm interested in imaging to accomplish basically the same thing you described. I don't have important files here that I feel I need to backup, mostly installers and software user guides which can be found online.

    Thank you for your input. ;)
     
  6. twl845

    twl845 Registered Member

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    Check out the new AX64 Time Machine, still in beta until next week. There's an extensive thread going on here at Wilders. Get it in search. :)
     
  7. atomomega

    atomomega Registered Member

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    Hi twl845,

    I installed it today, already had some issues with the Recovery Media. :D It looks really good, tho. I'm also having difficulties with Reflect Free. I'm downloading the whole WAIK to create the Rescue ISO because apparently the Linux one can't detect my HDD as target. Already spent the whole day searching online to no avail. We'll see how it goes.

    Thank you for your reply. ;)
     
  8. routerguy99

    routerguy99 Registered Member

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    IFW, Image for windows by Terabyte Unlimited. it really easy to Hard you can start off easy then get into advance stuff.
    it works.
     
  9. Gorkster

    Gorkster Registered Member

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    If you start wanting to try different imaging programs, make sure you don't install them side by side. Uninstall one (and reboot!) before installing another - otherwise you can run into some problems. Acronis True Image has also been known (at least in the past, I haven't kept up on it recently) to leave bits behind even after installing which can cause BSODs later on.

    Also, Macrium will happily, professionally and thoroughly answer questions if you send emails directly to them. I'm not sure if they'd offer support to get their free version working, but they will answer questions about their software.
     
  10. dallen

    dallen Registered Member

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    Gorkster obviously knows a lot about this topic as evidenced by the initial post responding to the question. I just want to add my two cents. I partially quoted the above to illustrate my point. I prefer an imaging solution where "installation" does not occur. I know that there are a lot of very good tools that provide benefits achievable only by installation; however, I prefer to image a system when the system is not in use. For that reason, I suggest using a solution that offers a bootable ISO and a recovery environment that is isolated from the system being imaged (i.e. ShadowProtect or Terabyte's IFW/IFD/IFL &/or BootIt Bare Metal). These are both paid solutions, but well worth the money.

    Atomomega,
    I remember when I first came to the realization that installing and setting up a clean system is only fun the first 50 times you do it. When I realized that tools exist that allow me to do it once, take an image, and never have to do it again...well that was a good day.
     
  11. twl845

    twl845 Registered Member

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    If you go through the numerous posts you'll see where a few people had recovery issues, and how they worked it out. I'm sure by the time the final release comes out the bugs will be ironed out. This is a snapshot app as well as an image app.
     
  12. HAN

    HAN Registered Member

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    This is NOT new. This is why I do not recommend Macrium free. Based on my experience, this happens more than Macrium seems to understand (or dare I say care about?) I have used many, many Linux boot discs for many reasons. Macrium is the ONLY one that won't work right. IMO, many don't hold them at fault for not fixing this major issue. I do. They could fix this...
     
  13. MPSAN

    MPSAN Registered Member

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    Yes, the Macrium Linux rescue media will not see my RAID drives. I did d/l WAIK and still could not get it to burn.

    Then I found that my Norton NIS 2013 was the issue with creating the media. I disabled Norton AV and told Macrium Free to create an ISO and it built it OK. I even added the RAID drivers and the Rescue works as it sees my RAID drives. I do agree that there sould be better instructions showing how to add the RAID, or any other, drivers to the Media it creates.
     
  14. atomomega

    atomomega Registered Member

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    Hi routerguy99,

    Thank you for your suggestion. I went to their website and saw the bundle they offer. Looks good, I'll probably get it in the future, once I know a bit more. I'm currently learning about imaging and backups using Macrium Reflect Free Edition.
     
  15. atomomega

    atomomega Registered Member

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    Hi Gorkster,

    Thank you for the advice. I'll try to contact Macrium via e-mail next time. Apparently, I found a way to solve the issue I was facing, and I was able to successfuly use the Rescue Media to restore my image. :D
     
  16. atomomega

    atomomega Registered Member

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    Hi dallen,

    Thank you for your suggestions, that's precisely what I'm looking for. I just need a software that can create an image of my system right after a fresh OS install and then be able to restore back to that image as many times as I need to using a separate environment. I will look into Terabyte's later on, once I have more knowledge (and money) :p

    And yes, you are right, at first it was cool but then it started to feel like a waste of time. That's growing up I guess. :argh:
     
  17. atomomega

    atomomega Registered Member

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    Hi twl845,

    With the display of great support given by Isso, I'm sure the final product will be a true gem of software.
     
  18. atomomega

    atomomega Registered Member

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    Hi HAN,

    You are right. I had to give up trying with the Linux media and went with the WinPE. It worked, but after going through the hassle of downloading and installing the whole WAIK, downloading and installing ASP.NET 2.0 and finally creating the bottable USB. Not a time-saving process at all.
     
  19. atomomega

    atomomega Registered Member

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    Hi MPSAN,

    I bet the Linux option is the go-to option for many people because of it's simplicity and lightness. But I've been reading that it doesn't work at all for numerous reasons most of the times.

    Luckily, the WinPE option worked for me aswell.
     
  20. Krysis

    Krysis Registered Member

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    Hi, atomomega!
    I'm no imaging expert, but I'll add my 5 cents worth since you've mentioned Macrium Reflect free.
    Regarding what has already been stated about using several imaging programs – I use 3 free imaging programs - Easeus Todo – Macrium Reflect and Paragon B & R and run weekly imaging backups with all 3! I have never had any issues as a consequence of using the 3 programs during the past year (I run my image backups in sequence)
    The only one that I've had the occasional hiccup with is Paragon. However, even that did not cause any issues in restoring an image.

    I use these 3 programs because they have Linux recovery CDs (I cannot download WAIK due to the limitations of my internet connection – too big!) I agree that these simple Linux CDs can be problematical – but I've found that there are workarounds.
    With regard to the Macrium Reflect Linux CD – I have issues with it 'seeing' my external HDDs – however a workaround for me is to remove all other devices from my PC – (then boot the system) - the CD is then able to read my external drives. I've never had a problem with the CD reading my system drives. (and I've used several versions of Macrium)

    Edit
    It is not necessary to remove all other devices from your PC – just ensure that the external HDD with the image\s is plugged directly into the PC\Laptop – and not via a USB splitter)
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2013
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