Image based backup is a pain

Discussion in 'backup, imaging & disk mgmt' started by Defcon, Feb 9, 2011.

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  1. Defcon

    Defcon Registered Member

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    I'm speaking from the point of view of a non-technical user here. Making (and espencially restoring) an image is still a daunting task.

    There are too many variables - such as partitions (hidden ones, windows recovery, restore partitions), drive letters being mapped incorrectly, windows sid not being preserved etc.

    In theory it all works well but if something does go wrong its catastrophic and there really is no recovery. I've tried a number of free/paid programs and while some make it simpler, nearly all require the user to have an understanding of what partition goes where and what's being saved/restored. And none of the tools play nicely with each other. This forum is full of horror stories :)

    What is needed is a standard way to describe the bootloader/partitions, like the BIOS. Different OS's and backup software would then use this standard API to communicate. So e.g. any image program would be aware of the 100MB Windows recovery partition and how to restore it, or the linux bootloader. And theuser would not have to make these decisions.
     
  2. Brian K

    Brian K Imaging Specialist

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    Defcon,

    I agree. Here are some of the terms that a user of image/restore software needs to master.

    Active partition, Boot partition, System partition, Hidden partition, Partition type, Master Boot Record, First Track, Disk Signature, boot sector, boot.ini, booting files, Drive Letters, System Reserved Partition, BCD Edit, Unallocated Space, partition without a drive letter, Resize partition, Partition Sector Offset, Partition Alignment, Verify, Image, Recovery point, Clone, IDE cable, Jumpers, SmartSector Copying, AES encryption, Compression, Custom CD, booting from a CD, SATA/AHCI drivers, network card drivers,

    Win7 and the SRP have added a new layer of complexity.
     
  3. Noob

    Noob Registered Member

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    Just do a simple backup, don't go into the settings too much ;)
     
  4. Sully

    Sully Registered Member

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    I was reading some things that sound like the newer intel boards/chips will have a way to handle imaging from the BIOS. I am hoping that is true :)

    In terms of imaging though, you can make it simple. When I think of imaging I think of strictly the OS drive and how it is configured, not of data or a data drive.

    To me, if I want my data to be safe, then I place it on a mirrored raid array (I use a NAS box right now), or maybe to optical media. It doesn't matter if the data is in the form of an image or not, as it is only data and I can extract/view/use what I need. The important part is that it is as "safe" as I can make it, and I don't mean safe as in safe from virii/malware, but safe from being lost due to hardware failure or other such catastrophe.

    When I use imaging, I am imaging my c: drive, and only the primary partition. It (for me) always shows up first in the list of available drives and/or partitions, because I make sure to hook it up that way. Naming your volumes can help you to find the correct one, but some imaging tools may not show that. Knowing the size and drive type/model can also be of benefit if you can remember ;)

    When I image then, I am restoring my OS to a different time. Or, if I make changes I want to keep, I make a new image and will use that from then on unless I later don't like the changes and revert back to an old image. The point is I guess, is that imaging is quick and convenient if you are only worried about 10-20gb of the OS. I install large programs (like games etc) to a data drive, so that my image is small and I don't have to reinstall again.

    When I think of a backup plan, for me it is real time redundancy. The backup is that the data has to be lost from a raid array. If I want more backup protection (and I do sometimes) then I usually code my own program to backup only what I need, and then use that periodically or automate it on a timetable. These backups are written to yet another mirrored raid array. If I really want to archive something I burn it to optical or magnetic media (ie. tape drive on some older machines) or even a flash drive or external drive.

    I wonder how many people make images of thier data, consuming many gigabytes of information, that are not needing to? Not a jibe at doing that mind you, I just wonder how much of that is really needed if one were be a little more creative in what they really need to backup and where they store it to. I know, from experience, that in development you are better served to have multiple backups because you never know what will happen. But if you have only documents and programs and music and video/photos, are backup images made every week really helpful?

    In closing, you are absolutely right. However, I have had pretty good luck converting basic users to a method of imaging along the lines of what I described above. With the world being so digital now, it is much easier to convince people into buying an external storage facility, raid or not, which makes it easy for them to do system imaging and leave thier important data elsewhere.

    Sul.
     
  5. farmerlee

    farmerlee Registered Member

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    Yeh just keep it simple. The program that i use has a 1 click backup and restore option which makes things a breeze.
     
  6. wat0114

    wat0114 Guest

    No arguments here, especially if you want to get into more than just a run-of-the-mill backup of a Windows partition. If things go right, then a lot of those terms Brian K points out aren't necessary to know, but otherwise the knowledge can come in very handy when things go awry or when you want to get more complex like with dual-boot setups with Linux or other Windows O/S. It took me ages to finally gain a decent comfort zone with imaging/restore procedures and understanding those terms.
     
  7. Hugger

    Hugger Registered Member

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    I've complained about this for years.
    And, though some very good suggestions have just been made, they really bring us right back to the beginning.
    Almost everybody that frequents this forum has the desire and some ability to tinker with stuff like images. Or they want to learn.
    But the programmers that make these applications can't seem to figure out how to really make it usable for the true non-techs out there.
    The ideal program for many people is the one that asks only a few simple plain English questions in the beginning and then automatically sets up the next steps.
    Differential and incremental backups could be programmed to run whenever the pc owner wanted.
    Photo's and music etc need not be more complicated than checking to see if there are any changes.
    And the programmer could still give the options to make the product as granular as you could ever hope for.
    But they don't want to do this. KISS goes out the window and complicated programs are what they give us and then far too many people start sounding off about how the non-tech should spend the time to learn how to to use their software properly.
    I don't consider myself stupid. But much of what we discuss here can easily go over my head.
    I wish some of the people that are making the products that we use to keep our pc's healthy would really try to make a user friendly program.
     
  8. wat0114

    wat0114 Guest

    Windows 7 does, however, appear to make it seem incredibly easy...
     

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  9. aladdin

    aladdin Registered Member

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    Good thread!

    Best regards,

    KOR!
     
  10. Boyfriend

    Boyfriend Registered Member

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    +1
    It is interesting and informative too :thumb:
     
  11. Sully

    Sully Registered Member

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    @Hugger

    Good points. I personally think the issue is complicated because of two reasons.

    1. people don't understand what a drive and/or partitions are, thus it is hard to make an imaging tool that is "very easy to use" because by nature they can be detrimental if you don't understand what to do. There is no way to fix this in a multidisk/multipartition setup, only learning what is going on can let the "user" know what they are doing.

    2. people are imaging everything, which can be pretty intensive. Rather than segregating drives into partitions, or using multiple drives, people tend to bunch things up. This complicates the imaging process, as images are quite large and easy to not know which image has which data.

    I have set novice users to use imaging (macrium) and bartPE or a boot disk of some kind like the one macrium makes (linux boot). When I say novice, I mean people who do know what a directory and drive is, at least they know what a hard drive physically is and understand it can be broken into partitions, and understand that c: is the OS and other partitions (drive letters to them) are other areas of the same drive. They don't have to know much more, just where they put thier data to, and how that effects imaging and backups. If you get them to save data someplace other than c: drive, it goes a long way towards flattening the learning curve ;)

    Sul.
     
  12. Brian K

    Brian K Imaging Specialist

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    wat0114,

    Thanks for the reminder about Win7 image/restore. I tried it a few months ago and wasn't impressed. I've just done a few more tests...

    A Win7 image of my test Win7 partition was 5.40 GB. An IFW image of that partition was 2.72 GB so it doesn't look like Win7 imaging uses any compression.

    Restoring the image to the same partition was easy but you have to be careful not to delete other partitions on the HD. Resizing options weren't present.

    I deleted the Win7 partition and tried to restore the image to an empty HD (a simulated HD failure). I couldn't. I saw "meaningless" error messages.

    I'm not impressed at all. Even if it did work in the HD failure situation, it is not a patch on real image/restore software.
     
  13. moontan

    moontan Registered Member

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    it s good for newbies who dont use partitioning.
    it served me very well when i was using it.
     
  14. Hugger

    Hugger Registered Member

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    I agree. However, I don't think it's a "do all" program.
    But better than nothing.
    Hugger
     
  15. SafetyFirst

    SafetyFirst Registered Member

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    I am very hesitant to test my system images. Once I couldn't boot into Windows, I used the ShadowProtect recovery CD but it couldn't open the SP encrypted image. I had to reinstall Windows from the scratch. That was with XP.

    Now, with Windows7 it's even more confusing - what about 100MB "reserved for system"? Is it not on C:/? Will I be able to restore the system partition without it? Or is it imaged automatically together with the system partition?

    These are some things that keep me away from using FDE and restoring system images.
     
  16. Brian K

    Brian K Imaging Specialist

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    Hugger,

    In my case it wasn't even "better than nothing" if there had been a HD failure. I couldn't restore the image to a new HD. It may have been my setup but does anyone know if this can be done with a Win7 image?
     
  17. wat0114

    wat0114 Guest

    I didn't test it in the type of situation you described, only on the original partition I imaged from, and it went okay. What you describe seems similar to what I've experienced with Clonezilla, where modifying the original imaged partition results in errors, or as happened to you, trying to restore to a different h/drive failed as well. The former situation I guess I could somewhat accept, but it should definitely be able to restore to a new h/drive, otherwise it's a severely limited backup functionality they're providing.
     
  18. Brian K

    Brian K Imaging Specialist

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    wat0114,

    It was my system. I had been trying to restore the image to HD2. When I moved the zeroed HD to the HD0 position, the restore was successful. Win7 booted. So I've changed my opinion. It is much better than nothing even though it isn't a patch on real image/restore software. But it is certainly easier to use than real image/restore software because there aren't a multitude of options to think about.
     
  19. Brian K

    Brian K Imaging Specialist

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    Another test. If you have created other partitions on the HD since the image was created they will be deleted during the restore. That's not good. The restore process restores the partition table that was present at the time of the imaging. Real image/restore software doesn't do such a silly thing.
     
  20. Brian K

    Brian K Imaging Specialist

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    Yet another test. If you have other partitions on the HD and you only image the C: drive with the Win7 imaging app, when you restore that C: drive image to the same HD all data will be deleted from the other partitions. That is definitely NOT GOOD.
     
  21. The Seeker

    The Seeker Registered Member

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    I'm not a fan of image-based backups. I prefer Robocopy.
     
  22. Brian K

    Brian K Imaging Specialist

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    Robocopy is nice but what do you do if your HD fails. Robocopy won't restore your OS to a new blank HD.
     
  23. pandlouk

    pandlouk Registered Member

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    Brian you are wrong on this.
    Window 7 restore does not touch the other disks/partitions, but you'll have to uncheck the option "Format and repartition disks" and select the option "Only restore system drives".

    Panagiotis
     
  24. Franklin

    Franklin Registered Member

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    If you create partitions/format the drive with say GParted first then install Win 7 the 100 meg reserved partition isn't created.
     
  25. Brian K

    Brian K Imaging Specialist

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    Panagiotis,

    I hoped I was wrong but I did it twice. I selected each partition on the HD and created an image. At restore time you do get the option you mention. But, if you only image the C: drive and not the other partitions then you aren't presented with the restore option of "Only restore system drives". The partition table is restored and the partitions are present but they contain no data. I'll do it again as it does sound serious.
     
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