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Backup image of hard drive and bare metal restore
December 29, 2011 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Backup and Bare Metal Restore Best Practices: What is the current state of the art for dead-simple drive imaging? I need to backup a mix of Windows 7, Ubuntu, and OSX computers. I would like to do a full drive image, so that in the event of a problem restoration is simple. I need a solution that is automated in the sense that I start the process and can walk away. (Bonus points if it's automated in the sense that it can run automatically at certain intervals from another computer on the network or a NAS.) Ideally, the backup image would be compressed to save space, but my main concern is that it shouldn't take a lot of time or learning curve to set the process up or manually start the process when it's time to backup. Help?

I've always been amazed that backup isn't a "solved" problem by now, and I'm hoping I'm just ignorant of the solution. My impression is that the various backup solutions are buggy (Ghost), OS specific (Carbon Copy Cloner, DriveImageXML) or complicated and fussy (CloneZilla, dd). Other backup solutions (notably CrashPlan) don't do whole-drive cloning. All I'm looking for is a device that I can plug into a USB port, boot to, and have it image the existing drive for me without me having to think about it. Is this possible?

One last thing: if necessary to find a dead-simple solution, I'd be willing to throw the Windows machines under the bus and only backup the Ubuntu and OSX machines.
posted by gd779 to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
We use Ghost at work to clone fleets of 150k laptops, it isn't that buggy. This is what I would recommend if you're wanting to make say, a "Loadset" master to put onto every new workstation.

But for backups, is there a reason you want to do whole sector-by-sector cloning of a drive and not just data off of the drives? The built-in backups in OSX and in most Linux distros (too many to list, most are Time Machine clones) are really, really easy to set up and run. And they constantly run in the background, so no "oops I forgot to put in the backup drive and run Ghost today" missing PPT presentations.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:26 PM on December 29, 2011


But for backups, is there a reason you want to do whole sector-by-sector cloning of a drive and not just data off of the drives? The built-in backups in OSX and in most Linux distros (too many to list, most are Time Machine clones) are really, really easy to set up and run. And they constantly run in the background, so no "oops I forgot to put in the backup drive and run Ghost today" missing PPT presentations.

The answer, basically, is configuration/installation hassles. I'm new to Linux, so I don't want a hard drive failure on my Ubuntu server to vaporize all the programs I miraculously installed and configured correctly. This is a home network, by the way, so I don't need (but would accept) an enterprise solution. I just need it to be easy, because my day job is demanding enough that if I'm ever faced with the task of recreating a server, I'll just have to give up and do without it because I don't have that kind of time anymore.
posted by gd779 at 3:48 PM on December 29, 2011


"is there a reason you want to do whole sector-by-sector cloning of a drive?"

It's faster to revert to a clone than to diagnose, fix, or reinstall a corrupted OS. I prefer these kind of backups, but don't do them as often as data backups. If a machine is mission critical, I consider "spare boot drive" to be a must.
posted by Area Control at 5:08 PM on December 29, 2011


Acronis does exactly this, and is well worth the small cost. You can image an entire drive, or a single partition, and restore it easily. There's a Windows agent that allows you to create these full images while the host system is running and schedule those backups to be placed on a USB drive.
posted by odinsdream at 5:59 PM on December 29, 2011


All I'm looking for is a device that I can plug into a USB port, boot to, and have it image the existing drive for me without me having to think about it. Is this possible?

What you may want to do, is run Ghost or DriveXML from UBCD4Win on a bootable USB drive. You'll have to build your PE environment with PEBuilder, including any storage drivers needed by the host PCs you'll be booting on. Linux is also a possibility on a bootable USB drive Where you could make a simple backup wrapper for dd once you're at the console. Kleo Bare Metal Backup might also be a good free alternative, however I've never tried it.

Seconding Acronis if it is affordable. Basically you'll either want to do live backups, or reboot and capture backups (in which you'll want to have a bootable windows or linux USB/ CD to get things started). Here's a comparison chart of popular cloning solutions.
posted by samsara at 7:42 PM on December 29, 2011


The problem with Acronis is that it does not appear to support OSX at all. My understanding is that I couldn't even boot to Acronis from a bootable CD and backup an OSX machine: Acronis just doesn't support HFS Plus in any way. Ghost appears to have the same problem.

Similarly, the problem with running DriveXML on a boot CD is that it doesn't appear to support ext4 or HFS Plus.

I've never heard of Kleo, and I'll look into it. At least one review said that it has trouble working with USB hard drives, which was my intended backup target. I suppose I could try to make room on my NAS, but that would involve additional expense I had hoped to avoid, and I'm not sure if that would be worth it since I'm not sure if Kleo is sufficiently reliable. I'll do some more research. Thanks for the suggestion!
posted by gd779 at 6:58 AM on December 30, 2011


Backing up running computers using sector-level imaging tools is a really bad idea, because the image you end up with is pretty much guaranteed to contain a broken filesystem. If I were you, I'd leave behind the idea of using some simple cross-platform tool to back up all your live systems, and just go with whatever the best-practice internal solution is for the specific OS that's running.

For Linux servers, that's probably cron and rsync.
posted by flabdablet at 9:56 AM on December 30, 2011


I've used Kleo successfully with USB external hard drives (backup/restore on a Win7 laptop). Boot using a CD with the drive attached and backup/restore is just about one-click.
posted by llin at 11:28 AM on December 30, 2011


Backing up running computers using sector-level imaging tools is a really bad idea, because the image you end up with is pretty much guaranteed to contain a broken filesystem. If I were you, I'd leave behind the idea of using some simple cross-platform tool to back up all your live systems, and just go with whatever the best-practice internal solution is for the specific OS that's running.

I agree. I was expecting that there'd be a simple cross-platform tool that I could boot to (or that I could run using some sort of live CD, etc.) that would back up a system while it was not running.

Based on Ilin's response, it sounds like Kleo might be the answer.
posted by gd779 at 1:28 PM on December 30, 2011


Actually, Kleo won't work. It is based on partimage, which does not support ext4, and thus does not support modern Ubuntu installations (at least not if you use the default filesystem). Any other suggestions?
posted by gd779 at 1:36 PM on December 30, 2011


So, in summary:

Norton Ghost: Buggy, bloated, and doesn't support OSX.
Acronis: Increasingly bloated and doesn't support OSX.
DriveImageXML: Doesn't support OSX or Ubuntu.
Kleo: Doesn't support Ubuntu.
CloneZilla: Possibly the best solution available but a bit complicated to configure.

Possible solutions that weren't mentioned but were on the chart that samsara linked to:
R-Drive Image
Paragon Backup and Recovery
posted by gd779 at 2:04 PM on December 30, 2011


For Linux boxes there's no compelling reason to use sector-level tools for backup, because the file-level tools are capable and decently fast. If you want a bare-metal recovery backup, the only parts of the disk you need to handle outside filesystems are the partition table and boot loaders, and those are easily handled with sfdisk and dd; and in fact if you were to use a sector-level tool to do the whole backup, you'd need to handle the partition table and boot loaders separately anyway unless your main backup tool was something like dd or ddrescue that pays no attention at all to filesystem block usage.

What I do to make my Linux box easy to back up:

1. Add labels "root", "home" and "swap" to my root filesystem, home filesystem and swap partition, and change my bootloader and fstab to use LABEL= instead of UUID= to identify the various partitions.

To prepare my bare-metal recovery disk:

1. Partition my backup disk the same as my primary disk, and create filesystems and formatted swap areas on it with the same labels as those on corresponding partitions of the primary disk.

2. Copy sectors 1..62 of my main disk (which contain important parts of the GRUB bootloader) from primary to backup disk using dd.

To do an actual backup, I just plug the backup disk into a USB or e-SATA port, mount its root partition at /mnt, mount its home partition at /mnt/home, rsync recursive / to /mnt excluding /mnt, /dev, /proc, /sys and /tmp, then unmount /mnt/home and /mnt (this is four lines of script, and I can launch it with a double-click from my running system). This takes only as long as it needs to based on what's changed on the primary disk since the last backup, and the result can simply be fitted to a new computer and booted.

This works well for my home box, because I'm not running anything complicated on it. If you have e.g. a database server that needs close to 100% uptime on the box you want to bare-metal back up, you could set up your filesystems on top of LVM, then rsync from temporary LVM snapshots instead of the live filesystems. Once again, this takes only a small amount of script which you can then launch in any number of ways (double-click, cron job or whatever).
posted by flabdablet at 1:48 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


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