Best Practice for Drive Images – Updated

Yesterday, one of my clients asked me why they need to have more than one image of the hard drive on their server. It seemed obvious to me,...

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Yesterday, one of my clients asked me why they need to have more than one image of the hard drive on their server. It seemed obvious to me, but it clearly wasn’t obvious to them, so I thought it might be a good idea to articulate the reasoning here in the hopes that it helps some of you.

For the server or other mission critical PC or notebook I think you need to have at least two images. Here’s why:

The most likely person to mangle the server isn’t a hacker from the other side of the globe, but the IT person (or potentially you, the small business owner!) during routine maintenance and system upgrades. This is because the IT person needs to have full administrator rights to do their job. With administrator privilege, an errant mouse click or a typo at the command line can lead to costly mistakes and permanent data loss!

Further, if you think things through, you will see that it is imperative to have least two image drives to avoid a situation where you could potentially lose both your system drive and your backup image in one step. Consider that to create an image, both the system drive (source) and the image drive (target) need to be live on the system at the same time. If you only have one image drive and you plan to update it with a new image by overwriting it, then your only backup is now at risk to administrator errors. It is also at risk by virtue of the imaging process itself!  You see, the moment you start the imaging process, the computer begins copying the source drive bit-by-bit and overwriting the data on the target. If the source drive crashes during the imaging process you will have lost your original data and your only backup will be corrupted.

Are you ready to spend the next few days reinstalling everything from scratch? I didn’t think so!

Even good IT pros make mistakes! The thing that makes them good is that they recognize that mistakes are possible and that Murphy lurks around every corner. Good IT pros always have a plan B, or C or D to cover them when they screw up or when Murphy finally gets his way. If you’re a small business owner and manage your own IT, I believe you will find that having a second or even third image of the server tucked away somewhere (preferably off-site) might just save you a lot of time and money on the day all hell breaks loose. If you’re an IT person the same strategy might just allow you to keep your job should Murphy’s pranks get out of hand!

Update September 17, 2012

I forgot to mention that you can find instructions here for cloning your hard drive using free Linux based software.


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  1. gold account

    ODIN can make an image (ie, backup) of your entire hard disk or just a specific partition. You can use it to back up only the portions of your hard disk that is used, thus saving time and space, or to back up the entire disk/partition, including the unused blocks. The program supports both NTFS and the FAT family (eg, FAT32) of file systems. It allows you to split your backup files into smaller chunks so that you can burn it onto a DVD or CD . Both 32 bit and 64 bit versions are available. The program requires no installation, and can be run from a USB flash drive if desired. It is licensed under the GNU General Public License (ie, it’s open source).