It’s time to clone and backup my drives

The only thing worse than a bad backup is no backup at all. Right now, I don’t have either. I talk a good game, but my system maintenance has been terrible. I haven’t been backing up the root drive on my main computer simply because it was too damn full. I have everything crammed onto one drive which means the backup would be a couple of gigs in size. Not only is that consuming way too much space, it’ll take too long to back it up and it will be impossible to restore. What’s the point of having a backup if it’s impossible to use?

I’ve finally gotten to a place where I can make reasonable backups of my root drive. I trimmed and pruned everything off that drive so that only 100GB remains which includes the pagefile and the hibernation file. The final step is to move both of those to another drive. Even though I’ve had multiple drives for a long time I never took the appropriate steps to farm out of all my data so that C:\ was as lean as possible. As I’ve written in other articles, I had movies, music, training videos and everything else all on the C:\ drive. This is an incredibly bad plan.

If you don’t already have one, I would seriously recommend getting a second drive for your system and moving as much as possible over to it. It’s a truly bad idea to have gigs worth of data stuffed into the My Documents folder on the system drive. It’s much better to dedicate C:\ to just the OS and put everything else on a true data drive. With that in mind, I’m now ready to start backing up my system the right way. It should only take about 30 minutes to complete and will be much easier to store. I’ve got O&O DiskImage at the ready to make an image of my C:\ drive. I don’t want to just back it up, I want an image. If the drive crashes, I can restore a working OS rather than installing an OS and then recovering files. In one step I can have a new OS up and running and all my files back where they’re supposed to be. Backups are good for data, but I want an image of the boot drive.

To get the ball rolling I tested DiskImage out on my work laptop. I I made an image of the machine while it was still running. The copy was saved to an external USB drive I brought in. It all seemed to go flawlessly. I don’t know if I could do a bare metal restore from this image, but the main goal was to capture all the data files rather than make a perfect image of the drive. From there I went on to make the bootable USB drive. That turned out to be super easy, even though it takes up a ton of disk space. DiskImage comes with a nice wizard that guides you through downloading the Windows AIK and then it builds a bootable Windows environment from those files. You have to download the Windows AIK and that file alone is around 1.7GB. Then you have to install it. O&O needs to use the files as this is a new Microsoft policy.

Once it makes and image you get the option to burn it to DVD or make a bootable USB. I made a bootable USB and tried it out on a netbook I had lying around. It’s a prefect use for some of those old 1GB thumb drives that have no other use. Building the image only took a few minutes and I didn’t have to configure any settings or files. The USB drive booted just fine and I was able to clone an entire drive to a portable USB drive. A pretty painless process.

The big test will come later today when I go to clone the root drive of my machine. I still need to move a few files out of the way to conserve a few more gigs, but then the machine will be ready. O&O DiskImage is already installed, but I’m going to boot from this USB drive to make the first image without anything running. I’ll write that image to one of the external drive and from then on it’ll make a new image every 2 weeks just to make sure I have a good copy. After all this time I’m finally getting around to creating good backups of my machines.

Here’s something to keep in mind, if you were judicious with how you stored applications and data, you could buy a 128GB thumb drive from Amazon for less than $50 and backup your entire system to that same drive. It would be fast, reliable and available in the palm of your hand. In fact, I’m considering doing just that.


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Converting A Physical Hard Drive To A Virtual Hard Disk

At first glance the project seemed easy – clone the physical hard drive inside a server and restore it into VirtualBox so as to use the virtual copy. Turns out, it doesn’t work the way I envisioned it in my head. All the latest software made promises of one-click cloning and on the fly conversion to VHD. But in the end, after three days of trying, I’m scrapping this project. I just can’t seem to get it to work.

I tried using the latest software like O&O DiskImage 6, which listed VHD as one of the output formats. Well, it outputs to VHD alright, but that image doesn’t load. I cloned the drive without incident, but for the life of me I can’t that server to boot in a virtual environment. I created a VHD, I restored to a new VDI, I installed a new OS and tried the restore from there, I used a boot CD and restored from there. Not one of these methods would actually produce a working system. I can lay down the data to a data drive and see all the content with no problem, but no matter which process I use I can’t seem to get a bootable clone of my server. I admit, I’m not the sharpest knife in the things that holds knives, but I can’t for the life of me see what I’m doing wrong. I’ve been trying for three days and have called it quits.

This was supposed to be a simple task, a 3-4 hour job that would transport the server from the physical realm to the virtual one. With the amount of time I’ve wasted I could have installed a new server, installed all the frameworks and rebuilt everything from scratch, which is exactly what I’m going to do. I wanted a clone so I could perform maintenance with minimal downtime. If I had to rebuild the damn thing, I might as well start over and do a full blown upgrade.It’s not what I had in mine, but when all else fails, reinstalled is the best option.

If anyone knows the right process, the right software, the right way to hold your fingers to clone a drive and get it to load in VirtualBox, please let me know. I’m dying to know how it’s done. It’s sort of like a magic trick, I want to know how the cool kids do it.

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