Drive Imaging for Data Safety and Backup - 10/10/01

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No, this is not the RAID method. It involves copying the entire data from one hard drive to another in such a way that the newly created drive will boot as if it was an identical twin. If anything ever happens to my boot drive, I can switch to the imaged drive and be back in business. This needs to be done on a regular basis to keep both drives current.

The advantage over RAID 1 is that the access times are not reduced. The disadvantage is the need to do it on a regular basis. My application of this process is mainly to be able to recover most of my setup in the event of a major problem, not necessarily for backup. I make frequent hardware and software changes and any number of them can cause a disastrous failure.

Being able to get back to a point where the OS and all of my major software are still intact is a blessing. This process is also real handy when setting up new systems in which all of them start out the same, such as in a business environment.

This process should not be undertaken unless you fully understand what is taking place and are familiar enough with the drives in your system to be able to distinguish one from the other.

It is accomplished with specific software usually run from a bootable floppy disk. The software makes an identical copy of one hard drive to another so that either will boot the system.

I have used a 1.2 gig drive for this purpose on another system where the amount of used area did not exceed that capacity, but in most cases a drive of at least 5 gig would be better suited.

You must be sure that the boot drive is free of errors and where possible, running scandisk on both drives is a good idea.

I have found it best to do a quick format on the destination drive, especially if it was previously used in another system.

As an added safety measure, I use removable trays for both hard drives. This way only one drive needs to be physically connected to the system, preventing accidental changes to the imaged drive. At one time my system had both drives connected and there was a problem with the drive I usually booted from.

Somewhere in the course of trying to correct the problem, both drives were changed (I suspect it was in the boot sector) and I lost the boot capability of both drives. Now, the only time both are connected is when I need to access something from the imaged drive, and that will only happen when it is necessary to reinstall everything.

Another advantage to using drive trays is that the drive use can be alternated. Although this is not a big issue with me because the MTBF on hard drives these days is so long that it will be many years before it is likely to fail, and I will probably have bought new, larger ones before then.

I already have far too many small hard drives laying around that are too small for Win98 and I am sure some that I am using now will be too small for WinXP, if I ever upgrade to that OS. Maybe I could connect four 500 MB drives with RAID 0 to get 2 gig!!

The Software

The software I currently use is called “Data Lifeguard Tools” and can be downloaded from Western Digital’s website.

Like other such software, it requires that at least one of the drives connected to the system be a WD drive. By making a 3.5″ floppy boot disk and installing the DOS based software onto it, you start the system with the floppy and it runs the tools.

A section called EZ-INSTALL guides you through the process of identifying the drive you want to format and install. You then choose to copy the image of the other drive to the one being formatted. The process takes about 15-20 minutes and it doesn’t seem to matter how large the drive is – it still takes that long.

In my case, the Asus A7V133 and the older A7V have the ability to connect up to 8 IDE devices, which are all set to “Master”, and allows the BOOT sequence to be altered. By setting the BOOT sequence so that only one of the drives is allowed to start the system, the other drive which contains the exact image can still be accessed.

However, you must be careful not to add or delete anything from that drive. Doing so will change the FAT files and the OS may not be able to boot from it later. I found that out the hard way! The advantage to being able to access this drive is that the data can be retrieved and copied to the boot drive.

An Applied Example

Recently, I upgraded my other system to the A7V mainboard but used the same hard drive as it was with the old board. I got lockups and other problems that were most likely due to the old settings being used with the new mainboard. Adding the new settings, such as the 4-in-1 drivers, USB drivers and SCSI drivers, only compounded the already bloated operating system.

By making an image onto another drive, I was able to completely wipe out the boot drive and reload the entire gambit of software and the OS. Then all I needed to do was get the previous information from the saved image. This is a daunting task that took most of a 6-hour period but was worth the effort in the end.

I would advise printing screenshots of certain areas prior to doing such a reload. Sections such as the desktop, start menus and network settings, just to name a few. You will also need to know where the files are for browser favorites or bookmarks and the e-mail address files so that these can be transferred or imported. Another idea is to do a screenshot of the file list from a “FIND” in which you can list only those files which were recently changed and be able to copy them from the imaged drive.

Similar Software

Other hard drive manufacturers have their own versions of this imaging software and they all include other drive maintenance tools as well.

Seagate’s software is called Disk Manager ® and is also a DOS/floppy-based program, meaning it is not limited to Windows. Go HERE for more information from their website.

All users building a new system or installing a new disc drive, including those with high-speed Pentium chips, can benefit from this program. In addition to solving BIOS limitations for older systems, Disk Manager ® facilitates extremely fast partitioning and formatting for both old and new systems. Disk Manager ® prepares FAT 16 and FAT 32 partitions for Windows 2000/NT/Me/98/95.

Also, the same software from Maxtor works with Quantum drives. Called “MaxBlast Plus” Go HERE for information.

MaxBlast Plus is a one-step, ATA/IDE hard drive installation utility. MaxBlast Plus makes hard drive installations and upgrades hassle-free for novices and professionals alike by automatically identifying, partitioning, and formatting any IDE hard drive, making it data-ready in about one minute.

MaxBlast Plus supports Enhanced IDE and Fast ATA standards, and breaks the 528 MB, 2.1 GB, 4.2 GB, 8.4 GB, 32 & 64 GB storage capacity barriers. EZ-Copy lets you make an exact duplicate of your existing hard drive. There must be at least one Maxtor Hard Disk Drive installed in the system for MaxBlast Plus to run

Final Thoughts

Getting back to the issue of using RAID, I have been considering using RAID level 1 – that is an imaging process of another kind. I am still not convinced that it is worthwhile in my case, because the write speed is reduced and, in many cases, the drives are not hot-swappable.

As more mainboard makers implement the RAID capability, it is becoming more interesting. ABIT, IWILL, Gigabyte and EPOX all are now making boards which support 0,1 and in some cases, 0+1 RAID.

Here are two good websites about RAID that are worth reading:

RAID 0 implements a striped disk array; the data is broken down into blocks and each block is written to a separate disk drive. The acronym RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives, but the term “redundant” doesn’t really apply to level 0 since the drive data is not redundant and provides no protection from lost data on one of the drives.

For now, my way works well, albeit not the best solution.

{ED Note: Here’s our review of a commercial utility that will work on all drives – Norton Ghost.

Dale DeHoff

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