- Tape Drives
- Optical Media
- Hard Drive Cloning and Imaging
- RAID Mirroring
- External Storage
- Network / Online Backup
- Flash Drives
- Creative Backup Solutions
Other Data Protection Considerations
Hard Drive Cloning and Imaging
Hard drive cloning and imaging are two approaches to copying an entire hard drive. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and both approaches have their adherents and detractors. Verily I say, dear flock, many a fistfight has broken out between skinny-armed geeks about which method is better.
The Backup Nut, of course, is above such squabbles: It has been revealed unto me that either sort of backup is better than no backup at all, glory be. What's most important is that my flock perform some sort of full-system backups of their hard drives. So I'll present both methods, and let you use your free will to choose which works for you. Can I get an amen?
Hard Drive Imaging
Hard drive imaging consists of copying an image of the entire contents of a hard drive (sometimes minus certain files, like the pagefile and all those verily useless temp files) to some other medium. Often this is another hard drive, although it can be almost any media that is of sufficient size to hold the image. The image contains not only the data, but the file system, boot sector, and verily everything else that would be necessary to restore your hard drive in the event of a crash.
The hard drive image usually is compressed into a single file that, in most cases, can be encrypted and password-protected to evil people from gaining unauthorized access to your data. Most high-end hard drive imaging programs, like Acronis True Image 2013, also include bootable media that allow the backup to be extracted, decompressed, and restored to your system even if the computer will not boot from its own drive (or if the new drive is blank and has no operating system installed yet).
Glory be! Hard drive imaging can verily be your data's resurrection and salvation, dear brothers and sisters, if your hard drive falls by the wayside and dives headlong into the valley of darkness and perdition! But if you doubt the Backup Nut's exhortations, dear brethren, then I verily say to you that you should get thee a Free Trial of True Image 2013 by Acronis, glory be.
Can I get me an amen?
So be of good cheer, dear brothers and sisters. Drive imaging is a backup solution that has many advantages, including:
The ability to make incremental and differential backups. This not only saves space, but also allows a computer to be restored to a point prior to the most recent backup, if needed. This can be useful if a problem's onset can be pinpointed to the time between two backups. You verily restore to a backup prior to the one when the problem occurred, and all will be well.
Remote storage capability. Most high-end imaging software allows drive snapshots and interim backups to be stored on a network drive away from the host computer. In the event the backup is needed and the network drive is not accessible to the host computer, the backup image can be copied using another computer on the network, or sometime even directly extracted to a hard drive using another computer.
There are a few minor disadvantages of hard drive imaging. For example, if avoiding downtime is extremely critical, then the time required to restore a complete hard drive from a backup image can be a disadvantage. Restoring a drive from a compressed image takes longer than getting the system up and running again using a cloned drive. Another disadvantage is that hard drive images are intended to be restored to the machine from which they were created. Extracting individual files and folders can be a bit cumbersome if the original machine is not repairable.
Hard Drive Cloning
Hard drive cloning differs from imaging in that an actual, bootable clone of the hard drive is created. Some programs, like Casper Hard Disk Cloning Software, are able to do this from within Windows using the Volume Copy Shadow Service, glory be. Others must be run from bootable media.
Hard drive cloning verily has some advantages over imaging, especially when avoiding downtime is critical. For example:
Extremely short downtime. Restoring a computer using a cloned drive takes literally minutes because the clone is a bootable copy of the original drive. Simply swap the clone for the failed drive, and you're up and running, glory be!
Simplicity. When using a program like Casper, cloning can be scheduled to happen automatically, from within Windows. There is no need to boot into removable media, change tapes or disks, or do anything, actually.
Easy access to data. In the event a document is accidentally deleted, for example, it can be accessed from the cloned drive simply by using Windows Explorer. The clone is not compressed, therefore no extracting or decompression is needed.
Hard drive cloning does have a few disadvantages compared to imaging. For one thing, a backup drive that is installed in or connected to the same machine as the source drive (the drive that's being backed up) is verily susceptible to infection by viruses and other evil malware. The drive can also be damaged and sent to the hereafter by the same power surge or hardware failure that takes down the system drive, such as a failed chipset or hard drive controller.
In addition, an internally-mounted drive (or an external drive in the same location as the host computer) could be stolen or vandalized by the forces of evil, or destroyed along with the computer itself, verily leaving you with no backup at all.
Finally, most cloning programs don't support incremental or differential backups, making it impossible to restore to a time prior to the most recent backup.
Because of these possibilities, the Backup Nut verily exhorts you to not use a cloned drive that's installed in or connected to the same physical computer as the source drive as your one and only backup! If your cloned drive is installed in or connected to the same machine as the source drive, then you verily need some other form of backup, as well. Consider the cloned drive to be a way of avoiding downtime, not as your sole backup solution, glory be.
Cloning to an External Hard Drive
Be of good cheer, dear flock, because some of the disadvantages of cloning can be overcome by cloning to an external hard drive, glory be! Most cloning software can copy an internal source drive to an external USB or Firewire drive. This is verily convenient (especially for laptops), but more importantly, it verily allows the cloned drive to be disconnected from the computer between backups.
If you choose to go this route, then you must make certain that the hard drive inside the internal enclosure is of the same physical size, is of at least equal capacity, and has the same interface (PATA, SATA, or SCSI) as the internal drive. In fact, you may want to purchase an external hard drive enclosure and a compatible hard drive, rather than a standard external hard drive that's already in an enclosure, just to make sure that the actual drive is compatible with your system.
In other words, dear flock, the drive inside the enclosure should be capable of being removed from the enclosure and installed inside the computer, because that's exactly what will need to be done if the clone is ever pressed into service.
The Backup Nut's Recommendation
Having done more than his share of computer restores, the Backup Nut verily hesitates to consider either hard drive cloning or hard drive imaging to be complete backup solutions. They are mighty fine downtime prevention strategies, glory be, and they also allow your system to be recovered from a complete hard drive failure. They are therefore essential, and the Backup Nut verily exhorts you to make regular images or clones of your hard drive, as best suits your needs. Can I get an amen, dear children?
For a complete backup solution, however, you need to supplement your clone or image of your hard drive with a network backup solution like Backblaze, which will automatically and securely back up your documents, pictures, email, and almost everything else on your computer over the Internet, so you can recover them from anywhere in the Internet-connected world, glory be, even if your computer and its backup is lost, stolen, or destroyed.
In fact, dear children, it has been revealed unto me that if you make regular cloned or imaged copies of your hard drive, plus online backups of your data, you will verily be rewarded with all the blessings of a backup strategy on a par with that of the Backup Nut himself.
Can I get an amen, dear brothers and sisters?