Free disk cloning for Windows OS: Microsoft AIK and ImageX


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By Rob Dunn
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Dolly prefers Linux!I just ran across some information Friday of last week that I frankly should have seen when the September 2007 issue of TechNet magazine arrived at my door. For the last week or so, I have been working on a full-featured PE bootable CD for repair/recovery scenarios at work. To round things off, I was searching for some new free disk cloning plugins. While I have tried few decent offerings like ‘SelfImage‘, and ‘DriveImage XML‘, they did not have the performance or consistency I was looking for. So the search was on.

Eureka!

I hit up Microsoft’s website for a non-related download that day, when ‘BDD 2007‘ caught my eye (‘BDD’ being ‘Business Desktop Deployment’). Knowing that Microsoft typically offers a pretty full featured set of tools & documentation for large business users, I decided to check it out. Then my “link-trek” took me to the Automated Installation Kit, and my interest piqued.

After doing a bit of reading, I discovered that while the AIK is a replacement to RIS, and is geared to deploying Vista in a business environment.

What this means is that if you are in process of approving or evaluating Ghost or some other paid solution for disk imaging/cloning, you might give this toolkit a shot first, as it may fit your needs. Keep in mind, however, that this solution doesn’t yet support multicasting (dispersing images to multiple PCs at once).

What AIK does do, however, is that it gives you a way to manage disk images (akin to Ghost Server) via the ‘Windows System Image Manager’, an updated PE environment, and ‘ImageX’ – the real meat of this post.

ImageX – budget conscious cloning

ImageX allows you to clone, mount, restore, and modify wim files which contain server and workstation images. I’ll bet that If you run a Microsoft shop, I’ve probably piqued your interest as well!

The only way to get ImageX is to download the Microsoft Automated Installation Kit. Let me tell you now before you click that link…It is BIG at 992Mb, so buy yourself a latte, open up a game of Bioshock, or convince a buddy with a high-speed connection to pull the file down for you, because you will be sitting for a bit before you can get your eager paws on the tool.

First impressions

The biggest issue that some people might see (aside from the monstrous download) is that ImageX is not a graphical tool, so you will have to get acquainted with the command-line interface first. The built-in help is sufficient for this purpose, or you can refer to the documentation here.

Tedious typing aside (I’m an old-school DOS guy, so I don’t mind), the tool is easy to use, and has some nifty features – most notably, the ability to mount an image as a subfolder on your PC and delete and write new files into it. Also, ImageX allows you to store multiple images within a single WIM file (I prefer one per file myself).

Compression

Compression of a clean and sysprepped XP workstation was better than Acronis’ maximum compression (2.7Gb), as well as Ghost 9.0′s (but not by much). I guess I’m not surprised; I would expect nothing less from a Microsoft tool imaging a Microsoft OS.

Imaging a PC took about 16 minutes on a 1Gb connection (was a bit slow), and automatically excluded unneeded files & folders (such as the recycler, system volume info, pagefile, hiberfile, etc.).

Restoration

Restoring an image was MUCH quicker. The same 2Gb image took about 6 minutes in all. Not bad – after which, the PC booted up as expected.

Summary

If you need a way to clone your servers & workstations for little cost, this may be the solution for you. Just remember that as long as your PE-based boot CD can see your mass storage drivers (there are plenty of driver packs that can help you with this), you can back up the drive.

Also, if you are building a PE-based boot disc, then I suggest you download a nifty HTA front-end here to make things easier overall.

Do any of you use free cloning utilities at your workplace? What has been your experience? Any better or worse than the paid solutions? Please comment below.





17 Responses to Free disk cloning for Windows OS: Microsoft AIK and ImageX

  1. We used G4U, for several years as our sole imaging solution with about 2500 Windows PCs. I stopped using it last year because there's such poor support in NetBSD for SATA & NIC drivers. We reached a point where G4U wouldn't work on any newly purchased PCs. It's a shame because we loved it while it worked. We finally switched to a commercial solution.

  2. No, not running Windows, but you would create a bootable Windows PE (Pre installation Environment) disc and run the exe from there.

    I’ve never used Linux Live-CD for this purpose. Anyone else?

    • You can make a tar archive with compression and then untar it onto a new hard drive to make a complete copy of the original. A perfect clone (block by block) can be made using the dd command. There’s also mondo/mindi for backups. You end up with isos on a server which you can burn to CD or DVD for a bare-metal backup/recovery option.

  3. No, not running Windows, but you would create a bootable Windows PE (Pre installation Environment) disc and run the exe from there.

    I've never used Linux Live-CD for this purpose. Anyone else?

    • You can make a tar archive with compression and then untar it onto a new hard drive to make a complete copy of the original. A perfect clone (block by block) can be made using the dd command. There's also mondo/mindi for backups. You end up with isos on a server which you can burn to CD or DVD for a bare-metal backup/recovery option.

  4. We used G4U, for several years as our sole imaging solution with about 2500 Windows PCs. I stopped using it last year because there's such poor support in NetBSD for SATA & NIC drivers. We reached a point where G4U wouldn't work on any newly purchased PCs. It's a shame because we loved it while it worked. We finally switched to a commercial solution.

  5. @Brian

    That’s a shame, I’ve heard some good things about G4U (wasn’t that the one that would do multicasting?).

    Out of curiousity, what solution did you end up with?

    Regarding Linux Live-CDs, we have opted not to use them since we have a number of tools that run in a Win32 environment. So, Windows PE was the only viable solution for us.

  6. @Brian

    That's a shame, I've heard some good things about G4U (wasn't that the one that would do multicasting?).

    Out of curiousity, what solution did you end up with?

    Regarding Linux Live-CDs, we have opted not to use them since we have a number of tools that run in a Win32 environment. So, Windows PE was the only viable solution for us.

  7. I recently just started using Clonezilla (http://clonezilla.sourceforge.net) an OSS imaging software similar to Ghost. The performance is about on par for AIK but the images do tend to be a bit larger, even with max compression, I'm seeing image sizes hovering around 5gig. I've also yet to have any issues with NIC or mass storage devices. All in all a very slick tool. Clonezilla can be used used via a multitude of ways, SMB shares, NFS shares, etc. This was the hardest part for me as I am rather unfamiliar with Linux so the "DRBL" environment was not used. I instead ran a Windows 2003 server running UNix services for Windows.

  8. I recently just started using Clonezilla (http://clonezilla.sourceforge.net) an OSS imaging software similar to Ghost. The performance is about on par for AIK but the images do tend to be a bit larger, even with max compression, I'm seeing image sizes hovering around 5gig. I've also yet to have any issues with NIC or mass storage devices. All in all a very slick tool. Clonezilla can be used used via a multitude of ways, SMB shares, NFS shares, etc. This was the hardest part for me as I am rather unfamiliar with Linux so the "DRBL" environment was not used. I instead ran a Windows 2003 server running UNix services for Windows.

  9. At a place I worked we always used ghost. since about windows 95. Great thing with this was the ability to use CD burner. This means we could take a ghost backup everywhere.

    Soon came XP and now the old ghost version was not as useful. The 2003 version of Ghost still fits on a Floppy yet has support for DVD burners. Because of windows XP large size and new programs large sizes we needed either more compression or bigger medium for storage. DVDs turned out fine.

    Recently I tried the Ghost 9.0 and was disappointed to see the lack of floppy support. You could not backup a broken operation system. So i will stick with my old Ghost 2003 until Blue-Ray disks care cheep and I have to find a new program. Hopefully Linux will dominate the new OS markets and backups will easier.

  10. At a place I worked we always used ghost. since about windows 95. Great thing with this was the ability to use CD burner. This means we could take a ghost backup everywhere.

    Soon came XP and now the old ghost version was not as useful. The 2003 version of Ghost still fits on a Floppy yet has support for DVD burners. Because of windows XP large size and new programs large sizes we needed either more compression or bigger medium for storage. DVDs turned out fine.

    Recently I tried the Ghost 9.0 and was disappointed to see the lack of floppy support. You could not backup a broken operation system. So i will stick with my old Ghost 2003 until Blue-Ray disks care cheep and I have to find a new program. Hopefully Linux will dominate the new OS markets and backups will easier.