By Rob Dunn
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
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.
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.
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 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.).
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.
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.