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Boot/clone/backup Strategies Too complicated for words

#1 User is offline   brainout 

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Posted 31 January 2013 - 10:45 PM

Okay, I'm trying to coordinate my now-24, computers. Maybe something in the strategies and issues will be helpful to someone else, so am writing here. If you see an error, please comment with a correction. Some essential up-front stuff must be covered:

1. You need an external BOOT option, in case your machine won't start in Windows. To even get this option, you have to enter Setup during boot, and make sure you set up the Boot Sequence to CD or USB first. In the Acer, you press F2 key while it's booting, right away, before you even see the screen turn on. In Dell, you can press F12 or F2 or F8, depending on your system. For HP, F8 worked (on a 6400 workstation, the only HP machine I have). For this reason, it's a bad idea to enable Fast Boot, which is another option in Setup.

2. The BOOT media you need, depends on what your system will accept. Most will accept a CD boot media; most newer machines will accept USB boot media, aka 'pen drive' or 'flash drive' like Kingston, Patriot, SanDisk; not sure if you can use an SD, though I've seen some videos using them for machines back in 2007. If CD, it might have to be under 1 GB (typically 700-800 MB), although newer (post-2007?) machines might be able to use DVDs. If your machine is 8 or more years old, you likely need CD, and can't use USB. If USB, machines of 2008 vintage and shortly prior, might require a FAT32 format and 2 GB capacity; newer ones can be FAT32 and higher capacity; usual recommendation is 4 GB or more.

3. Creating the Boot Media can be done by Windows directly, or by third-party programs like EASEUS, Acronis, Macrium Reflect Pro, other programs. I've not had good luck except with Macrium, but the first two are in common usage. Windows creates something it calls (in Windows 7) a 'Repair Disk'. It will only do it on CD. The others allow you to create boot media with pen drive, external hard drive, or CD/DVD.

=== > Finally, there is a non-Windows alternative Boot media you can insert at startup, which is some form of Linux 'live' distribution. It will boot you into Linux not Windows, from which point you can do a lot of file management functions like backup, edit, copy, move, even get on the internet, etc. You just insert the CD prior to turning on the machine, assuming you did Step #1. Alternatively, you can put the CD files on a pen drive, though I'm not sure it will always work. The most popular version used is GParted, thought I don't like it much. YOU WILL NEED TO BOOT INTO LINUX AT SOME POINT, so pick a distribution and keep it handy. Most full-featured version is Debian, but the easiest to use, appears to be Ubuntu or Mint. Ask around for what folks prefer.

4. The boot media created is designed solely to get you into a pre-Windows state so you can troubleshoot a gradual and interactive starting of Windows (i.e., in case certain programs or drivers are the problem impeding startup). You can also use that opportunity to restore some prior backup.

5. Alternatively, you can CLONE your drive regularly, and boot up using the external cloned drive. A clone is a live bootable replica of your PHYSICAL hard drive, including all the files on it (OS, data, programs, everything). Numerous ways to clone with third-party software; EASEUS and Acronis are popular, but they are unintuitive and buggy in my experience with them (others disagree and like those programs). Clonezilla CD (not the USB version) is a handy way to clone your hard drive, and is available at Amazon for $8. Idea is to clone your drive every day, so that if next morning you can't boot, just plug in your clone and get working quickly. You can always clone back to your internal drive after you've found out what's wrong with it. Macrium Reflect 5 Pro is good at cloning, too.

6. However, cloning doesn't protect you altogether. First, it takes a long time (20 minutes to an hour, depending on drive size and in what way you clone); second, whatever made your machine dysfunctional, might be on the clone. So you need redundancy.

7. BACKUP is a type of redundancy. Excluding RAID, which is a hard drive configuration of live redundancy akin to cloning (and very problemmatic), the typical vanilla backup system offers you the most speed, variety and protection. Speed, because you can schedule backups and make them incremental, which means a daily (or more frequent) backup lasting only a few minutes. Variety, for if your machine goes bad, you ideally have the backup BEFORE it went bad, to select. Protection, because you'll usually have multiple backups at different times, so if one of the backup files goes bad, you have one prior, to use.

8. For BACKUP, just as with Boot Media, Windows has its own programs. I've never had any good success with them. These programs are distinct from Refresh and Restore -- including 'restore points', which allege to work like Norton GoBack used to work. The first two, only access the recovery partition (or external media) for your OS. The claim is that you don't lose your files, or that earlier versions are restorable, too. But I've never seen that actually happen. Instead, everything gets wiped out, and your OS is restored to factory settings. Windows' own 'restore points' are buggy, too. Its backup program is also notoriously arcane, slow, annoying. So like me, most people don't use Windows own Refresh and Restore.

9. So for BACKUP, there exists a large number of third-party programs. But BACKUP itself, is in three flavors: live files, backup files, or image. The live-files variety is traditional, idea of copying a file somewhere else and it's immediatly still useable. Best program I've found for this is Retrospect, but it's hard to learn. Others prefer EASEUS or Acronis. All three will also create BACKUP files, which are compressed files that cannot be immediately used, but must be 'restored' via the program (just as in Windows' own version). So if you lost a file you couldn't just go to the drive and 'call' it, but would have to first call up the backup program, locate the file, and 'restore' it. Among 'backup' alternative formats, you have the traditional 'backup' file, or an 'image', which is a digital 'snapshot' of the disk or selected files. (Most external hard and pen drives contain their own proprietary programs which are 'live file' or even 'backup' programs, but I've never seen them work well.)

10. BACKUP can back up your whole hard drive on a schedule, whether you choose 'backup' files or 'image' as your style; you generally configure the schedule within the sofware itself, or through Scheduled Tasks in Windows. The advantage of 'image' is that the files might be smaller; but you might not be able to use 'image' if you wish to restore from a pen drive. Windows' own imaging backup program will not allow storage to a pen drive. Furthermore, the format of the backup media must be NTFS or later, as an image file tends to be larger than 4GB, which is the maximum size a FAT32 pen drive can 'read'. So if you're subject to those limitations, you can't do 'image' backups. Effectively, this means that if you're on XP or prior, you can't do image backups using Windows. You can maybe do them with third-party software, but I've not found any which will allow an image backup to a pen drive. In that case, pick Retrospect version 6.5 or prior (available used at Amazon). Its 'Duplicate' function is a live copy of everything, though to restore the OS, you'll need to use its Backup feature. It works with Win98SE and FAT32.

Next post will cover the resultant strategies.

This post has been edited by brainout: 31 January 2013 - 10:47 PM

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#2 User is offline   brainout 

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Posted 31 January 2013 - 11:13 PM

So if you have many machines spanning 10 years or more like I do, first plan your boot/clone/backup strategy with an eye to the many hardware and software incompatibilities between machines. DOS machines can only read/write Imation SuperDisk, Zip, and floppies. Win95 machines can do the same, plus use USB 1.0. Win98SE machines can handle all of these, but they are usually the last machines to be kitted out with floppy drives. Depends on what you have. I have XP machines which have internal floppy drives and can read external floppy drives. I don't know if Win7 can read them.

Win98SE and prior usually don't have RW capability, but only CD read-only. XP cannot handle DVD writing on its own, but requires third-party writing. Win7 alleges to make multi-session DVDs which XP can read, but my experience with that is spotty: sometimes it works, sometimes not, and I'm not sure why not. Prior OS versions can't write, and maybe can't read, either. That may depend on the type of DVD player you have. For sure, the DOS machines cannot read DVDs.

Win98SE and prior cannot handle NTFS, but must use FAT32, so external hard drives in NTFS cannot be read. DOS machines cannot handle USB, anyway, so to back-copy to them, you have to use the aforementioned Imation, Zip, or floppies. You might be able to use CDs, but probably can't write to them in Win98SE and prior.

So your first strategy is to decide WHAT you need to backup that must be transferable to other media your older machines can read. Most often, that means you must make live copies of your files on the most-common media to all of them. So if you'd maybe need to transfer files from your newest machines to Win98SE, then you have to use FAT32, and you'd need an external hard drive Win98SE can read. If to DOS, then you'd have to use Zip, Imation, or floppies. Finally, this usually means you should make live copies rather than backup, so you'd not use backup programs, but duplicating programs.

The Win98SE machine is a kind of waystation for this purpose. It can 'talk' to earlier machines and format, copy, even backup in a 'language' your earlier machines are likely to understand, depending on what backup software you use in the older machines. So if you must use backup rather than live copies, key your choices to the oldest of your machines, and see if that same backup software can be used in the Win98SE machine. Again, I've found Retrospect 6.5 and prior to be useful for this purpose. It does both live copies and backups. So I can backup or do a live copy using it, put that on my Win98SE laptop, and from there copy in any format my DOS machines might want, as the laptop accommodates every style the DOS machines use, including floppies.

This is often less complex than it sounds. XTREE in DOS can make a live copy of an entire drive, using Zip or Imation in 20 minutes or less. Then, just put the disk into any later machine (well, XP can read SuperDisk and Zip, so I'm presuming Win7 can as well). Often I just take a floppy, copy the few files I've changed, carry the floppy to another computer and just add those files to the DOS computer's 'backup' file on that other machine.
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#3 User is offline   brainout 

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Posted 31 January 2013 - 11:54 PM

BOOT/CLONE/BACKUP strategy for Win98SE, XP, Win7 machines is more complicated, as alluded to in the first post of this topic. Essentially you have to create and maintain four different media per machine:

1. Linux/Windows boot CD. Best to have both. So it's counted as '1', but is really two. Necessary, for the Windows boot CD often won't work, even if you follow instructions. This happens in particular if the registry got corrupted. As a result, you might not even be able to restore. So you'd need Linux to at least make a copy of the machine, and then can better troubleshoot what went wrong, maybe initiate restoral, etc.

2. Linux/Windows boot USB. Here, the issue is what if the CD you have, won't work.

3. CLONE DRIVE. Made with Linux or with third-party software; make sure the clone drive capacity is the same size or smaller than your internal drive; but bigger than all the files actually ON your clone drive; or, bigger than the end point of your recovery partition, if your software doesn't support 'smart' cloning. Example: my older Acer has 105 GB, which is 70 GB main partition, 30GB recovery partition, but only 40 GB is used in the main partition, and only 4GB is used in the recovery partition. So via Macrium or Clonezilla, I only need a 60GB drive to make a 'clone', since both types of software support 'smart' cloning. If they didn't support it, I'd need a clone drive of at least 70+10GB, to 'cover' the 'distance' between both partitions and the endpoint of the second partition's files (allowing added room for any tmp file creation in the restoration).

IMPORTANT: cloning wipes out everything on the drive and replaces it with the clone. So you don't want to have the cloned drive be much larger than the source drive. Ideally, they will be the same size and configuration pre-clone. For, after cloning they will be the same size and configuration. So, you'd not want to clone a 250GB internal drive to a 1TB external, as that's a needless waste of space. I've heard you can maybe do a clone solely to a partition, but I've not tried that to see how successful it might be.

Ideally you clone every day or at very least, once a week. You can clone sector by sector, which is an EXACT replica of the drive including WHERE files are located (which Windows sometimes demands), or you can do a 'smart' clone, which is more of a snapshot of where the files were, and the clone-back puts them in the right places; but the 'smart' clone doesn't include sectors which have deleted files, you wouldn't be able to reconstruct them later. The objective here is to get up-and-running as quickly as possible. You can boot from the clone drive. You can make that clone using third-party software or Linux (esp. Clonezilla, which is very fast). You can clone back quickly (not recommended until you know WHY what went wrong, went wrong).

4. BACKUP image/files made through Windows or some other third-party software.

5. AD HOC COPIES of data/media files you work on. Really, every time you work on a file you should copy it to a pen drive also. Takes only a few extra seconds. Better than using those intrusive and buggy always-backing-up programs like Acronis and Rebit. Constant-backup-automation will mean that when your machine goes bad, you already backed up what MADE it bad, so your prior backups are useless. I don't see why anyone would want RAID or constant-backup software, unless it was constantly ALTERNATING to different locations each time. In which case, system performance would slow so much, you'd become frustrated. So just back up the files you're using each time, ad hoc.

NOTE: Windows claims it keeps prior versions as 'restore points', but annoyingly, you have to SET the restore points. So what's its advantage? You don't know when you'll need a restore point, in advance. If you still have XP, you might want to try MagiCure or Norton GoBack (the latter is only available used). It does a much better job of enabling you to restore on the fly, or recover from a bad program installation. (Acronis tells me that GoBack is not compatible with it.)

So when to do these things?

1&2 boot CDs/USB, every time you change hardware or software configuration, for the boot includes your settings.

3, ideally clone every day, if you care about the system/files you're using. If you rarely use the machine, then clone after you've made important changes.

4, Backup: do incremental backup every day on a schedule, and full backup at least once a week. Do this to an external hard drive which is at least 4x bigger than the internal hard drive you're backing up. Rotate the backup drive once a month or even more often, so you always have two backup drives for that machine, IF the material on it is vital to you. Else, you can get away with not using multiple backup drives.

5. Copy each data/media file you change in TWO places, since it only takes a few more seconds. Also schedule live file copying on a regular basis.

So what media must one have, per machine? 1-2 boot CDs, 1-2 USB boot pen drives, 1 clone drive large enough to accommodate the files on the internal drive, 1-2 backup drives which are each ideally 4x larger than your internal drive; 1 extra ad-hoc copying drive. The cost then becomes maybe $20 for the CD/pen drives, another $50-$100 for the clone drive, and probably $100-200 for the backup drives, plus $5-$50 for the ad-hoc drive. So that's $175-$370 per machine.

Now you know why Chromebooks and cloud-computing are popular. But honey, I wouldn't trust it. :) At most, those sources of backup are way secondary, and of course you may need them if you are on the move a lot. But never put all your files into one basket. :)

This post has been edited by brainout: 01 February 2013 - 12:22 AM

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#4 User is offline   brainout 

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 12:39 AM

WHY is boot/clone/backup/copy so important?

First, because Windows is buggy. It's designed to CONTROL everything, and its own programming isn't good at interacting with what it controls. So the resulting conflicts create shutdowns, BSoDs, system hangs. Often the 'cure' is to just turn off the machine, unplug for five minutes, then plug back in and turn on again. (The unplugging discharges a 'memory' of the conflict. Stupid, but true.)

Second, because sometimes a Windows update and something on your machine, don't like each other. This is another type of control-freak problem in Windows. For Windows ASSumes certain defaults in what you have, and if its ASSumptions don't fit what you have, then what you have, conflicts. At that point, you must waste hours trying to GUESS what went wrong. You likely don't have hours to waste, and it will go bad at the very moment you must get that email, write that report, go online. So now you see the value of boot/clone/backup. To get you going again.

Third, maybe the hardware on your machine is going bad. Could be memory, disk, controller, or even something as dumb as a CD which wasn't formatted, which hangs Windows up for no reason (even in Windows 7). You won't know which it is until troubleshooting, which means wasting more time running diagnostics.

Fourth -- and often most likely -- your Windows files/registry might go bad. If your registry goes bad, and you don't have a clone, good luck trying to get things going again. The clone can be corrupted, too. Restoration of the most recent backup might not work in this case, even if you have the boot CD/USB properly prepared, for the corruption can be in the backup, too. It's trial and error and waste of time.

Fifth, you updated Windows on a prior version of Windows. For this reason, most tech-savvy people will tell you never to upgrade Windows atop a prior version, but always put the upgrade on a separate partition or hard drive.

It's the fourth and fifth cases which are most annoying and sadly, most common. So people reinstall Windows, which means reinstalling all your programs, data files, everything. Now see why a clone is important? If the Windows files went bad post-clone, the clone might be the fastest way to return to normal. If the new installation of Windows over Windows went bad, you can return to where you were PRE-upgrade, by means of the clone. If that fails, you'll have to restore your backups, which takes quite a bit longer. So notice: cloning takes longer up-front, but restoring from backups takes much longer when the time comes.

And it will come. Computers are vulnerable enough, even before talking about the outside attacks through the internet. The OS is vulnerable by nature, a control freak. I can't say that other OS are much better, not even Linux. The difference with Linux is that it is simpler and more transparent; but it too has a need to control. We like our toys, and they are complex.

So boot/clone/backup often. Or live to regret not doing so.

To me, the ultimate backup is to dual-boot Windows and Linux. There are two ways to do this. First, just have 'live' Linux CDs or USBs on-hand. When Windows won't work, stick in a Linux CD/USB and boot from it. That will get you into your file management and online tasks most quickly, help you troubleshoot if your disks or memory went bad, help you backup/copy/clone your machine if you'd not done it in awhile. So that's a quick ad hoc solution I've used many times, now.

The second way is more complicated. Essentially, you permanize your ability to boot in Linux by actually INSTALLING it on your machine, alongside your Windows OS. If you're in love with XP, for example, you can keep it off the internet by only using the Linux for that function, if you're worried about XP exposure (why, I can't imagine, it's better protected than later Windows versions).

So how to do that? You have to PARTITION your internal hard drive, allocating part of it to Linux. Linux needs at least two partitions of its own, one primary and one 'extended'. You can create these partitions via Windows or via third-party software OR when installing Linux. The latter wants to have a primary partition for its programs, for a 'swap' file; you can use the extended partition for the swap file and other sections like your 'home' folder, etc. Recommendations vary, but apparently Linux loves different partitions rather than merely different directories/folders, from what I can tell.

If you do this, you'll need to make sure your backup software can also backup Linux. Windows can't do that. Linux itself can do that via Clonezilla, and probably every distribution has some programs which can back up both Windows partitions and Linux partitions. Macrium Reflect 5 Pro, if I recall correctly, can backup Linux and Windows partitions, but only if it's not a dynamic volume (I might be wrong about that), and only if the Linux partitions are in ext1, 2, or 3 formats. I can't speak for the other backup programs 'out there'.

So if you'll permanize your use of Linux alongside Windows, you'll have a lot of shopping to do, as there are hundreds of Linux 'distributions' to choose from. Most popular are Ubuntu and Mint, but ask around, and try the 'live' copies first; the latter go 'on' when you just insert the CD at boot time, so you can see what it's like prior to installation.

This post has been edited by brainout: 01 February 2013 - 12:52 AM

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