A Perspective On Image Backups

I think it would be fair to say that the typical computer owner doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about backing up their computer. Since a lot of people look to me for advice on IT and computing topics, I try to spread the word about the need to backup those computers. Everyone agrees, some are already doing something, and a few already have it covered. Advising a friend or business associate to backup their computer rarely prompts them to take immediate action. It is not uncommon for someone to wait until they have a data disaster before they get in gear and start actually doing some effective backups.

Once someone loses valuable data, they are highly motivated (for a while) to backup their data. They usually go overboard and try to do too much. One great example is a software developer named Ed, who lost his hard drive last week. Fortunately he was backing up his work, as most computer professionals do. After Ed installed a new hard drive into the computer, he spent the better part of a day installing software, restoring data, and configuring his system to get it back to a state where he could continue working on his project. He called me with some questions about disk imaging software. After spending so much time getting his OS and development tools installed, he decided that he wanted to make images of his disk so that he could quickly and easily recover from the next such event. This question about disk imaging comes up frequently.

My past experience has been that you would rarely actually restore a disk image. In most circumstances I don't use images and I will explain why. There have been several occasions where I have had complete disk images available and I have chosen not to use them. One reason is because when I am replacing a hard drive, I like to take the opportunity to clean up the configuration and space. I prefer to reinstall any necessary software, sometimes upgrading to latest versions. If the computer has been running for any length of time, there are always remnants of old software and data that are no longer needed. The general idea is that I like to start from scratch and build up the new drive with clean installs and data. Another huge factor to consider when thinking about restoring from a disk image is that you must be restoring to the exact same hardware configuration. In numerous cases, I have elected to replace the entire computer rather than a single drive, which renders the image backup useless in most cases.

There are certainly some cases where image backups are excellent tools for recovery from disk failures. Disk image backups can help you recover faster from a hard disk drive failure than rebuilding from scratch as I often do. If you have determined that you really need the ability to restore an entire image, then I highly recommend that you find an image utility that creates images that can be updated without the need to make a completely new image every time. Symantec's Ghost product is one that I have used in the past with good success. There are other good products and some even create bootable media. These are good products and they can be a lifesaver when you really need them. However, your disk image backups are not the only backup solution you will need. You will also need file backups for the cases where a disk image restore can not be used.

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