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I'm currently setting up a couple of systems to test the company software, and I require the ability to "flash" the hard drives of the machines at any point in time, and restore them to their fresh state.

Specifics:

  • Cannot utilise virtualisation software due to USB driver incompatibilities over which I have no control
  • DVD and/or CD media is outdated, I don't wish to use neither technology, and USB drives are too unstable to be a viable option for this.
  • Networked hosts are viable, but data transfer speeds are negotiable and could be a major negative factor.
  • Some sort of dual hard drive "backup & restore" system would be ideal. Money is not really a blocker on this, we can buy in hard drives as we need to.

Does anyone have an idea of what might be a good tool for this job in particular?

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4 Answers 4

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Before VM's gained popularity, I used tools similar to those listed here: http://www.thefreecountry.com/utilities/backupandimage.shtml#imaging

I don't envy your position - one of the things I struggled with constantly was maintaining the images and making sure they were up to date with windows updates and complying with corporate security, which means every so often you'll need to install updates and create new images. The same is still true with VM's as well unless you use a service that maintains them for you.

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Thanks Sam, the link you posted could be very useful for me. I'll keep this Q open for a day or two (until I've had chance to really explore it) but currently this looks like the best response. It's difficult, but fortunately for me corporate security, and updating isn't too important. Our test systems are isolated from the outside world, and only really accessible via their internal networks. Makes it pretty convenient in one sense. Cheers (Y) –  XtrmJosh Nov 11 '13 at 21:06

Does anyone have an idea of what might be a good tool for this job in particular?

I've used lots of different methods in the past. But these days, I rely pretty much exclusively on Virtual Machines for this job.

It's easy to set up a baseline. It's easy to restore it when needed.

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Couldn't agree more for Virtualisation (I'm commenting here as that's the advice I would have given). It's simple, distributable and easy to build up and tear down. Software licences aren't shocking, and would be inline with a hardware solution or less. Make sure you have the HDD space for it, depending on people a good few TB's tucked away. Be careful with allowing people to snapshot these VM instances as well, as they can be upwards of 20GB depending on the software. VirtualBox and VMware are brilliant and affordable. –  DiscoMcDisco Nov 6 '13 at 13:00
    
Apologies, although I agree with the sentiment of your response, this is not a viable option. We use some hardware which uses a USB driver (not in house) that isn't supported by any current virtualisation software. For this reason, we are forced to use physical machines. –  XtrmJosh Nov 6 '13 at 18:03
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@XtrmJosh : Ah, the proprietary nature wasn't clear from the above. In that case, I'd take a similar approach and just make sure you generate good clean images of the machines/environments you'd want to test against. That way, you can just re-load the image (much like a VM) on the test hardware. The only major issue with this is time. While it shouldn't take much more than maybe 30 minutes to wipe and re-install a machine from the image, doing this repeatedly will definitely add time to your test schedule. –  DiscoMcDisco Nov 7 '13 at 10:25

I'd suggest a standalone hard drive duplicator.

hard drive duplicator

Very easy to use - attach the two hard drives, press a button to clone from one drive to the other. Also has the advantage of not tying up a computer during the duplication process.

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It's almost perfect bar 1 problem, we're looking to have these sytems all over the office, and really don't want to have to fit hot swap drives to all of them, nor to be taking them apart. This is currently at the top of the list though. Thanks –  XtrmJosh Nov 7 '13 at 17:15

One option might be using some file system that supports versioning (such as zfs). You can then return to earlier points in time with snapshots the same way as with virtual machines.

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