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I took a look at this thread but i am unsure if it best suits my needs.

I want to cleanly reformat a few machines. They have the same specs and from the same vendor. I would like to install a clean OS then quickly restore it to that clean state whenever i want. I have a network and external HD that can hold the image. However if i am replacing the OS how do i copy the data? A live Disc would be ok but which live disc and what else can i use? (I know dell has a quick partition restore, maybe GRUB can do something to restore my partition)

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If you're cloning a Windows 2000/XP installation, don't forget to use Sysprep or something similar to avoid any issues. For example each clone would have same security identifier (SID) and computer name. – Cristian Ciupitu Jun 1 '09 at 0:17
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Image them over the network from a boot CD - dd and netcat can come to your rescue.

I know you said that the linked thread wouldn't work, but you really can use nc and dd to do this. Play with it before you implement it, but it will work.

Edit This comment covers it well: Using DD for disk cloning

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netcat does work, but from what I've noticed its performance sucks big time. – Cristian Ciupitu Jun 1 '09 at 0:18
Really? I've always seen good performance. It's not encrypted or compressed, so it should fly. How were you using it? – Matt Simmons Jun 1 '09 at 1:00
I find it strange too, because as you've mentioned there are no apparent reasons for this behavior. Maybe it's using small blocks or something. I used it on a 100Mbps Ethernet LAN. IIRC, I did something like nc -l 5000 < file on one side and nc server 5000 > file on the other side. – Cristian Ciupitu Jun 1 '09 at 15:26
Hrm. It's possible that dd's default blocksize (512 bytes) is causing it. I wonder what would happen if you grew the block size to 1400 (or 8k if you're using jumbo frames)? – Matt Simmons Jun 1 '09 at 23:47

I have had good luck using G4L.

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boot from the USB/CDROM/PXE. Acronis TrueImage, Linux System RescueCD or WinPE depends what do you require.

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If you are referring to Windows machines (and you may not be, because you mentioned a boot loader) you could partition your drive so that the OS is on one partition (or even a second physical drive) and the 'documents and settings' folder is on another.

Then make an image of the OS with Norton Ghost or something similar.

If the OS goes south you can always quickly restore it using the ghost image. The image could even be stored on the second partition with the D&S folder and accessed with a floppy when restoring.

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One of the best Live CDs/DVDs is Knoppix and it also has a Linux Terminal service which lets workstations boot Knoppix from the network. When you start it, you need to do a bit of configuration like specifying the network address or network cards used by the workstations and then it will configure all the services needed for network booting, i.e. DNS, DHCP, TFTP. It's very easy to configure it and I highly recommend it for this reason.

For copying the images over the network I recommend against using netcat. Its performance isn't quite stellar. I suggest using HTTP, e.g. wget -O /dev/sda http://server/image. Another good solution is NFS combined with dd. Since you have multiple workstations, you could also use something based on multicast, but I don't have any experience with this. Anyway, have a look at Udpcast (comes with Knoppix).

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