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Is there any particular backup / imaging software which seems to be a good fit for our situation, or is there some other direction I should be looking in to meet our requirements? I realize this is a strangely-written question. Please comment if there are specifics that would help answer.

To give the necessary background information: we are a VAR looking to engineer a reasonably reliable backup strategy for our customers. Each of our customers has this environment:

  • One workstation-class computer running Windows XP or 7
  • Two semi-dumb terminals running Windows XP Embedded (not very powerful machines, but each plays a unique role so they aren't interchangeable)
  • All machines are networked together

We want to accomplish the following goals:

  • If any one of the machines goes down, new hardware can be plugged into the network and remotely imaged with the HDD contents of the machine the night before it crashed.
  • We can recover from a crash of either a terminal or of the workstation.
  • Backups are hosted at the customer's location, not across the Internet somewhere
  • Configuring the backup tasks and running restore tasks should be scriptable. The restoration tasks should be able to be performed by a telephone helpdesk technician with as little training as possible. In my mind, this means scripting it so it's as simple as double-clicking a script.

We have previously used Acronis True Image 9 with the strategy of imaging each machine nightly and storing the data on a second hard drive attached to the workstation, but we found the following challenges:

  • Creating the backup tasks on each computer is tedious and error prone, and Acronis does not provide any scripting mechanism that allows creating a scheduled backup job.
  • If the workstation needs to be recovered, the customer must be blindly walked through using bootable media to start the recovery.

I've been looking into using Acronis 10 or Backup Exec, but those systems appear to be even more complicated to set up and as far as I can tell also do not provide any reasonable scripting interfaces.

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My advice is to treat each customer as an independent backup environment – voretaq7 Jan 27 '11 at 18:07
@voretaq7 That is the plan; the problem is that all backup systems we've found assume you are one company doing your own in-house backup, not a VAR trying to support backups across many independent customers. Once Acronis, etc. are set up they're easy, but setting them up is a huge amount of work and not automatable. – Stephen Jennings Jan 27 '11 at 19:28
It seems to me that most backup systems aren't designed to be scripted because backups are such a "personal" thing to a company - dumb oversight, but it seems common in the field. Something like Bacula can be easily scripted, but doesn't provide for the bare-metal restores you're looking for (it can, but it requires some legwork on your part to make recovery CDs) – voretaq7 Jan 27 '11 at 19:43

This can be hard to achieve with Windows, as you would have to roll the drivers into your Windows image so it can cope with new chipsets :-/

You need to look into PXE, teach your staff how to enable customers to toggle PXE in the BIOS, and rolling out system images by handing over from PXE to TFTP to something else.

Details are different for each OS and imaging solution: so what OS are you rolling out, and what would be the OS of the PXE server and the system image server?

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All computers are Windows (edited question). We don't necessarily have to support imaging to dissimilar hardware. Currently our solution uses PXE via Acronis; having the ability to use a bootable flash drive as an alternative would be nice because it's better than walking remote customers through the BIOS settings. – Stephen Jennings Jan 27 '11 at 20:44

Have a look at Asigra solution. It is designed specifically for these scenarios. I'm using it as a client, so from client stand point I can confirm that it is very versatile and relatively easy to use.

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