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I have several machines which are on a small network with one DC and 3 to 5 workstations on the network at any given time. These are all setup with DNS and AD on the same server. I want the ability to automate a backup, re-image, and restore of data for any of the workstations. I have each of the workstations on my network backed up to the server (user settings, files, etc. - not a full image) each night. I then backup the server every night (differential backup) and take an external backup drive off-site once a week. When the data goes off-site, the backup drive that gets swapped in gets a new full backup, and then differential for each additional backup until the week is up.
I have a few requirements here:

  • First, I want to be able to run an easy automated backup routine, but don't know the best way to do this. Currently I am using ntbackup to backup to a network share on the sever for each machine's daily backup, which then gets backed-up on the server to an external drive nightly. The external drive is then taken off-site weekly. This should protect my data from a workstation or server crash each day, and a theft of workstation or server (or fire, etc.) weekly. This is acceptable to me for the risk of data loss of a day or so (up to a week worth of data in the event of a catastrophic problem such as theft or fire.)

  • Second, I want to have some automated way of doing a workstation recovery. I'd like it to be a one button recovery type of situation. In the worst case scenario, I would take the last days recovery data to do the recovery. Ideally, I would have the ability to log off the user that is on the workstation (if any) and start a backup of user data (documents, settings, desktop, etc.) After the backup is complete, I'd like to be able to start a remote bare-metal (no user interaction) restore to a base image. Then once complete, I'd like to have the workstation (if not already done so in the image) be joined to the domain and the workstation data re-populated.

The above mentioned equipment is:

  • Server 2003 Small Business Edition R2
  • Workstations - XP pro and Vista (no Windows 7 yet)

Is there a good one click backup, re-image, restore solution out there? What are other people using?

Thanks for any advice you can provide.

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I can't help but question the wisdom of storing any data on the hard disk drives of PCs. It seems like it's making DR of your computers a lot more difficult needlessly and preventing you from just allowing users to move to another PC / deploy a spare in the event of an outage. My response to PC failures is to redeploy a factory image, rejoin the domain, and let group policy (software installation, scripts, administrative templates) work the machine over. When the user logs on roaming profiles and folder redirection gets them access to their data again, still on the server safe and sound. –  Evan Anderson Aug 15 '09 at 4:32
    
As far as re-deploying the base image, the Windows AIK or bootable DVDs with WinPE installations and ImageX/WIM files are both reasonable solutions. –  Evan Anderson Aug 15 '09 at 4:33
    
With roaming profiles, when a user updates something on the workstation, it must be persisted to the server, correct? If the user, for example, were to add a 4 GB file tot heir desktop, it would take quite a while for the 4 GB file to be transfered to the server. Thus, when the profile syncs to the server, log off time will take as long as it does for the files to be saved. Likewise, when logging onto a workstation, doesn't the profile have to be checked to make sure the workstation and the server are in sync? The time seems preventative for large amounts of personal data. Thanks. –  Scott Aug 16 '09 at 21:48
    
@Scott: You redirect the "My Documents", "Application Data" and "Desktop" folders out of the roaming profile for exactly the reasons you describe. By storing them on a server from the beginning (via "Folder Redirection" policy) you prevent the synchronization behaviour you describe. –  Evan Anderson Aug 19 '09 at 12:28

2 Answers 2

I had a play around with this idea once upon a time, my solution was to set up a DRBL (drbl.sourceforge.net/) Server so I could use PXE to boot Clonezilla (clonezilla.org/) which would then take an image without any user input (using a script). Restoring with another script is just as easy.

The computers were set to boot from LAN first, the default option being to continue booting from local disk. Come time for backing up a cron job would change the default option to the script and attempted to WOL or forced a restart so the target would boot and start imaging.

I haven't had much experience with Windows Server, but Im pretty sure it contains a method of booting PXE images? It would probably require a fair bit of effort to set up whereas the DRBL server worked out of the box. Though if you did have a spare box lying around, you could use it to make bare metal backups of your server as well.

Hmm.. in retrospect all of that is probably a bit too much for 3-5 computers (unless you desperately wanted automated imaging). In a previous workplace we had a couple of Acronis True Image (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.tib) cd's for more ad-hoc imaging/deployment. Sorry about the wiki link, apparently new versions have changed from when I last used it so there might be a few more options.

Also apologies for the crappy links in the brackets, apparently new users can't post more than one link.

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This doesn't fit your needs exactly, but it is a good bare metal restore solution. ShadowProtect will back up the entire computer to an external drive. This is an image based backup. If you have a problem you can go back quite a way depending upon how you set up the backups. In the past I have set up a weekly full and differentials throughout the day on servers. On workstations you can do a monthly full with daily differentials.

Pros: -You can restore the computer to the way it was at a certain point in time.

  • You can adjust the backups to fit your needs and back up every 15 minutes if you like.

  • Workstation software is inexpensive.

  • SBS version of the software is considerably less than the standard server version.

  • Licensing is portable, so if you get a new computer you can move the license.

  • Takes less time overall to restore.

Cons:

  • No one click solution. Requires a boot from CD and a few questions answered about what point in time you would like to restore to.

  • The more often you back up the less retention you have.

I have used this and it has saved me more than once with servers and workstations.

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I agree that this product does not meet my needs entirely, however, it does come close. I'm not sure that the "product" that I'm looking for exists, but I thought I'd put the question out to the masses to see what others had done/thought of that I have not. Thanks for your response, I will look them over further and decide on which answer I should accept. Thanks again. –  Scott Aug 16 '09 at 22:34

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