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Due to the nature of our application we can't run and test it on virtualization.

I would like to have the ability to revert to a previous clean state and (if possible) have some kind of snapshoting (only of disk not RAM ofc).

The following options were considered:

  1. Add one server running FreeNAS with all the SSDs from the current machines, provide iSCSI volumes backed by ZFS and PXE boot all the machines from there. seems to be plausible but not an easy thing to setup.
  2. Use CloneZilla and do parition to parition backups/restore (each server will have one partition for windows and one for backups), this doesn't give me real snapshots, is not easy to do each time (boot to clonezilla, select option to backup, add details, etc.) and is not incrementl/differential and hence slow and allows for a limited number of backups.
  3. System restore - does it backup all the disk?

Constraints/Assumptions:

  1. It needs to work with windows partitions
  2. Needs to be fast (if not clonezilla is an option)
  3. It can work with requiring a reboot
  4. Doesn't have to snapshot the memory (although that will be really cool)

Is there a better option?

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If time was less of a constraint I'd suggest using WDS and re-deploy as needed. It's a bit long winded, but, it'd do what you need.

However, write-filters might be useful to you. I know they work well on the thin clients I use, never tried it on a desktop/server however.

  • Some questions: 1. Does WDS needs its own machine? 2. Can WDS revert to snapshot? is it fast? 3. How much time does it take to deploy it? – Uriel Katz Jul 1 '16 at 16:18
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I'd suggest using lights out management to reboot the servers on an image served via PXE, that image could be a small Linux OS that accepts further commands over SSH, like taking a snapshot or writing a new image to the hard drive.

That would fit the description pretty well (the speed at which you take snapshots will mainly depend on the speed of the storage drive and the location you're writing the snapshot to, so it may make sense to upgrade to SSDs and Gigabit Ethernet or even faster).

For memory I guess you could write an agent running in the Windows OS itself with a kernel driver that will allow you to take memory snapshots at any time.

  • I don't need memory snapshot :) I thought about PXE booting to a clonezilla or something like that the problem is that I couldn't find a solution that does incremental backup/restore for ntfs partitions. – Uriel Katz Jul 1 '16 at 16:20
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It seems that since Windows 7, windows supports VHD as a native format and is able to boot from it!

Using something like this: https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/panosm/2011/01/23/implementing-a-windows-7-steadystate-by-utilizing-differencing-vhds-files-and-the-boot-from-vhd-feature/

Seems to be the solution to my needs, thank you all for your answers :)

  • I did this on Win7 & Win10 and it is working like a charm, highly recommend if someone needs something like this! – Uriel Katz Jul 3 '16 at 20:07

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