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Clonezilla - A No Cost Disk Imaging Solution

By Dale Qualls posted 05-04-2016 10:27

  

I'm sure many of us have at some time or other utilized a software-based disk imaging/cloning solution.  Norton Ghost was one of the first I ever used and it was awesome.  Heck, I'm even going to assume that a few of us have used hardware-based disk imaging equipment.  My firm dropped a few grand on an ImageMASSter unit, it was slick but was limited to cloning as many drives as you bought expansion units for.

Then, I was bitten by the Open Source Software bug and I never looked back.  The attached article introduces you to Clonezilla (both the Live version and Clonezilla SE, or Server Edition).  I've used this software now for close to 8 years and I'm amazed at the speed and flexibility that this it provides.  I guarantee you, if you try it, you'll love it.

So, take a few minutes to read the this overview of Clonezilla.  I'm sure it will whet your appetite to download the ISO's and give it a look-see.

Cheers!

Dale

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To Clone or Not to Clone?

If you are in the IT department of your firm or law department, there has probably been the need at one time or another to clone a computer (or disk partition).  You may have the need to keep an image of a departing employee’s computing environment, deploy an image across multiple new computers at once or even do a one-off re-image of an end-user’s computer that just isn’t worth taking the time to clean up and/or reinstall all of their software after a virus or malware incident.  I consistently use it to provide a laptop user with a new hard drive of a greater capacity when they begin to run low on disk space.

There are many high-end, high-cost solutions out there.  Microsoft has their SCCM, Symantec has their Ghost, Dell has KACE and Acronis offers True Image.  All fine solutions but there are (sometimes significant) costs involved.

Meet Clonezilla (http://www.clonezilla.org).  Clonezilla is an open source software (released under GNU GPLv2) that allows you to create and deploy full-disk or partition-based images with a simple, menu-driven utility.   Support is available for most filesystem formats (ext2, ext3, ext4, reiserfs, reiser4, xfs, jfs, btrfs, f2fs,  FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, HFS+ (Mac OS), UFS,  minix, VMFS3 and VMFS5.  All of the supported filesystems create images based on used blocks only.  These filesystems are cloned/imaged using either Partclone (http://www.partclone.org), PartImage (http://www.partimage.org) or ntfsclone (http://www.linux-ntfs.org).  If you have the need to image an unsupported filesystem, fear not, Clonezilla will accomplish that using a sector-by-sector copy of the data using the linux command dd (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dd_%28Unix%29.  As an added bonus, you can encrypt the image files using ecryptfs (http://www.ecryptfs.org/).

Clonezilla is available in two versions, Clonezilla Live and Clonezilla SE (Server Edition).  I’ll cover each separately, providing an overview, and provide you with links to the on-line documentation supporting each version.

Clonezilla Live (unicast only):

Clonezilla live is pretty much the starting point for either version of the product and has an easy to use GUI for both creating and restoring images and cloning partitions.  You would use Clonezilla live (bootable from a CD or USB drive) to make an image file of your source computer (server, desktop, laptop) after configuring the source and running sysprep (for windows machines) to prepare it for imaging.  This image can then be written to a USB drive, network share or any other location that you can mount from a Linux installation. 

I use Clonezilla Live regularly to restore user machines.  I also keep a spare of each type of user machine regularly receiving all software updates.  Once the updates have proven stable, I update my stored image of the machines so that I always have a current image available.  Clonezilla Live is the perfect solution for this.

Note that you can ONLY write to a DVD or CD if the entire image will fit the media.  Clonezilla cannot read from multiple DVD or CD image files (yet).  Here are a few other limitations of Clonezilla:

  • The destination partition must be of an equal or larger size than the source.
  • Differential/incremental backup is not currently available.
  • Online imaging/cloning is not currently available. The partition to be imaged or cloned must be unmounted.
  • Due to the image format limitation, the image cannot be explored or mounted, meaning that extracting a single file from the image is not possible.

As Clonezilla is very versatile and has many functions, regurgitating the step-by-step instructions for its use here would be duplicative of the hard work that the developers have put into their howto.   You can find out about Clonezilla live and creating the bootable images at http://clonezilla.org/clonezilla-live.php.  You can then find their step-by-step documentation at http://clonezilla.org/clonezilla-live-doc.php.

Clonezilla SE (Server Edition):

Clonezilla SE supports unicast, broadcast and multicast image restoration.  I utilized the broadcast feature when we moved to our new office location.  All computers were being replaced with new hardware and the new machines weren’t delivered until the Friday before we moved in (and our new office was opening for business the following Tuesday).  I needed to image some hardware quickly!

Using Clonezilla SE is remarkably simple.  The Server Edition is included in the “Diskless Remote Boot in Linux” (http://drbl.org/) server application that can be installed on any of a number of flavors of Linux.  However, it’s also included in DRBL-Live (http://drbl.org/download/), a bootable ISO or USB image which saves you the trouble of installing DRBL on a Linux server.  I actually ran my DRBL-Live server in a virtual machine and mounted a windows 2008R2 share so that I could use the source image that I had saved there earlier using Clonezilla Live.

Once you setup your Clonezilla SE (http://clonezilla.org/clonezilla-SE/), run the server program and select the configuration you want to use, you simply have to PXE boot your client machines and the imaging will take off automatically.  Note, it’s best to contain this to either a separate subnet or on a separate network away from your production environment.  You can easily get away with deploying an image to about 40 targets at a time.

When the imaging is complete simply stop your Clonezilla SE Server program and shutdown the DRBL-Live server and all will be well!

In summary, this is one of the most useful open source tools that I’ve found.  I use it regularly and it has never failed me.  If you have a bit of imaging that you need to accomplish (or would like to have “emergency” images available), head on over to http://clonezilla.org/ and check out this free solution for your IT toolbox!



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