I’ve managed to find a freeware product that allows you to take an image backup of any partition (including the system partition) while the server is still live.
It’s capable of using a “volume lock” or “volume shadow copy services”. The latter will only interrupt server access for a matter of around 5 seconds or so.
I spent some time testing this, and the 2 tools work perfectly.
To create the live images, you’ll need a tool called DriveImage XML.
You can use DriveImage XML in order to create live images of any partition, and you can also restore any partition other than the system partition, right from within Windows as usual.
If you want to restore the system partition, then you need to boot from a CD and then run the restore operation.
The restore CD is created from a package called the “Ultimate boot CD“.
Note that aside from this Ultimate boot CD containing the DriveImage XML tool within it, it also contains a whole variety of other useful utilities which are stored on the same CD image.
You download the above tool (222 MB), extract it, and run it.
In order to create the boot CD, it will then want to import files from Windows XP (slipstreamed with service pack 2).
You’ll need to follow the build instructions for creating the boot CD. You will need to have the WinXP SP2 files handy in order to do this. This procedure will then end up creating an ISO image, which you can then burn to CD.
To automate the creation of the image backups using DriveImage XML, I would suggest creating two recurring tasks (control panels => scheduled task), such that you create an image called “DriveC-1” in one task, and “DriveC-2” in a second task.
You would stagger the schedules such that it creates the DriveC-1 image on even weeks, and it creates DriveC-2 on odd weeks.
Here’s a sample command for creating the image, which you could put into a batch file:
“C:\Program Files\Runtime Software\DriveImage XML\dixml.exe” /bC /tH:\Images\DriveC-1 /r- /s- /c /v > Backup-Log.txt
Here are the command line options for the tool:
/bx backup drive x, eg /bc
/tx write backup files to x, eg /td:\backups\drive_c
/r raw mode, eg /r or /r-
/s split image, eg /s or /s-
/c compressed, eg /c or /c-
/v try VSS first, eg /v, do not use with /l
/l try locking first, eg /l, do not use with /v
Even though there are a few steps listed above, remember that it boils down to just 3 steps:
- Install the DriveImage XML application on your server
- Create the 2 staggered tasks to take a live image backup of C: drive
- If you want to restore the server from a prior image, then boot off the “ultimate boot CD”, run DriveImage XML from within that environment (Windows PE), and choose the image to restore
Since both of the above tools are free, this means that you can install it on all servers and all workstations.
I’ve tested this on Windows Server 2003 (Enterprise and Standard) and Windows XP Pro, and the documentation states that Vista is supported as well.
I’ve tested it on 32-bit systems, but not on 64-bit systems yet.
Remember that the commercial equivalent of the above technology (Backup Exec System Recovery Server) costs $1200 per server and you’ll also pay around $100 per workstation for a workstation-grade product that does this.
Of course, the commercial products have extra fancy features, but you can’t beat a price of $0 for the core functionality you’re after.
Here’s an 8.5 minute video showing you how DriveImage XML works:
Here’s an 11 minute video showing you how to create the “Ultimate Boot CD”:
If you are either creating or restoring an image from a remote server share location, then you’ll sometimes find that the drivers for your network card aren’t included in the default Ultimate Boot CD.
If this is the case, then here’s a 3 minute video showing you how to add additional network drivers to your boot CD:
I hope you find it useful.
2008-09-11 update: I’ve come across another free imaging product which looks good as well: Drive Backup Express.
2009-06-29 update: Here are some additional free imaging tools