The ghost in the machine: 3 disk imaging apps – 11/24/09
By: Frank Ohlhorst
Historically, performing backups has been a tedious and time-consuming process fraught with limitations. While Microsoft has improved Windows’ backup functionality in general, Windows 7 still misses the mark when it comes to a full-featured backup and restore application.
The major reason that Windows’ Backup and Restore Center doesn’t fully satisfy is because it doesn’t offer the ability to ghost (or image) a hard drive. Ghosting works by creating a copy of all of the populated sectors on a hard drive and storing that raw data to a single file.
The advantages are numerous. For example, the backup file can be compressed to save space and then stored on another hard drive, optical disk, network share or other storage device. In addition, ghosting preserves all hard drive data (files, applications and operating systems) in a single operation, which greatly simplifies the backup process.
Ghosting technology also allows you to recover data in one simple step, by just restoring the complete image file to a hard drive. Some backup products also allow you to mount an image backup and then access individual files or directories to locate a particular file for copying, restoration or access.
For this roundup of backup applications that include ghosting functionality, I looked at Acronis True Image Home 20, Paragon Backup and Recovery 10 Suite and TeraByte Image for Windows. (At one point in time, Norton Ghost from Symantec is the imaging market leader, but the product was updated — to version 15 — too late to be included in this roundup.)
The products all offer the ability to back up a computer with imaging technology, restore those images to a hard drive and access individual files stored in an image file. They also offer incremental backup technology, where users create a master backup image and then update that image with only what has changed on the system since the initial backup.
At a Glance
Paragon Software Group
Available for: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7, DOS, Linux, WinPE
Large descriptive menu buttons make it easy to launch wizards that make backup, restoration, file selection, creating rescue media and building schedules relatively straightforward. A tabbed interface located on the left side allows users to drill down into some of the more advanced features, such as converting images to virtual hard drives or browsing existing images to copy individual files.
Most users will find using the Smart Backup option the way to go. It is very easy to use and offers a good level of customization during the definition process. Options let you target e-mails, media files, or documents, or manually select specific files. The product offers multiple options for the location of a backup files, including network drives, burn to DVD and store to any FTP site.
Paragon Backup and Recovery 10 Suite
On the other hand, some users may be confused by the product’s virtual mode. Basically, all operations are “stored” and do not occur until you hit an “apply” button to activate the task — in other words, it actually looks like a backup is occurring, sort of a full dress rehearsal. Advanced users can forgo the virtual mode by changing the program’s preferences.
One very nifty feature is the product’s ability to convert an image into a virtual hard drive. That way, if you system fails altogether, you can run that image as a virtual hard drive on a system running desktop virtualization. That could prove to be a fast way to retrieve important data or run applications during a system disaster.
The product also offers a backup component that is loaded in the system tray, which handles automating the backup process using a snapshot process. This creates a static version of the current data on the hard drive. When the application detects changes in the data on the hard drive by comparing snapshots, an incremental backup is executed.
Performance was adequate. I was able to back up the 70GB of data in about two hours and 15 minutes. Subsequent backups using the incremental setting only took a few minutes, depending upon how much information was changed on the hard drive.
Where Paragon Backup and Recovery 10 Suite really shines is with features such as the ability to back up, restore and convert virtual hard drives, as well as create WinPE bootable rescue media.