Remember when disk imaging was cool? If you've been in the industry long enough, you'll recall the popular Ghost
and Drive Image disk imaging products. Used mostly for rolling out new workstations, these programs were a real time saver. You booted the system from a DOS disk and within a few keystrokes you could back up or restore the entire hard disk to/from a secondary hard drive. Disk imaging was cool, but it really served no further purpose than basic backups and restores.
Times have changed. Disk imaging has become a way of life for many enterprises at both the workstation and server levels. In today's gotta have it now world of heightened security, remote users, and minimal tolerance for downtime and data loss, disk imaging fits in quite nicely. It plays a critical role in backup and data storage management, as well as disaster recovery and security incident response. In many businesses, disk imaging is the only technology used in these scenarioes.
I've been using disk imaging software for backup and recovery for years and I'm surprised that there aren't that many players in the market. While Ghost and Drive Image technologies still live on under the Symantec moniker, there are some other disk imaging vendors such as Acronis Inc., LSoft Technologies and UltraBac Software that are making an even bigger splash in this arena. These products look and feel like traditional data backup software, however, they typically back up and restore data at a lower level: the drive sector.
Pros and cons of using disk imaging
If you're not already using disk imaging at an enterprise level there are some pros and cons to disk imaging you should know about before jumping in. Let me begin by sharing the positive things I've discovered with disk imaging software over the years. First, the data restoration process is greatly simplified which, in turn, can help with disaster recovery/business continuity planning efforts. If you stay current with your imaging, malware outbreaks and hack attacks are easily recovered from. Also, when power users tinker with and end up breaking their systems, everyone's expectations are set with the simple rule: Your system is going to be restored to the last known good image. Disk imaging is simple, quick and can really help reduce the burden on data storage staff. In addition, with disk imaging you can also perform bare-metal restoration to dissimilar hardware. This used to be a big downside to imaging but it's no longer an issue. You can also encrypt and compress your disk images to protect them from prying eyes and speed up the backup and restoration process.
On the other side of the equation, when you create an image for backup purposes, you're backing up everything on the system. This can lead to some unintended consequences such as increased storage space requirements (images really add up and just a handful of systems can easily claim a terabyte's worth of space), security gaps and compliance violations, as well as increased recovery times. Restoring entire images is not good for immediate gratification as they can take several hours to complete depending on the size of the image, speed of the drives and network, and so on. They can also lead to data loss due to timing gaps between images. The good news is that continuous data protection (CDP) features are being offered in the more recent versions of disk imaging software.
All in all, disk imaging is a great option for simplified backup and recovery. I couldn't do without it in my small business and I've seen it scale well for the enterprise. But it's important to do your homework first and try before you buy a disk imaging software. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how it can simplify things. We can all certainly use some of that in our work these days.
About the author: Kevin Beaver is an information security consultant, keynote speaker, and expert witness with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC. Kevin specializes in performing independent security assessments. Kevin has authored/co-authored seven books on information security including the newly updated Hacking For Dummies, 3rd edition and Hacking Wireless Networks For Dummies. He's also the creator of the Security On Wheels information security audio books and blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. Kevin can be reached at his Web site www.principlelogic.com.