A large part of an administrator's job involves supporting the desktop. While many tools and services exist out there to assist in managing every aspect of the desktop - from deployment to end-user support - depending on your organization, and more importantly, the funding allocated, management of the desktop can be a simple push of a button or a "sneaker net" endeavor that takes hours of manual tweaks to get even the simplest app out to all the nodes - let alone the OS installed.
While the concept of imaging or the ability to deploy customized OS packages isn't new, it's handled a bit differently when one is using Apple's Boot Camp to run any flavor of Windows within their Mac environment. The difference lies in that there aren't many choices for backing up (and subsequently restoring) the Windows environment stored within Boot Camp's partition without error. Some apps won't see the partition, others will create backup copies that cannot be restored from, while others restore beautifully, only to find out that it won't boot after the fact.
To solve this nagging issue and add a layer of management to these images, we'll be using WinClone by TwoCanoes Software for both backup and restoration of a Windows Boot Camp partition. Before starting, I'd like to point out that WinClone is not open-source; however, several pricing tiers exist ranging from $29.99 - $999.99 for a single-user license to a site-license with enterprise support. You can easily find your niche within the structure and choose the option that best supports your needs.
With that said, once WinClone has been procured, it's as simple to install as extracting the .app from the DMG file and copying it to the Applications folder.
A. Creating a Backup of an existing Boot Camp partition
- Open WinClone and it should automatically detect the source Boot Camp partition on the computer you wish to image. (Figure A)
- Click the Image button. And again, click the Image button when prompted for confirmation.* (Figure B)
- Next, you'll be prompted to Remove Memory Cache Filess. These represent the paging file present in Windows. It typically adds several GBs to the overall image and can frankly be deleted if creating a generic image. If creating a custom image or system-state backup image, then leave intact. (Figure C)
- After choosing to delete (or not) the memory caches, you'll be prompted to authenticate as an Administrator.
- Last, you'll select a location to create the backup file. This can be a local, external or network drive. (Figure D)
- The process will create a backup image at the specified location. When it's complete, close out WinClone and you're done! (Figure E)
*Note: WinClone will only backup NTFS-formatted partitions. FAT/FAT32 is not supported, however, a quick, non-destructive fix is to convert the FAT file system to NTFS. This can be achieved by running the command below from the Windows environment through the command line.
CONVERT C: /fs:ntfs
Beware, that converting to NTFS is a one-way process. Once FAT/FAT32 has been converted to NTFS, it cannot be reversed. Also, while Boot Camp reads NTFS partitions with ease, it cannot natively write to them from the OS X environment.
Restoring a WinClone backup to the Boot Camp partition
- On the destination Mac computer, open Disk Utility.
- Select the drive you wish to use to create a new partition to use with restoring Windows on Boot Camp.
- Select the desired partition layout. Also, assign a name to the partition and set the format to "MS-DOS" from the drop-down menu and make sure the selected size meets or exceeds the backup image size to avoid any errors during the restoration process. (Figure F)
- Lastly, make sure to verify that the Partition Scheme Map is set to "GUID" by clicking the Options buttons. Without this, the restore will fail to create a proper Boot Camp partition.
- Click Apply and the settings will commit the changes with a newly minted Boot Camp-ready partition to restore to.
- We're now ready to restore; open WinClone.
- Locate the WinClone image created in Part A. Drag & Drop the file onto the Sources menu in the WinClone app. (Figure G, click to enlarge)
- Once the image has been added to Sources, click once on the image, then once on the drive partition under Select Destination, then click Restore. (Figure H)
- Click Restore once again to confirm the process. (Figure I)
- You will receive another prompt, this time requesting whether to keep or replace the "BCD" file. These configuration files are utilized by Windows Vista and up to determine the boot order and parameters for drives. Unless there is a special case usage or custom BCD that is in use with your image, click on Replace BCD to have a new file created upon successful completion. (Figure J)
- The final prompt may occur only if Administrative authentication is necessary. Enter your credentials and click OK to begin restoring.
- The time is takes to restore the partition varies and is ultimately dependent on the size of the image size, drive speed and resources in use during the restore process.*
- After the restoration completes, you'll receive an Image Completed message. Click OK and close WinClone. Now reboot into the Boot Camp partition to verify the restore completed successfully. (Figure K)
*Note: While the computer can be used during the backup or restoration processes without affecting the image itself, any resources used during the processes only serve to lengthen the amount of time necessary to complete the task.
This is just a basic walk-through to create and a restore a one-off backup image for your Boot Camp partition. If your organization has the proper infrastructure in place, these images can be run through Sysprep first to strip out any unique identifying information from the registry as well as domain membership, creating a truly generalized image ready for deployment on a mass-scale. It can be pushed via Apple Remote Desktop for smaller labs or through JAMF Casper Suite.
Twocanoes also included support for DeployStudio. DS for short is an open-source, and very powerful desktop deployment suite that runs on OS X or OS X Server and allows for unicasting (one to one) or multicasting (one to many) deployments that can be used to manage images, drivers, and software applications for both Apple and Windows OSs.
Jesus Vigo is a Network Administrator by day and owner of Mac|Jesus, LLC, specializing in Mac and Windows integration and providing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. He brings 19 years of experience and multiple certifications from several vendors, including Apple and CompTIA.