DIY: Can Clonezilla alone clone a PC?

Jack Wallen offers a TechRepublic member advice about cloning an image via a combination of sysprep and Clonezilla or a utility that comes with Acronis Backup & Recovery software.

Here's a question I recently received from a TechRepublic member John Huff. After you read my answer, please post any additional tips you have for the member in the discussion.

Q: Can I take an image of one workstation and re-image another workstation? Are the underlying things that sysprep does for us included in Clonezilla? And if not, do you know how I can keep one image and re-image the classrooms from it, have them join the domain, and be ready for students to log in? A: The short answer is it depends. If the clones are going to identical hardware, then most likely Clonezilla will work fine. The clone will be an exact copy, so all clones will upon boot already be members of the domain.

The difficulty occurs when attempting to clone one machine to different hardware; this can be even more challenging depending upon the operating system being cloned. In your situation, you're cloning Windows, so in this case, Clonezilla cannot do what sysprep can do. It is possible, however, to do this with a combination of sysprep and Clonezilla. The basic steps are:

  1. Prep the computer for using sysprep.
  2. Create the answer file for the mini setup. (It's important to pay close attention during this step.)
  3. Run sysprep on the source computer.
  4. Once sysprep has completed allow the computer to shutdown.
  5. Use Clonezilla to clone the source machine to an external drive that is larger than the source disk.
  6. Clone the image to the new machine using Clonezilla.

There is another option, but it has a much higher cost. The Acronis Backup & Recovery software has a utility (which requires the Universal Restore addon) that allows the restoration of a drive image to completely different hardware. This is the pricing for Acronis Backup & Recovery:

  • For Windows Server: $853.00
  • For Windows Small Business Server: $499.00
  • For Windows Workstation: $74.00
  • For Linux Server: $853.00

We use Acronis for more than 60 clients, and we've had incredible success restoring images on completely different hardware. However, the price of Acronis is often an issue. When price gets in the way, the combination of sysprep and Clonezilla might be the best solution for getting clones onto different hardware. When using Universal Restore with Acronis, sysprep is not necessary -- Acronis does everything for you. It's not an incredibly fast process, but a full-blown Windows Server can be cloned and back up and running in two to eight hours (depending upon the condition of the machine being cloned, the size of the image, and the speed of the target hardware).

Cloning a drive is not always the most simple, straightforward task. Murphy's Law almost always plays a huge part in the process so things can go bad fast. If you use the right tools and take the time to get it right the first time, it will go a long way to ensuring your cloning process is seamless.

Related resources on TechRepublic

Ask Jack: If you have a DIY question, email it to me, and I'll do my best to answer it. (Read guidelines about submitting DIY questions.)