Five free disaster recovery tools

The law of averages dictates that disaster will strike you. When it does, you can only hope you have prepared for it.

You hope it never happens - the need to recover from a disaster. The law of averages dictates, however, that disaster will strike you. When it does, you can only hope you have prepared for it. The depth and breadth of your preparedness can vary, depending upon what you are preparing for. Preparing for a server recovery is much different than preparing for a desktop recovery. You may need a cloned image of a machine that can be used to bring a server (or even a desktop) back to life quickly. You may only need a solid backup of your data. Either way, you need the right tools to do the job.

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Many disaster recovery tools are not within reach of many budgets. Thankfully, there are free tools out there that can do a bang up job of getting you back up and running. Let's take a look at five such tools.

Five Apps

1. Macrium Reflect

Macrium Reflect is a free version of the Professional product. Intended just for home-use desktop machines (supports XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 (32 and native 64 Bit), Macrium Reflect can handle: Disk imaging/cloning, access images in Windows Explorer, schedule backups, has a Linux Rescue CD, supports RAID and GPT. With this tool you can create solid disk images that will ensure you can get a machine back up and running quickly. Yes, this software is for personal use. Give it a try and, should you like it, you might want to purchase the Pro version for your business. The Pro version only runs $58.99 for the desktop edition and $199.99 for the server edition.

2. Clonezilla

Clonezilla is a free, open source, bare metal backup and recovery tool. Clonezilla is based on DRBL, Partclone, and Upcast. There are two versions of Clonezilla: Live and ClonezillaSE (Server Edition). The Live version is to be used for a single desktop, whereas the Server edition is suitable for massive deployment (up to 40 machines simultaneously). Clonezilla supports: Numerous file systems, LVM2, unattended mode, Multicast (in SE only), and much more. Images can be saved to local drives, ssh server, Samba server, and/or NFS server. Clonezilla only saves and restores used blocks on the hard disk in order to save disk space. Although Clonezilla does only save used blocks, the destination drive must still be equal to or larger than the source drive. Drives to be imaged must be un-mounted.

3. DriveImageXML

DriveImageXML is similar to Macrium Reflect in that it offers a free version for personal use. This free version allows you to backup, browse, and restore images. With the ability to browse images, this means you can recover files and/or folders (and not just the entire image). DriveImageXML uses Microsoft Windows Volume Shadow Services, so you can create images from drives that are in use. Give the free version a try and see if it will meet your needs. If so, you can then purchase a five user license for $100.00 USD, all the way up to one hundred user licenses for $500.00 USD.

4. Quick Disaster Recovery

Quick Disaster Recovery is a tool that can quickly recover a machine when various built-in Windows administrator tools have been disabled (such as the Registry Editor, Task Manager, etc.). From the GUI you can re-enable the features that have been disabled or use the replacement tools. One way or another, you can get around such "disasters". QDR also allows you to quickly stop applications from running at startup (by way of taking you directly to that item's registry entry where you can either delete or disable). QDR is free and is released under the GPL.

5. System Rescue CD

System Rescue CD is a Linux system rescue disk that allows you to administer and repair a system after a crash. You can manage partitions, recover data, edit configuration files, and you can work with both Linux and Windows systems. The kernel supports all major file systems as well as network systems such as Samba and NFS. Included tools are Gparted, Partimage, ddrescue, FSArchiver, Ntfs3g, test-disk, Memtest+, Rsync, and plenty of other tools (think typical Linux tools). System Rescue can be run in both console and GUI mode, is free, and released under the GPL. If you're up to the task, you could even create your own version of a System Rescue CD and include specific scripts or tools.

Bottom line

There are so many rescue tools available to administrators. One of the single most important tasks you could face is making sure you have the right tools that are adequate for the job and fit your skill set/work style. Give one or more of these tools a try; I am confident at least one of them will wind up in your system administrator toolkit.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website