Hard Drive duplication

I have a question about duplicating a hard drive.  Is there any cheap way of simply cloning a hard drive for purposes of testing and possible backup?  I don't understand why a simple file copy won't cut it for a hard drive that contains an operating system, but I would think that there are simple and cheap software solutions that would let you actually do a true hard drive copy (boot files, boot tables, and all).   Thanks for any advice.

To clarify, I would be taking my "C:\" drive out of my windows server (for example) and would want to clone that drive so I could put it in a spare machine and do testing on it without disturbing the "live" server (other than disturbing it initially when I remove it from the server and connect it externally to some host machine or device for cloning).
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ocanada_techguyConnect With a Mentor Commented:
There are some free "open source" "shareware" etc cloning programs, clonezilla, etc, (already mentioned) as compared to the commercial products like Norton gHost (bought by Symmantec) that preceeded them.
dbrunton's explanation is a big part of the reason yes, how can you duplicate all of the OS exactly as is when parts of it are open for write, held open for exclusive use, and even being changed, you can't.  By booting a "live CD" disk that has a miniature OS itself running the tool from it's own boot makes possible to copy the system hard disk that "would be" C but you're not running off it at that time, and copy to another hard disk file for file OR create an "image file" that contains all it's contents like a backup that can be recovered.
HOWEVER there are two other issues you need to be aware of:

First, DIFFERENT HARDWARE:  What if the other machine you want this copy to run on is NOT the same hardware (and unless they're identical, there will be differences great or small)   Well some small differences are overcome easily enough, if a printer is missing, so what, but if the graphic card is different boot in safe or VGA mode and then then detect and install the correct display drivers.  Bigger differences and you will experience a BSOD (blue screen of death) with an error 0x0000007E.  For example, the original is Intel based and the target is AMD, or the motherboard chipsets are different by a little or quite a lot.  The original is pata IDE based but the target is SATA, etc etc etc.
Microsoft's sysprep tool can put the OS back to "auto-detect everything next reboot" just like when it is  installed for the first time, it's a slightly tricky IT tech type tool.  http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/faq/clone-windows-to-hardware/
Here noxcho has written an article giving solutions

Secondly: SERVER security, you cannnot have two machines with the same  name and same machine GUID.  You mentioned in your question that it's a "server".  If by that you mean it's a "file server", it's just a "larger" computer that you happen to use for storage, and is running XP in "workgroup" mode, fine, you'll rename one of them.  BUT if this computer is running a "Server Edition" of Windows, or it is participating in a DOMAIN security model, either as a  standalone server or as a  primary or secondary domain controller, you absolutely need to know and deal with it accordingly.

Exactly as you wrote "in a spare machine and do testing on it without disturbing the "live" server" that is more CRUCIAL than you think

Answer: if you straight up clone it, be SURE to keep the copy in a TEST BED isolated from the network, that is, do NOT connect it to the same network whatsoever for any reason.  No "oh I just needed to get something off the  internet so I plugged it in", DO NOT you can't!!   That's going to make it difficult eh? You could mess-up the original machine's participation  in domain security.  The domain security keeps constant timestamped updates and unique fingerprints of machines, precisely to prevent a hacker from "pretending" to be one of your machines to gain access.  Remedies: A special tool was developed by some of the clone software makers to "change the machine GUID" of one of the copied machines, once done it can have it's machinename changed and be connected as a slightly "different box" and "join" the domain if needed.  BUT if you messed up, both machines will have to unjoin the domain (which is near impossible in the case of a  domain controller server itself) and then using domain admin tool on remaining working controller record of the machines must be removed, and one of  the two must be tossed, isolated, or it's machine UID channged and then one can rejoin.

That's why a simple copy WON'T cut it.
dbruntonConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Clonezilla (free) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clonezilla

Also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_disk_cloning_software for a list of cloning software; some commercial, some free.

>> I don't understand why a simple file copy won't cut it for a hard drive that contains an operating system, but I would think that there are simple and cheap software solutions that would let you actually do a true hard drive copy (boot files, boot tables, and all).

If you are inside the OS at the time and trying to copy all of the contents you will run across files that are locked and inacessible.  You (usually) must be outside the OS to copy everything freely.

Note that some OS won't transfer simply across as on startup they check they are still in the original systems they were installed in.  If your hardware - original and destination - are the same you probably won't have any troubles.

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dekkarConnect With a Mentor Commented:
If you dont mind paying, Acronis has some good software True Image Home


If you are imaging servers, then you will need the server version, its a solid product.

The problem with just copying the files, is there is partition info and boot info/sectors that need to go along with the files. Which cant be done by copying....
jckingjcConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Hi jbobst,

Try this simple and free cloning software. It is my favorite and works perfectly for me.


Clonzilla is also a good one to try.


Good luck.
Fadi SODAH (aka madunix)Connect With a Mentor Chief Information Security Officer, CISA, CISSP, CFR, ICATE, MCSE, CCNA, CCNP, CCIP, SCSC and SCECommented:
get clonezilla http://clonezilla.org/ (OpenSource)  or acronis(Commercial)  http://www.acronis.com/ ... i use them in my office they are great tools,  again clonezilla is a good software package, and if you have in your data center any linux system then use http://www.mondorescue.org/
You could give driveimage xml a shot. I have used it in the past and it is pretty good.
jbobstAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the answers guys.  I do have exact hardware to put the new drive into, and I really only want this to have a spare server, to test updates and other test environment kind of things.  I plan on keeping it totally isolated from the rest of the network.

jbobstAuthor Commented:
oops...sorry...I tried to split the points evenly...but it looks like I missed yours.  I am sorry!
You can reopen and redistribute or click >! request attention< on your question and a moderator can reopen for you or redistribute the points as you ask.
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