Image based backup/restore of 35 workstations

I know there are a ton of questions about this topic already, and I've read many, many of them at this point, but they haven't given me exactly the information I'm looking for.

Here's what I want to be able to do (windows 2008 R2 domain):
1.  Do automated scheduled images of workstations to central location
2.  Do bare metal restore on either identical hardware or not
3.  centralized management of image creation and client software deployment

I've used Symantec Ghost, but not extensively, just to deploy images over the network and occasionally pull images, but never to do scheduled daily images.  I've also used Acronis, but only on a per machine basis, never any of the enterprise/server level stuff.  What experiences do you all have with which software that gives you those options?  I've seen Acronis, Paragon, ShadowProtect, and many others mentioned.

Please post about your personal experience (as opposed to just doing a google search for "imaging software" and posting some results).  I'd like to know how easy to use the software is that you're suggesting.   Thanks a lot for your opinions!
David WilliamsonIT DirectorAsked:
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Why are you backing up the workstations?  What's special about them?  

Your environment is just in the right size to make this a tough choice in my opinion.

First, your systems should all be redirecting their desktops and documents to the server so any workstation failure not impact the users and they can log on to any system and still have access to their files - further, the files are backed up with the server's regularly scheduled backup.

For select systems, I would be concerned about backup - systems like those that run specialized equipment that can take hours or even days to get working again if a failure occurs.  Those should use an automated backup like something running on a Windows Home Server or Storage Server Essentials.  But ALL systems should not be backed up.

For deployment, Microsoft has some very advanced and FREE tools to let you do this - MDT (Microsoft Deployment Toolkit), the Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK/WAIK), and WDS (Windows Deployment Server) can all assist you in deploying a standard image and apps to hardware, similar and dissimilar.  The only key - you need at least one volume license (that's a requirement for ANY imaging based deployment solution.  Only Volume Licenses grant re-imaging rights).
David WilliamsonIT DirectorAuthor Commented:
This is a growing company that is still trying to ft into their growth.  This is the first time they've contracted with an outside IT company and I'm walking the line between educating them and giving them what they want.  We've talked them into a server, a domain structure, centralized anti-virus & backup at this point.  They're also having to push their staff through a big culture change where everyone is just about a free agent into all kinds of security, organization and rules.  They have recently been burned by former staff deleting everything on their local machine, which is why they want a solution to back up all machines (even though everything will be on the server and backed up there).  They are concerned that some staff will resist the new policy of saving everything on the server and keep some stuff locally, which could result in data loss, either accidentally or purposefully.   We've not been able to talk them out of it so far.  They're paying for it, I guess...

I of course like the idea of redirecting desktops and documents to the server, but I also worry about performance.  At the moment, theyre on a 100Mb network.  How well will that work with 35 people's desktops and documents folders all accessing at once, in your opinion?
David WilliamsonIT DirectorAuthor Commented:
Another comment: I have used roaming profiles in the server 2k3 environment with limited success.  I always avoided it because it didn't seem to work half the time.  I haven't yet attempted to use it in the 2k8 R2 world; is it any better?  I would hate to set everyone up on it only to find the same level of flakiness.  That wouldn't look too good.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Redirecting folders, while time consuming in the initial redirection, should prove RELATIVELY minimal impact once everyone has been redirected.  This is because only the paths to storing data has changed (and the initial redirection typically moves the data which is where the time consuming part comes in).  With a redirected folder, everything is saved to and opened from the server, NOT copied to and from the server as with a roaming profile (I HATE roaming profiles - they are potential huge problems and on a 100 mbit network especially can result in huge delays especially if everyone logs in at once - think of it like this - if you enable folder redirection, the initial copy would be FASTER than the typical login when using roaming profiles.
Allen FalconCEO & Pragmatic EvangelistCommented:
We would recommend eVault and the BMR backup option.  This provides an agent-less backup that would capture the full system image.  The BMR backup can also be used to restore subset data (individual files), so you don't need to have a duplicate data backup for the systems.

Additionally, it can be managed remotely via a web control center.

Here is some info in our site.
David WilliamsonIT DirectorAuthor Commented:
thx for the recommendation, allenfalcon.  

leew, back to disk imaging...assuming the client is insisting on imaging all workstations (which they are), do you have any real-world experience using anything you could recommend?
David WilliamsonIT DirectorAuthor Commented:
Anyone else with any suggestions?
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
I don't waste the time with anything other than the system backup provided by Storage Server essentials, SBS Essentials, and Windows Home Server.
David WilliamsonIT DirectorAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the suggestions, I went the ShadowProtect.  They had the best interface and had all the features and functionality I was looking for.

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David WilliamsonIT DirectorAuthor Commented:
I appreciated the "bird's eye" view from leew, which made me think about the reasoning behind wanting to back up workstations.
Using redirection to a server as a backup is great until you get a Cryptowall virus that renders that solution useless. Or the disgruntled employee deletes all of their files on their workstation and the files stored in their user$ directories are outdated or incomplete.
An easy way to backup your network:
Create user directories(with security that does not allow domain/end-users to write to them) on a storage box or server and create a robocopy script that creates hard copies of the user files to these specific directories.
Then backup the file server to an external device and/or a cloud backup location so you will have a multi-layer backup solution. I have been doing this for years and I haven't had many problems(knock on wood!!!)
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:

Your analysis is flawed in my opinion.

Any sane person has backups -VSS is not backup.  DR is NOT backup.  A Backup is a system that allows the data to be "offline" once the backup is complete.  Then you can restore files that are deleted through poor security practices such as leaving users$ open to everyone.  Your scenario assumes (at least based on my experience with professionals) that an amateur sets up and maintains the network.  Definitely possible... but to do things PROFESSIONALLY, your concerns would all be mitigated.
David WilliamsonIT DirectorAuthor Commented:
By way of an update, I ended up ditching ShadowProtect.  It turned out that their people oversold what it could do in an enterprise environment.  The interface was not great and there were a lot of failures.  I ended up getting rid of them and went to Dell's AppAssure, which has been wonderful.  Works very well, is pretty easy to set up and administer, and doing restores works well.  We've been using it for a couple of years now, and I've implemented it at another client as well, also working really well.
Lee W.

Absolutely an amateur way of doing things I agree. I was commenting on a previous post and using sarcasm. Oh wait, it was your post....
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