How to best be prepared for bare metal backups and restoration?

Re: Imaging computers for bare metal backups.  I don't want to miss a bet regarding best practices.
So, I'm asking for comments on my beliefs and practices.
I'm trying to be as pedantic as possible in order to generate comments.  So some assertions are really, to me, DUH!  (You don't have to say "well, SURE!"     :-)
I'm currently targeting VEEAM Windows Free Agent as the tool.
There are no virtual machines.
There are no "families" of identical target hardware.

1) If it's going to be bare metal then that implies the OS drive could be empty and one has to provide a boot mechanism.

2) One has to have a boot mechanism, an image, and the image source has to be reachable by the booted recovery environment.

3) Remote access is out of the question.

4) If the computer is headless then this can complicate matters to provide HID access for the recovery environment.

5) The VEEAM backup process can keep up with changes.  So, if the objective is to back out from an OS upgrade, some selection in the recovery will be necessary.  (Assumes that using a Restore Point from within Windows isn't feasible).

6) Using VEEAM, it's necessary to have a unique boot drive.  How to avoid the uniqueness?

7) The unique boot drives have to be available or easily burned from backups.  (Which?)

8) If the unique boot drive isn't tested (including that the image file reachable) then you don't know what you have.

Some thoughts and questions:
The more computers handled by imaging, the more images, the more boot drive images and the more administration.
It would be nice to not have unique boot drives.  Is there a reasonable way to do this?  

How do you handle the process?
LVL 27
Fred MarshallPrincipalAsked:
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arnoldCommented:
The hardware and whether it avails you a lights out option (lom, idrac)
These tools. Include an option to ....

The environment and tools I.e. Pxe boot, or USB network boot, etc.
Main issue with bare metal restore the tool you use must have the capability to stream the drivers of the hardware.....
I.e. Storage raid controller, network, ..back plane.
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Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Use Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, and store data on the network.

or use trying RollBack Rx Home Edition  (Free), or purchase the Commercial version.

and then no need to Backup and/or Restore!
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Since Windows Vista, Windows has been deployed by image, even on the media you use from Microsoft.  You only need TWO images per OS version (and even then, ONE is normally sufficient.  You just need to make sure the image contains all the drivers you need it to.  (The two images: 32bit and 64bit... and you usually don't need 32 bit).
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Thank you!
There are so many variations on the theme aren't there?
Our problem is that individual workstations do take a lot of time and effort to configure ONCE Windows has been successfully installed.
That's what we'd like to avoid.
And sure, we use the OS images to bring up new machines or ones that are being rebuilt from scratch.
In normal circumstances all that has worked fine.

1) There is the OS.
2) There is the data.
3) There are the applications and there are the application and OS settings.

We can readily deal with #1 and #2 if they are standalone items.  It's #3 that's been consuming a lot of time when there are lots of computers to redo at once.  So we have put evaluation "rings" in place and will want to restore the inner-ring computers efficiently - meaning we want to avoid the work of #3 (and #1 along with it).  #2 is fairly trivial for us.
Thus this question.

I envision 3 levels of trouble:
1) Windows is broken but will boot.  A reinstall of the OS or recovery to an earlier time is needed - while keeping everything else.
- So this calls for something that will run from within Windows if possible.  
2) Windows is broken and won't boot.  A reinstall of the OS or recovery to an earlier time is needed - while keeping everything else.
- So this calls for something that will boot.
3) The hard drive crashed. A reinstall of the OS or recovery to an earlier time is needed - while keeping everything else.

So, I've been looking at VEEAM but it won't do #1, i.e. run from within Windows it appears.  It appears that Rollback RX will do #1 but I don't know its limitations.
Also, it appears that they will both do #2.  VEEAM uses boot media for this.  It appears that Rollback RX uses a boot manager and keeps everything resident on the local hard drive.  This has advantages and disadvantages.
VEEAM will do #3 same as #2.  I don't know how Rollback RX boots in this condition and don't know where it gets its data either.
Using more than one seems not a great idea.
I can read about MDT but for a variety of unique computer models it seems harder to implement.
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arnoldCommented:
I am puzzled, the environment, imaging to what end?

In a domain environment, gpo/GPP can be used to deploy software, I.e. Once the computer joins the domain.

Mitigating data on the workstation through use of refirected folders/roaming profiles. Data loss will be limited to profike setting changes just before the workstation breaks mid operation.

...
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
1) There is the OS.
2) There is the data.
3) There are the applications and there are the application and OS settings.

Any environment where you have a sufficient number of systems to make this cumbersome should be using imaging.  A single image can deploy to almost all hardware types if you have the correct drivers loaded.  Any good IT department standardizes on a set of hardware - business class hardware - that shouldn't change too frequently and can thus allow consistency over a period of time in terms of drivers required.

The data should all be stored on the servers.  I redirect all data to the file servers using a group policy so that folders such as My Documents, Desktop, and Favorites are all residing on the server.  Thus you can replace the PC and (more importantly) users can log in to almost any PC and get access to their files (so when their desktop fails for whatever reason, they can use John's computer (who happens to be out sick that day) instead without missing a beat.

The applications and OS settings on deployment are handled through scripts, Group Policies, Answer Files, and the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT).  For one example, without using MDT, I used Ninite in an installation script that automatically installed the various free support applications end users required, such as Acrobat, Firefox, 7-Zip, and others.  Whenever a new computer was loaded from the WDS image, the script executed ensuring those applications were installed AND up-to-date.  No need to make MDT deployable versions as Ninite handled it.
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Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
I can read about MDT but for a variety of unique computer models it seems harder to implement.

if harder meaning you need to copy the drivers for the motherboards, then MDT is not for you...

but you would need to provide those drivers storage and network interfaces for any recovery that the OS does not have by default
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Sorry folks, I should have said this is being done in a peer-to-peer network environment!

Arnold:  You asked: "Imaging to what end?"
The simple answer is: "To restore the image when needed under whatever circumstance may present itself using best practices".  [ I rather hate "best practices" as a term but it seems to have moved from bureaucratic BS to the real world.]
And, of course, I realize that YOUR best practice and someone else's best practice may be different.  
In this case I don't have the luxury of a domain environment and, yet, it's not a tiny enterprise.  Some day perhaps....  Your points are appreciated re: this and there's an ongoing project to address it.

Lee: You said: "Any good IT department standardizes on a set of hardware - business class hardware - that shouldn't change too frequently and can thus allow consistency over a period of time in terms of drivers required."
That's all well and good for an enterprise that HAS an IT Department.  And, the advice can be taken even if not.  But, as you well know, some companies replace computers reactively and end up with but modest commonality.  For my purposes here, I'm assuming no commonality but will advise better practices in this regard.  
As I mentioned earlier, data recovery is a trivial matter for us.  Nonetheless, your suggestions in this regard are compelling.
We're also using Ninite.

Andrew: I've use driver backup programs only occasionally.  I guess that's what one might use for MDT images.  I just don't have an "MDT-based process" in mind as I've not been using MDT.    So, "harder" means more "getting used to" at the very least and maybe "getting prepared for".  VEEAM does that part for us but relies on the computer to be set up first.  Maybe getting the drivers requires the same really; at least that would be one way.
How do you keep up with Windows Updates with MDT?  Also, does it *require* a Server OS?  It seems to.

As I mentioned earlier:

- I've been looking at VEEAM but it won't run from within Windows it appears.  It appears that Rollback RX will do that but I don't know its limitations.  I don't really see this as a necessary capability - but it could be handy from time to time.

- Also, it appears that they will both do #2.  VEEAM uses boot media for this.  It appears that Rollback RX uses a boot manager and keeps everything resident on the local hard drive.  This has advantages and disadvantages.

- VEEAM will do #3 same as #2.  I don't know how Rollback RX boots in this condition and don't know where it gets its data either.

All the inputs are greatly appreciated!
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arnoldCommented:
In a workgroup environment, the difficulty is what resources are available to you.
Windows WDS, Clonzilla server,
Acronis and Symantec have products that include universal feature that deal with including drivers of the platform to which it will be restored.

The scope of your transition may help narrow down your option not based on what you currently have but on what you will end up with.
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Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
When you deploy via MDT updates are integrated at deployment
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Andrew:  And it does or doesn't require a Server as its platform?
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Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Needs a server for deployment!
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Thanks.

So, it appears that perhaps VEEAM isn't too bad an option then?  For this situation, VEEAM it seems better than Clonezilla - in that the backups are integrated with an agent so automated imaging is supported.
Other than some recent issues with VEEAM image files being accessible from network drives it would seem to be what I can deal with.
The Rollback Rx approach is a little too system-intrusive for my taste. While I can deal with the boot configuration issues, the others can't.
The MDT approach isn't available to us at this point.

Thank you all so much for the inputs!!
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
I was going to award the points equally but this )#%&()#$& interface didn't give the opportunity.
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