Clones and Clouds: The Force Unites

By | December 17th, 2015

David Eger at 365daysofclones-troopers-skyscraper

Whether you’re responsible for an empire, a republic or just a group of rebels, keeping your computers fully armed and operational is important. Just as important is keeping your data current and available even when your base is destroyed or your computers are trapped in carbonite. Things can change quickly in our galaxy. Not everyone agrees on how to protect your precious data; cloning or cloud backup. Decide you must?

A New Hope: The Cloud City

A long, long time ago, digital warriors used clumsy and random methods of backup like tapes, zip drives, and floppies. Some still believe in this hokey and ancient method. Cloud backup services, like Backblaze, are a more elegant and civilized way to protect your data. Those who survived the destruction of Alderaan are sure glad they kept data in the cloud!

The Attack of the Clones: A Troop to Protect Against Storms

After a disaster downloading all your data from the cloud can take time. Time you may not have as you are retreating across the galaxy. Not only do you need your data, but you need your software along with an operating system. That’s assuming you still know where the software is and have the serial numbers.

Clones to the rescue, instead of rebuilding a system you just restore an image of your system. That’s a bare-metal restore. You’ll stay on target and can be up and running in minutes or hours rather than days.

The key problem with a clone is that it backs up your system, flaws and all. If your computer was slow before restoring from a cloned backup, the clone is going to just as slow. If you have a virus or ransomware on your computer, your clone is most likely going to be infected as well. Sometimes you need to dump the garbage to return your computer to light speed. The only thing more annoying than Jar-Jar Binks is too many versions of Acrobat Reader on your hard drive. I reinstall my operating system from scratch every few years, so I don’t need a cloned backup.

Cloning a Hard Drive

An effective cloned backup strategy requires you to have a small army of drives. If you have one cloned backup and keep it next to your computer, it will have the same physical risks as your computer. You always need to keep at least one cloned backup offsite and one beside the computer. Alas, you are now a slave to your clones as you must now remember to swap out full clone drives and transport your clones offsite. If you forget, clones have no mercy. Putting all your faith in this system is disturbing.

I know my hate is strong regarding cloned backups, don’t get me wrong, clones are perfect when time is of the essence. Whether you’re base is Hoth, Naboo or just Cleveland, a clone is the quickest way to restore your data. There is another…

The Force Awakens: Harmony With The Cloud

Both cloning and cloud backups have their advantages. Unlike The Force, you don’t have to pick sides. You’ll love it. I know. It’s NOT a trap. I swear.

First, start with a great cloud backup service like Backblaze. They take your important data and keep it protected in the cloud automatically. Lando’s got you covered. An AT-AT could fall on your house and your data is protected in the cloud.

How to Clone A Hard Drive

Then consider a full clone of your system. First you’ll need a hard drive that’s big enough to hold your system. Hard drives are cheap these days, so that’s not a major cost. On the Mac, I recommend SuperDuper (free) or Carbon Copy Cloner ($40). Windows users can use Macruim Reflect Free, AOMEI Backupper (Free) or Acronis True Image ($29.99). Each of these programs can make an exact duplicate of your system onto another hard drive. The paid upgrades or versions of these programs add the ability to schedule a regular clone and make restores easier. For extra protection, make two clones and keep one off-site at all times.

When you take this blended approach you cover all your key bases. If your hard drive dies, you can choose a clean start and download your data from the cloud. If timing is critical you can restore off your clone. Should your clone fail or suffer the same fate as your computer, the cloud is your backup to your backup.

Evil forces are always at ready to attack your data, but with your clones and the cloud, you’re protected against blasters, light sabers, and even fully-operational Death Stars. The circle is now complete.

Dave Greenbaum
[Guest Blogger] Dave Greenbaum aka DoctorDave has a computer repair business in Lawrence, KS. When he’s not fixing computers or writing about them, he’s drinking either coffee or beer, and sometimes both.
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Category:  Backing Up
  • Dan

    I guess the thing that gets me with all the backblaze stuff, is that the BB backup seems fundamentally different than the clones….and maybe that’s your point. However, with none of my applications being backed up with Backblaze, I’m put in a world of hurt. In the event of a catastrophic HD failure (or fire, etc), getting up and running from a BB backup would mean that after getting the backblaze backup off the server, I’d have to manually restore each and every application before I would get things back to normal. I’m I right? Frankly, allowing backblaze to also store a copy of a bootable clone seems to be the best option. (Sorry I couldn’t include any Star Wars references in this comment!)

  • Discpad

    Hi Dave!

    Got a problem: Back in March after following your suggestion to speed up with an SSD using AOMEI Backupper 3.2, I used your article as a base for my own blog, as most hearing aid programming relies on SQL database access for HIMSA Noah; or other database when the programming software is in standalone mode (except for Widex). Here’s the article:

    “Four Simple Inexpensive & Free Steps To Speed Up Your Hearing Device Programming PC”
    The problem is AOMEI Backupper: Back in March I simply ran the installer from the website, not keeping a copy, and all was fine. However, today I went to download & run it on another PC, and all versions from both their own server and C|Net’s servers had corrupted digital signatures. Oops!

    [My late father’s laptop is so damn old, I don’t think the BIOS would even recognize an SSD: It’s a Toshiba M115 – S3094 which came loaded with XP (no SP!) and I got it updated to SP2; but neither the SP3 net installer or Windows Update would work. I took it straight to Win10 and breathed new life into it before donating it to charity.]

  • Keybounce

    I love how you compare Jar-Jar to Adobe. Between spreading the evil of flash, and it’s ever-present, long-lived tracking cookies, security holes that let things out of the sandbox, etc., it’s as potentially devastating as the dangerous force user known as Binks.

    (Is Jar-Jar a Sith Lord? He’s clearly a skilled force user. At least in Episode 1 he may have just been someone who was a trouble maker, who saw an opportunity to push for better things for Naboo. Consider his push for “Emergency Powers” for Palpatine as “the coalition from Naboo have taken over the Senate after the Senate did nothing to help Naboo”. But after the fall of the Jedi? Narrative structure of episodes 1 and 2 would clearly show that he was supposed to be the real hidden badguy revealed in episode 3, but the fan backlash was worse than Han Solo’s 12 parsec comment.)

  • Skip Schneider

    I am totally paperless. EVERYTHING is digital. Photos, documents, warrantees, etc.
    I use SuperDuper to clone my iMac HD to an exact replacement external drive. That way, if my internal drive has a hard failure, I merely install the clone. ( I also have a “Disaster Replacement Tool Kit” w/instructions to do so.) No waiting for a replacement drive. I have Backblaze in case the house burns down.

    • von Levi

      When you say it’s an “external drive” I’m guessing you mean it’s an internal SATA drive that’s sitting outside of the computer (because you cannot install an internal drive into a computer — just boot to it)?

      • Skip Schneider

        You are guessing correctly. It’s an exact replacement iMac SATA drive in an external drive case, which is cloned each month using SuperDuper. Should be plug-n-Play.

        • SuperDuper is worth it and does the job very well. Speaking from experience here after a hard drive failure and later a system board failure.

        • Milk Manson

          Have you ever opened up an iMac? There’s nothing plug-n-play about it.

          • Skip Schneider

            No, but I DID stay at a Holiday Inn Express. :-D.
            Seriously though, I’m aware of the difficulties involved. That’s why I have all of the tools and step-by-step instructions on how to do it from IFixIt, a great resource, in what I call my “Disaster Preparedness Kit”. It should only take me a couple of hours to install the cloned drive, and since I re-clone each month, I won’t be missing much data… which I can download from BackBlaze if needed. IFixIt makes it relatively easy, even for a novice, but 11 years as a Navy Electronic Technician doesn’t hurt either.

            I meant “Plug and Play” in that I won’t need to create a fresh OS X install and re-install all of the programs I have. Super Duper makes the clone bootable, so it should be”Plug and Play”, relatively speaking.

            I am TOTALLY paperless, and being w/o my computer for more than a couple of days would be uncomfortable, at best. This way, I’m down a couple of hours.

          • Milk Manson

            It still sounds like a lot of trouble for what it gets you. Not that I’m a huge fan of software raid, but wouldn’t that give you the same coverage with essentially no downtime?

          • von Levi

            Because he already has the replacement drive in hand (he doesn’t have to go out and buy one), and because it’s a clone he can immediately boot up to it, his down time is pretty much limited to how long it takes to open the computer, pull out to the dead drive, and put in the new one.

            And as he notes, blank drives don’t come with OS X — you have to install that before you can begin the restore process if doing a typical restore.

          • Skip Schneider

            I don’t see it that way. I start SuperDuper on my way to bed 1x/month. Turn off the drive in the morning. Software RAID also impinges on my poor old Late ’09 iMac processor. (I’m beginning to become impatient with the machine as it is, but can’t justify upgrading yet.)
            I’m also not running the backup drive 24/7. Also, a software raid would not protect me from viruses and such.

          • Skip Schneider

            Not without sacrificing processor bandwidth and running the backup disk 24/7, which is not in my playbook. I can boot from the clone instantly, and replace the drive at my leisure. I’ve seen RAID fail too, but they DO have a place in business operation where time is money. All depends on mission statement. For me, with my equipment, this seems the best fit.

            That being said, when I upgrade to the latest whiz-bang my wallet can afford, I’ll re-evaluate the options.

          • von Levi

            Why clone only monthly instead of daily? With programs like Carbon Copy Cloner only modified files are copied after the initial clone so it’s not like you’re copying hundreds of gigabytes each time.

          • von Levi

            Just as a point of fact, if you restored from Time Machine you would have to install OS X on the blank drive, but you would not have to re-install any programs. Time Machine restores everything, including applications. It leaves you exactly the way you were before the crash. A cloned drive does this too, of course, but for most people it’s probably easier to have a Time Machine backup plan rather than one that involves cloning.

          • Skip Schneider

            You’re right about the applications thing. But, since I would have to replace the HD anyway, my method doesn’t require re-install of OS X. When I set my system up (Leopard?) TM wasn’t as comprehensive as it is today.

            Call me old fashioned, but I still don’t trust Time Machine. I hear Time Machine does not transfer ALL custom settings I may have made. The cursory search I’ve done on this subject has shown me not all people are happy w/TM as a hard drive failure recovery tool. Not worth the risk, for me.

            All things considered, Cloning and Backblaze, for me at least, seems the best method to meet my simple needs.

          • von Levi

            Having done a full restore with Time Machine I can say it works flawlessly (HD died; it was still under warranty; I got a same day replacement and installation at the Apple store; the restore took about two hours and it was like nothing had ever happened).

            The only downside to TM is that if you restore or migrate to a drive that doesn’t have OS X on it, you have to install it first (obviously), and if you don’t have an optical drive with an old version of OS X on DVD, creating a boot drive on a USB flash drive is way more complicated than it should be (Apple should just ship a USB flash boot drive with computers or at the very least sell them for the cost of the flash drive). Cloning is a lot easier to do and takes less time.

            But having also installed a cloned drive, it’s worth noting that this process is not without its oddities (I upgraded the drive in my MacBook to a SSD through cloning). Your applications know that you’ve switched drives and some, including MS Office, require you to re-enter the authorization key code. There were some issues with Backblaze; I had to consult its help guide to get it to work with the new drive.

  • Martin

    SuperDuper! isn’t exactly free. It costs $28 US if you want to enable a lot of useful features.

  • Chris Miller

    Is there a Windows cloning solution that clones a drive as a single “file” onto another drive on the same system, such that this file can then be backed up to the cloud via normal BackBlaze? Then after catastrophic failure BackBlaze’s restore could get the WHOLE system back.

    • von Levi

      Cloning doesn’t work like that. What you’re asking for is basically doing a Time Machine backup off site (obviously Time Machine isn’t a cloning process, but it would get you to your goal for a full restore).

      • Milk Manson

        I’m pretty sure cloning does work like that (P2V).

        • von Levi

          No, you’re thinking of imaging (how programs like Time Machine work). Cloning creates a bit-for-bit copy of your hard drive. That’s how you’re able to immediately boot up to a cloned hard drive — there’s no restore process to run.

          • Milk Manson

            No, I was thinking of cloning. I just wasn’t thinking of a hard drive, which after reading his question again he was pretty dang specific about… people still do that?

          • Chris Miller

            I didn’t mean to start a debate between the definitions of cloning and imaging. And Time Machine is not in the picture here because I’m on Windows, not Mac. I just want to solve this problem: I have countless hours invested in software installation, desktop customization, configuration, etc. If that all goes to hell, Backblaze won’t give it back to me. I want something that will, but I want to leverage BackBlaze to save “that backup thing” in the cloud, whatever “that backup thing” is, i.e some sort of file that is an image of the current state of my operating system, program files, registry, etc. (n.b. my Windows is on 512GB C: and all data on 4TB D:, so if I could image C: as a file on D: I’d be all set!)

          • Dan

            This is exactly what I’m wanting too. Where can we store ‘that backup thing’? Backblaze will not upload timemachine-like files. So what it appears to be good for is mostly updated bulk storage of connected drives (if you remove a drive, it deletes it’s contents after 30 days). Have you found a solution?

    • Milk Manson

      VMware vCenter Converter, symantec system recovery, MS SysInternals disk2vhd tool, MS virtual server migration toolkit, Oracle virtual box something or another (I forget), etc, etc.

  • von Levi

    Here’s my process:

    1. Backup my Mac’s HD with Time Machine to an external HD stored in my house.
    2. Backup my Mac HD to Backblaze.
    3. I store my digital photography on an external drive; that drive is cloned daily.
    4. The photo drive is also backed up to Backblaze (thank god for unlimited storage space!).

    I’ve started ripping my 1,500 disc CD collection to an external drive; I plan to do back it up with a cloned drive and Backblaze.

  • Dave, thanks for breaking this down in an entertaining way!