Saturday, August 22, 2009

CloneZilla: More than a Ghost of a Chance

School started for the teachers at my school last Wednesday, so no code for me. :( However, there has been an up side to it all. To make a long story short, I get to teach some junior high and high school computer classes and had a need to image a total of 10 laptops. In the past, I used Norton Ghost 12 and recently upgraded to 2003. Both were provided by my school. Never again, however. While I was in the middle of waiting for a machine to be imaged, I did a little looking around Wikipedia for alternative software, having never heard of any alternatives or bothered to look for any. There is a wonderful alternative: CloneZilla.

What is CloneZilla, you ask? It is a Linux-based Live CD project which does the same basic stuff has Norton Ghost 2003 (and a lot that it doesn't), but is free software and -- as far as I can tell -- faster, too. Both allow you to back up your machine to one big file and then clone others from that file. CloneZilla, however, is quite a bit more technical than Ghost, which tries to market itself as both a backup solution for the regular user and a sysadmin's imaging tool. With that said, CZ is quite technical, and there were quite a few options that I had no clue what they were for. It was a wise idea for those behind the project to incorporate both a beginner and an advanced mode. The latter is well-named!

Some of the other things that I really thought were nice to have: backup can be done via SSH, NFS, or Windows file sharing (Samba) or to a local disk. Quite literally, you could clone a machine from the Live CD and a flash drive! Maybe I'm just really happy because Ghost 12 leaves you using PC-DOS and 2003 sticks you with the Vista pre-install environment. While for different reasons, they're both junk. It took 2003 probably a good 5 minutes to boot and the CZ disc about 2. Multiply that by 10 machines and you have something significant.

One thing I did not test out was the server version of CloneZilla. It comes as a part of Diskless Remote Boot Linux and requires loading a machine with Linux to act as a server to handle booting over the network. If the testimonies on the project's website are any measure, not having to buy the expensive enterprise version of Ghost coupled with the speed of cloning up to 100 machines over the network at the same time is nothing short of phenomenal.

This is not to say that working with CloneZilla is all wine and roses. I did run into one major problem with my first attempt. The first image I created with it was done over the network to a disk I was sharing from Windows XP. The image had somehow gotten corrupted when it was created. However, I made a new one to a USB hard drive I had lying around and it was all fixed from there on.

I can't stand Norton's antivirus package, but Ghost is a solid product. CloneZilla feels like it's based on Linux, full of technical terms and a slew of unfamiliar options. Guess what? When it comes to price, speed, and hardware compatibility, Norton seems to lack the spirit.

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