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Bare Metal Backup - Disk Imaging
Disk imaging is often described as a "bare metal backup"
because it backs up physical disks at the volume level. In other
words, a true disk image is an exact copy of an entire physical
disk or disk partition.
In its simplest form a disk imaging program creates a bit identical
copy of a drive which is made by dumping raw data byte by byte,
sector by sector from the given disk into an image file. Early disk
imaging programs and image formats had a lot of limitations. Because
they copied the raw blocks of data from the disk "uninterpreted"
even the unused area or white space was backed up too. This led
to very large image files even if the drives or partitions only
contained a small amount of data. Copying every sector of a disk
in this way worked quite well for "disk cloning" where
everything was being moved to a replacement drive, or was being
multi-cast to several computer systems with identical hardware and
configurations, but it was not really a very practical solution
for regular backup of a system.
Fortunately, disk imaging technologies have been developed that
eliminate many of the limitations faced by early adopters of the
technology. Most modern disk imaging programs have the ability to
interpret the data being copied and remove or compress the empty
blocks on a disk which leads to much smaller image files. The majority
of programs also create compressed image formats that can be mounted
and explored making it possible to retrieve individual files. Also
the creation of successive incremental1 or differential2 backups
is often supported, which further reduces the demands on storage.
Other techniques have been developed that allow file-level operations
such as file type filtering, such as the ability to exclude the
large and non-essential pagefile.sys and hiberfil.sys from the image,
and the ability to image a drive or partition while it is currently
New technologies aside, imaging programs generally still have
the ability to do the "old-fashioned" low-level raw copies
of a disk which has its advantages. Full bit identical images retain
deleted files or lost partitions that have not yet been over-written.
All file, file-system, and partition attributes are preserved. Bit
identical images facilitate the ability to restore files and partitions
to the exact same sectors as the originals. This can prevent such
problems as partition misalignment which can cause problems for
certain operating systems.3 Since these tools can still handle un-decipherable
raw data they can be used to backup any disk even if contains a
foreign file system, an unknown operating system, or an encrypted
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