What Is Hard Drive Cloning (+How to Do It for Free)

Zack Busch
Zack Busch  |  January 2, 2019

Have you ever needed to set up laptops for all 150 people your company just hired, with less than two weeks to do it? 

Maybe you’ve needed to carry out broad-scale server drive replacements as a part of infrastructure upgrades. Or, perhaps you’ve had a POS (point of sale) hard drive crash in the middle of a rush.

As different as these situations seem, they are quite similar in a number of ways: They are annoying and time-consuming, and have the potential to set back you or your business if not taken care of quickly and efficiently. Thankfully, in the realm of backup software, hard drive cloning software is there to pick up the slack in situations like these.

What Is Hard Drive Cloning?

Hard drive cloning software — known also as disk cloning or drive cloning software — is a subset of backup software designed for duplicating all configurations of one hard drive to another. Cloning typically starts with a source drive or file called an image, and every clone is a duplicate of that image.

The base image, or gold image, should be the bare minimum for a device to function: Every configuration, from installed applications to security settings, should be exactly what the end user or server needs to start working.

Gold images, and drive cloning software as a whole, are fantastic for implementing broad-scale new configurations or setting up new servers in a server farm. They also provide a great baseline configuration for device restoration, should a hard drive fail.

Drive Cloning vs. General Backup

While hard drive cloning software is a type of backup software, there are some notable distinguishing benefits of each type. File recovery software or server backup software tend to be most beneficial when you want continuous file backups. Offering weekly, daily, or even hourly backup intervals, continuous or periodic backups are the best option for creating backup copies of all your important files or drives that you work with on a daily basis.

Generic backup software also tends to allow incremental backups. It detects changes between the most recent backup and the current drive state and backs up only what has changed. This is a massive time saver. Anyone who’s ever sat through a full drive backup can tell you just how long it can take to continuously, non-incrementally back up an entire hard drive: It’s an hours-long process, every time.

Hard drive cloning software, on the other hand, excels in creating setup or restoration points. Drive images can be configured with whatever operating system (OS), software, and security configurations you need for setting up or restoring multiple computers, servers, or devices. Many businesses use cloning software specifically for this purpose, as it makes setting up computers for new hires a breeze. Simply clone the image drive to the computer’s hard drive, update user settings to those of the new hire, and hand the computer over, ready to use. Schools and universities also benefit from drive cloning software in setting up and maintaining computer labs, since computer configurations tend to be the same, while student data is usually stored in the cloud.

Both file backup software and hard drive cloning software are beneficial for backing up entire drives if you need to recover a system. General backup software tends to be more beneficial for drives that will change significantly between backups, but for drives that will have relatively few changes between backups (e.g., POS systems that experience few or no changes at an operational level), hard drive cloning software is more valuable.

How to Clone a Hard Drive for Free

Many hard drive cloning solutions are require a subscription to a SaaS product, or an expensive on-premise download. This video from Michael MDJ, a YouTube personality creating tech tutorials, helps demonstrate how to clone a hard drive using free tools.

Benefits of Hard Drive Cloning Software

Using hard drive cloning software can benefit businesses greatly by saving time during setup, expansion and upgrades. Because you can set up drive images with whatever base configurations your business needs, implementing new devices is as simple as cloning the image to a new drive and any necessary light customizations.

It should be noted that this style of bulk configuration tends to be more beneficial for large or growing companies than small ones. Large and growing companies tend to perform heavy onboarding, substantial hardware expansions, and frequent drive replacements or upgrades, all of which are prime beneficiaries of drive cloning.

Drive cloning software can also save companies money, both in work hours and protection from potential loss. Drive downtime can be costly in terms of slowing or stopping profitable functions, whether the result is an associate who no longer has access to their local documents, a data server that’s no longer available to manage a business’ workload, or a register that's down in a restaurant.

Beyond that, replacing and entirely reconfiguring a hard drive can be costly because of the work hours needed to configure and install a drive from scratch. Hard drive cloning software facilitates quick, easy drive configuration — manageable by one or a few analysts — that can be standardized to your company’s needs. The result is faster turnaround times, less money lost, and less customer unhappiness.

Hard Drive Cloning Software Features

While there is a variety of hard drive cloning software available, there are some core functionalities that should exist in any cloning software you’re looking for. 

 

Back up hidden and uneditable files

Most critical system files cannot be edited or even seen from within the OS itself. To have an effective drive clone, the cloning software has to be able to both access and create an exact copy of those usually inaccessible files.

Uninterrupted cloning

Backups and cloning can be concerning because we don’t want our day-to-day workflow interrupted. Thankfully, disk cloning software allows you to clone a drive while that drive is actively in use. No more need to worry about disrupted workflow.

Bare-metal deployment

Defined as the ability to install straight onto a computer or server’s hardware, bare-metal deployment is a fundamental feature of hard drive cloning software. Most cloning software now allows cloning a drive to a specific drive partition or other storage media. This enables users to partition a hard drive into multiple clone images if needed.

Automated installation

When there are numerous drives to image, multitasking without worry can be pretty important. Automated drive cloning software allows users to plug in a drive, select the desired image, and run the configuration without the need to monitor every step of the installation process.

One image, several drives

Many disk cloning applications now have the ability to clone your company’s gold image to several drives at once. This feature is a huge time saver for those who need to clone numerous drives as a part of their project.

Keep in mind, though, that software licenses are an important consideration when cloning. While hard drive cloning allows you to clone all file information — including licenses — from one drive to another, some software might look for the hard drive’s unique serial number as an identifier for validating the software license. If you’re concerned about what might happen to a software license during the cloning process, reach out to your software provider for assistance.

Remote access and maintenance

Servers and cloud storage are regular and integral parts of day-to-day business. Hard drive cloning software allows you to view and access your drive images remotely, letting you perform maintenance, verify configurations, and download images as needed.

Hard Drive Cloning and File Backup in Tandem

Hard drive cloning software should definitely be used in conjunction with general backup software since their functionalities complement each other incredibly well. While drive cloning software covers your static drive and system configurations, backup software dynamically covers changes made in everyday use. Pairing these two types of applications ensures that every part of your day-to-day computing needs are recoverable if the worst-case scenario occurs.

Consider using hard drive cloning software as an instrument to standardize the baseline configurations for your company’s computers and servers. Having one or several gold images for different devices (servers, laptops, etc.) will save time in both the setup and recovery processes. Once a gold image is set, file or server backup software can take over with incremental, recoverable backups of user information and active data.

Ready to learn more? Discover the best free backup software in 2019.

Zack Busch
Author

Zack Busch

Zack is a Research Specialist who made the jump to the research realm after three years in IT support services. He studied mathematics and physics at Truman State University. Zack enjoys video gaming, D&D, movies, and trading card games, and he spends a lot of quality time with his lady, dog, and two cats.