How an Organization Can Safely Copy Hard Drives

Businesses and organizations occasionally need to copy their hard disk drives, and there are probably dozens, if not hundreds of reasons why an organization would want to copy one or more hard disk drives.  Time is often an important issue – you want to get the drives copied, and the cloned drives in use as soon as possible.  But, aside from speed, there are risks involved in making copies.  In this blog, I’ll look at some of the reasons organizations need to copy their drives, and will look at a tool that helps to simplify the process.

Reasons businesses copy Hard Drives

There are a number of obvious reasons why you would want to copy a hard drive.

Replacing a failing hard drive

Perhaps one of the first is that a hard drive is dying, and you want to get the data off of it before it fails.  If the drive is a boot drive – the one that starts your computer when you turn it on, you’ll want to copy the entire drive image, including the boot information, so that a replacement drive can be installed in your computer and the computer will start and run your system.

With that flaky drive in your computer, continuing to use the drive is asking for trouble.  Trying to run a program to make an exact copy of the drive while the drive is being used to run the copy software can tie up the computer and could make the drive fail.  Although software that can make a full copy of a drive while the drive is on the computer may be available, if the copy software runs into a bad sector, it will probably try multiple times to read the bad sector, putting extra stress on the already weak hard drive.  A safer bet would be to remove the bad drive and use an external hard drive duplicator, which can be set to skip bad areas on the source disk.

Upgrading a hard drive

A more frequent reason for many users is a drive upgrade.  Imagine, for example, that your organization’s standard drive size is 500 GB.  These drives are already old, and may be nearing a time when their ongoing reliability may become questionable.  Replacing that old 500 GB hard drive with a new 1.5 or 2 TB drive (3-4 times the size of the source) can provide many benefits.  The first is that the new drive should give a few years of extra life to the old computer that the 500 GB drive resides in.  Second, after expanding the new drive’s partitions, there will be a lot of available space for data storage.

Whether or not you add more data to the new drive, the drive will perform better than the 500 GB drive, because there will be more ‘headroom’ for the data on the drive.  For example, consider a 500 GB drive with 400 GB of data.  Defragmenting the drive will take a considerable amount of time because there isn’t much room to put temporary files during defragmentation.  Defragmenting a 2TB drive with only 500 GB of data should go quite rapidly because the defragmentation program would have little trouble finding a place to move data temporarily while removing drive fragmentation.

While such drive upgrades can be done by installing the new drive into the old computer and copying files, the process can take a lot of time and would tie up the computer while the copy is being made.  Using an external drive duplicator that can make an exact copy of a hard drive without requiring connection to a computer would perform the complete copy more quickly than doing this under computer control.  Further, the copy is exact, including everything needed to boot to the new drive (if you copy a bootable drive).  (Note that if you use the copied drive to boot the computer, you may not be able to enlarge the boot partition while also running the operating system – you may need to connect to the new drive over USB, or to use a partition resizing utility to expand the size of the new drive partition.  The options for expanding the partition size will be covered in a future blog.)

Organization-wide Upgrades, New System Configuration

In many organizations, upgrading the computers of workgroups, or company-wide, can be done in a number of ways.  An image can be created, and propagated to computers when they next log on to the network.  If the images are large, the upgrades can take many hours to complete.  If there are many computers in an organization, the rollout of upgrades could mean significant down time while the upgrades are being transferred over the network and the upgrade performed.

In many cases, it may be more efficient to create a hard drive image that contains the operating system, all relevant applications, and other files.  The disk is then cloned and, over a long night or weekend, techs replace the drive in the target workstations with the new drive.   Some IT specialists recommend performing major upgrades by using a disk image and installing copies of the drives to user computers, because it gives the IT department a base set of applications to support, and it removes many of the hassles older drives develop.

In all of the scenarios above, the use of a standalone device that can automatically copy from a source drive to a target drive can save time, while ensuring that exact copies are being made.  If your plans are to do more than just copying a single drive, use of a duplicator that can copy one drive at a time, or duplicators that can copy as many as 10 drives at once, will speed the process considerably, while assuring you that you have made exact copies of an entire drive, or copies of all of a drive’s data.

Aleratec’s business class Hard Drive Duplicators

Aleratec offers a range of business class duplicators that are designed to meet the needs of Prosumers, businesses, and organizations.  From the Aleratec 1:1 HDD Cruiser Hard Disk Drive Duplicator and Sanitizer (Model 350103) to the Aleratec 1:5 HDD Cruiser Hard Disk Drive Duplicator and Sanitizer (Model 350104) all the way up to the 1:11 Aleratec HDD Copy Cruiser 11 HDD Duplicator and 12 HDD Sanitizer (Model 350109), Aleratec provides business class duplication and sanitizing devices that can duplicate up to 11 Hard Disk Drives at once.

In the next part of this ‘How To’, I’ll look a bit at what’s involved in creating a Source drive, and will also go through some of the simple steps required to copy a hard disk drive, and look at some of the options that the Aleratec Hard Disk duplicators offer.

The title of this blog included the word ‘safe’—in a future installment, I’ll get further into what this means – and how you can get it.

Mark Brownstein is a technology journalist and technology consultant who specializes in explaining and interpreting new technologies, and clarifying how to integrate these new products into current systems. He has been Editor-In-Chief at computer technology and networking publications, has held significant editorial positions at major technology magazines, and is a frequent contributor to various technology magazines. He has written seven books. He is Microsoft Certified, and spends much of his time testing hardware and software products, running his own networks, and learning the best ways to get computer systems running and to keep them running.

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