A (Non) Profitable Journey – Part 4

Things continue apace at Swan Lake.  I’ve been fooling around with various things and I’m slowly rolling in the changes that I and they want to see in place.  It’s a slow process as I have to grab time to do things where and how I can but things are rolling forward and that is good!

In this short post  I want to talk about two tools that  I have been using at Swan Lake that are free and really quite useful.

The first tool is Altaro Backup for Hyper-V or, as it is now called, Altaro VM Backup.  I got Swan Lake onto the free version of Altaro as part of my revamp of their server platform and, for a free product, I’m pretty pleased with how it works.  I have Altaro installed on the main Hyper-V host and it backs up to an SMB share off another server.  In turn, the contents of the SMB share are copied out once per week to a series of USB drives and those are stored off site.

The free version of Altaro allows you to back up  two VM’s on a given host with no license cost.  You cannot restore individual files with the free version but you can back up  and restore the full VM with very little effort.  In fact, I tested Altaro recovery at my house using an old PC that I loaded with a demo copy of Server 2012 R2.  Once that was loaded I installed the free Altaro software, plugged in one of the Swan Lake USB drives, scanned the drive with Altaro then restored one of the VM’s to the PC.  The process was quick and very painless and I had the restored VM up and running within minutes of running the restore.  The Altaro GUI is pretty intuitive and they don’t “clog things up” with options that you don’t need.  For Swan Lake, they know that they can recover systems now with very little effort and that there is a way for them to survive “system disasters”.  In the near future they will be buying full Altaro licensing so that they have a complete and fully rounded backup solution in place but, for now, the full VM recovery abilities of the free Altaro product are a godsend.

If you are a non-profit and if you run in a virtualized world you could do far worse than to rely on the free version of Altaro VM Backup to ensure your data and systems are safe.  Highly recommended.

The second tool is Clonezilla.  Frankly, I’m getting a bit of a softspot for this utility as I play around with it and discover more of its abilities.  We’ve been trying to clean up and standardize things on the workstations at Swan Lake.  For now, all systems run (and will continue to run) Win7 Professional.  All the systems are running OEM Win7 so I decided to create a “generic” Win7 image and then use Clonezilla to clone the image to machines as we roll through the machine cleanup process.  Anything that can save time in the process is welcome and, so far, I’ve cloned three workstations using my image and have not run into any issues.  I don’t mind having to add a driver or two manually to a machine after it has been cloned as that process is so much shorter than doing the Windows patch and update dance on every single machine.

I’m not trying to say that Clonezilla is a panacea but, for a free tool, it is solid and it definitely is a time saver if used correctly.  Spending some time with the tool and then making a few images for deployment could save you  a lot of time overall.  One thing that I am really “hot” on is the ability to quickly refresh a machine once the decision is made that a refresh (reload) is required.  Too many techs spend too much time trying to figure out what went wrong and how to clean up a given machine when, to be blunt, you should just shoot the machine in the head.  Cleanup is a mugs game, just refresh the wretched thing and be done with it.  Clonezilla (and its kin) make refreshing a much more viable option.  Also highly recommended.