Hard disk imaging is one of several backup and restore options you have to create a ‘backup’ of sorts, of your hard disk data. Imaging, and regular backups, allows you to restore data which has been corrupted or erased from your computer due to a catastrophic occurrence. So, what is a disk image file?
Wikipedia describes a ‘disk image‘ as, “…a single file or storage device containing the complete contents and structure representing a data storage medium or device, such as a hard drive, tape drives, floppy disk, CD/DVD/BD and USB flash drive…A disk image is usually created by creating a complete sector-by-sector copy of the source medium and thereby perfectly replicating the structure and contents of a storage device.”
Purpose of Disk Imaging
Traditional backup of data permits you the flexibility to perform complex backups based upon the type of data you wish to store. Doing so, however, leaves all other data and programs you have not periodically backed up exposed to that situation that there may be a catastrophic hard drive failure. Disk imaging software was developed to allow you to create a “snapshot” of your entire disk. This would then provide you the ability to completely restore your computer’s data onto a new hard drive without losing anything.
And just note, catastrophic occurrences can come in many flavors of hard disk failure. Now it is possible to still recover data from a disk that has been mechanically damaged, however, if it is an event such as fire that destroys your hard disk, your data is permanently lost. There is also those times were you wish to simply upgrade your hard disk and having an image of your desk what allow you to transfer all your programs data and settings to the new hard drive before your old hard drive actually fails.
Disk Imaging Limitations
Now there are some limited drawbacks to utilizing only this type of backup method. If you are like me, it may be common to change computer program settings or to overwrite data on a pretty frequent basis. This could include transferring in new pictures from your camera or smart phone, or just about any new data you would have transferred to your computer may not be backed up since the last image of your drive was made.
So just to be clear, disk imaging is not a be-all to end all backup utility, it is still only a monolithic backup approach, meaning everything’s backup or nothing is backed up. Disk imaging is again, a “snapshot” of a particular volume of data on a hard drive.
The traditional method of backing up which allows you to back up any changes you have made to a pre-configured set of applications or data is to do an incremental backup. The more frequent you set this type of backup to be executed, the more up-to-date your backup data will be. The process that I utilize is twofold; i.e. create a periodic image, once per month, then I have ongoing backup of all my data and other related application files that I know will be updated frequently since the last disk image.
If this approach does not seem possible for you then the question arises, when does disk imaging make sense? The answer to that is certainly with regards to business. For many medium to large corporations, images are utilized in the event of building new computers. This process allows fast implementation of free-configured system set up, settings, and applications that are basic to every employee.
Disk Imaging Software
As with any PC software, not all imaging programs are made equal. For instance, many imaging programs are capable of creating an image, however, should you go to load the image onto a new hard drive you find that the data is corrupted. What you need to keep in mind is the overall features of the software include the ability to not only create an image, but to scan the image upon creation to make sure that it is intact.