Disk cloning software rose to prominence as an alternate way to back up and restore hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid state devices (SSDs). If the drive crashes or fails, the clone gives you fast access to everything on it as it is a duplicate of the original. It includes the data, applications, system software and related files. Instead of having to reinstall everything from scratch, it is all provided rapidly by the clone.
Key Disk Cloning Use Cases
There are various approaches and use cases for cloning. Sometimes the clone resides within the same PC, server, or laptop. A safer way is to have the clone reside on an external device or on another server. That offers peace of mind in the event of a disaster, theft of device, or other event.
Clones serve a valuable role, too, when you are moving from one device to another. Shifting from a PC to a laptop (or onto a new laptop) is simplified by just migrating the clone onto the new hardware platform. Similarly, when a user is moving from HDDs to SSDs within the same laptop, cloning makes the changeover swift and relatively painless.
The main use cases for cloning are:
- Reactivation and recovery of drives
- Preparation for a new computer installation
- System backup and recovery
- Hard drive or SSD upgrade
In the last use case, a common reason is when the free space is running out on a hard drive. Clones come in handy when adding a new, larger hard drive and transferring all data, applications, and the operating system.
How to Select Cloning Software
There are a wide range of disk cloning tools out there. They each create an exact, uncompressed replica of a drive. It’s a smart idea to keep an updated clone available for data security protection as part of a full backup and disaster recovery (DR) plan.
Tools vary from consumer or individual device only, to business-class products that can address servers and multiple users. Here are some key points to consider in product evaluation:
- Consumer vs. Enterprise: Consumer tools may work fine for one laptop or one PC. The fact that it is a consumer tool does not necessarily mean that it lacks features. Some are quite sophisticated. But anyone working in a business setting with multiple users is advised to pick a platform that works well for many uses and can be centrally managed.
- Sector-level cloning: This feature copies everything sector by sector after which the new drive will be identical to the old one down to the sector level. This is important in those cases where complete disk integrity is called for i.e. all sectors are copied exactly, not just the files.
- Platform support: Businesses should pay attention to the type of servers supported. For Windows users, check out which versions of Windows Server are supported. For other platforms such as Red Hat, make the sure the versions fit with what you are running.
- Package Capabilities: Disk cloning on its own may be enough. But many vendors package if with backup software, disk cleanup tools, DR, imaging, and a variety of other features. Choose the option that best fits your needs.
Top Disk Cloning Tools
Enterprise Storage Forum evaluated various tools based on feature set and overall capabilities. Here are our top choices, in no particular order:
- Acronis Disk Director
- Kace Systems Deployment Appliance
- Macrium Reflect
- EaseUS Disk Copy
- Paragon Hard Disk Manager
- Symantec Ghost Solution Suite
- AOMEI Backupper
Acronis Disk Director is available in Home or Business versions. Disk Director is also part of Acronis True Image 2021, which provides added features. The company prefers to focus on True Image as most buyers choose the entire suite. When compared to regular backup software, the biggest benefit of Disk Director is that it provides a complete image of a computer at a single point in time. Acronis Disk Director makes it easy to create hard disk partitions, and resize, move or merge partitions without risk of data loss. It also complements Acronis data backup solutions.
- Can use either the cloning feature under Acronis bootable media or active cloning to clone disks even when using the OS (without stopping the operating system and restarting it)
- Windows and macOS
- Cloning exclusions (if you don’t need to migrate some files/folders)
- Cloning of disks and partition
- Manual resizing of partitions that can be selected from the list of partitions on the destination disk.
Kace Systems Deployment Appliance from Quest provides automated systems and disk imaging/cloning. It can automate the deployment of configuration files, user states, drivers and applications, as well as provision to onsite or remote endpoints. It offers a way to execute large-scale systems deployment across multiple remote sites.
- Centralized management to streamline large-scale system imaging operation and application deployments to remote sites from any location
- Build and schedule complex deployments
- The task engine controls the order of deployment tasks, handles reboots, and ensure that the system is updated in real time
- Automated configuration of RAID and BIOS, installations of applications and deployment of scripts
- Recovers systems using native Windows and Mac tools, including native disk imaging software.
Macrium provides a range of home and business products, including disk cloning. Macrium Reflect includes Rapid Delta Clone (RDC), Rapid Delta Restore, backup, and more. RDC works as follows: The NTFS file system resident on the clone source is compared with file system on the target disk. The two file systems are first verified that they originated from the same format command and then the target NTFS file system structures are analyzed for differences. All the NTFS file system structures are copied to the target disk and any that do not exist or have been modified on the target disk cause the data records for each NTFS file or object to be copied as well.
- Rapid Delta Restore isn’t dependent on VSS so a delta restore can be perform to any disk that has a previous copy of the imaged file system no matter its current state
- Reflect 8, the latest major update, includes Automatic Partition Sizing to restore to a disk of a different size
- Free, home, standalone business, server, and site versions are available
- Macrium Reflect Server Plus includes backup of Microsoft Exchange email, and SQL databases
- Instant virtual booting of backup images, and instantly create, start, and manage Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines
- All current Windows Server platforms supported
- Protect backups from ransomware with Macrium Image Guardian
Clonezilla is a free, open-source partition and disk imaging/cloning application that provides system deployment and bare metal backup and recovery. Available in single machine and multiple machine versions, it saves and restores used blocks on the hard disk to increase cloning efficiency.
- Can clone up to 40 computers simultaneously
- Available in individual, small server and live server editions
- Supports many file systems including FAT, NTFS. Mac, VMware file systems, and most open source file systems
- Disk partitioning
- Supports image restoration to multiple local devices
- Images can be encrypted using AES-256 encryption
EaseUS Disk Copy software can clone hard drives regardless of operating system, file system, and partition scheme. It can be used for copying, cloning, or upgrading a small hard drive to a new larger drive. It copies anything from the old hard drive, including the deleted, lost files and inaccessible data. It is used for disk cloning, having a backup copy near to hand, and for upgrading to SSDs.
- The sector-by-sector method assures the copy is 100% identical to the original
- Easy to use, suitable for many beginners
- Cloning and backup are available with EaseUS Todo Backup
- Various home and business versions are available
- Schedule automated backup tasks upon time or event – set it and forget it
- For unexpected system failure, users can create a WinPE/Linux bootable disk to avoid disruptions. Restart the system from the bootable backup drive
Paragon offers home and busines versions of Hard Disk Manager. The business version is designed for multiple users to facilitate IT management from deployment to disposal of the hardware. It offers backup, cloning, and business continuity and works across heterogeneous systems in hybrid environments.
- Clone or back up an entire system, volumes and files, scheduled backup, incremental and differential imaging, backup encryption and compression, backup data excludes, pre-/post backup scripts, pVHD, VHD, VHDX, VMDK containers support
- Restore an entire system or individual volumes
- Pre-mounted network connection capabilities during setup helps to prepare bootable (uEFI and BIOS compatible) Windows PE or Linux USB sticks or ISO images to use the product utilities on bare metal machines or when OS is down
- Create, format, delete/undelete, hide/unhide, active/inactive, assign/remove drive letter, change volume label, file system conversion (FAT to NTFS, NTFS to FAT, HFS to NTFS, NTFS to HFS), and file system integrity check
- Advanced partitioning to split, merge, expand, redistribute free space, change cluster size, convert to logical/primary, edit sectors, convert to MBR/GPT, change primary slots and serial number, and test surface
- Data wiping
Broadcom picked up this and many other enterprise security and data protection products from its acquisition of Symantec in 2019. The Symantec Ghost Solution Suite (GSS) is a way to deploy and manage desktops, laptops, tablets, and servers from one console. It enables IT to migrate operating systems, inventory machines, deploy software, and perform custom configurations across multiple hardware platforms and OS types including Windows, Mac, and Linux.
- GSS provides a single solution for deploying desktops, laptops, tablets, servers, and thin clients
- Works across heterogeneous operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and Linux
- Simplifies image management and cloning, and reduces the number of images needed for deployment
- Inventory and software delivery functions
- Ability to group machines based on application versions
AOMEI Backupper backup and recovery software spans backing up of files, folders, hard disk drives, partitions, dynamic volumes, applications and system drives, as well as restoration in the event of data loss. It includes a disk imaging/cloning tool which can be used to create an exact image of your entire hard disk drive and operating system, and to migrate to another hard drive if desired, for Windows PCs and Windows Server.
- Version ranging from free to professional, server, and site
- Clone disks, dynamic disk volumes, system cloning and migration, command line and partition cloning
- Integrated backup, restore, and cloning
- Designed for Windows 10, 8, 8.1, 7, XP, Vista, Windows Server 2003, 2008 (R2), 2012 (R2), 2016, 2019 and Windows Small Business Server 2011.