Easy OS drive cloning for Blades with Compact Flash

If you’ve ever been tasked with setting up a server room full of machines, you can sympathize with the challenge of doing this with 90 boxes that use slow Compact Flash storage. Hackszine reader Left-O-Matic sent in the following story in which he describes a pretty efficient way to clone a ton of Windows-based Blade servers using Linux, a ton of USB CF adapters and GParted, the swiss army knife of filesystem tools that lets you grow, shrink, and duplicate most unix and windows partition formats.

Working in a high stressed R&D environment, I find myself crunched for time, fighting new requests that almost always end with “…we needed this yesterday”.

In the past 2 years I’ve worked out a system using Dell 1950s and SunFire X4600s onboard RAID controllers to effectively clone entire Node setups for deployment around the world, using RAID 10 for the Dells and Raid 1 for the Suns (Server 2003 with appropiate licences for all machines).

That all came to a crashing halt when someone higher up the food chain decided to consolidate this mess using Sun 6000 Series blades. The X6250 Blade did not pose a problem as we ordered them with Raid Expansion Modules (REM) to control the Hard drives.

The $h!t hit the fan when the X6450 Blades rolled through the door loaded with 4 Quad-Core Xeons no room for 2.5″ SAS Drives… This leads to the problem. Loading Server 2003 on to 90+ Blades equipped with 48GB CF cards using a USB CD-ROM.

Now let me remind you that this needed to be done “yesterday”.

With the time required to load Server 2003, set the system paramters, and harden the security for each blade, I’m looking at around 5 hours a piece. Lets do the math: 5×90=450 hours…YIKES! and lets just say that I can 2 or 3 at a time…that’s still forever.

On top of that, almost any windows based program won’t work correctly.

Enter the greatest FREE Linux based solution.


I found a crappy PC lying around the office that has a bunch of USB Ports on it. I then downloaded the LiveCD version, booted up the PC from CD, plugged in 10 CF card readers, and loaded them all with brand new CF cards fresh out of the blades along with one master CF card.

GParted allowed me to first create a NTFS partition on each card (leaving a 8MB slack space) and attach a boot flag to it.

Next I select the data from the Master CF card, clicked copy, then selected the destination partition and clicked paste.

The beauty of this program is that instead of do each step one at a time and waitng the 2 hours for each copy, it enabled me to line up 10 jobs that set it to copy the data from the master CF card to the destination’s card, basically cloning 10 machines in 16 hours (Compact Flash transfer speeds are really, really, really slow). So after I had transfered the master copy to a internal HDD, it cut the time by..well a lot, eliminating the delay of reading a CF.

So, in conclusion before I leave for the evening, I setup a batch to clone and it’s ready for me in the morning.

Quick and easy, nice and cheezy.

Thanks for the tip Left-O-Matic! I’m sure there are more than a few of you IT folks out there who could save some time this way. I have to admit I haven’t done anything like this in many years. What’s your favorite way to clone a room full of boxes? Ghost? GParted? Send us your cloning tips in the comments.

GParted Live CD

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