Thursday, May 31, 2007

XPe tip #45: EWF and Cloning

I guess the topic has been discussed in the newsgroup quite many times but since I just happened to run into a related issue and fixed the runtime I thought I should cover this in some details on this blog.

What if you are tasked to create an embedded image that must include EWF and will be deployed to devices as is. In other words, there won't be technicians who can fix known issues with the image deployment in field.

I am only going to cover here the case where all the target devices are identical - the same type of the hardware and number and type of peripherals attached. If this is not the case, it should be adopted/modified dependning on what hardware modifications you plan to do in the field (such as changing partition setup and so on).

The task first seem to be trivial - you just have to properly clone the image on multiple target devices. Dependening on how you plan the clonig process (factory mode, etc.) and what's the target working environment will be (LAN, domain network, Internet, etc.) you will or will not include and setup the System Cloning Tool component.

Unfortunately, that is only going to be that easy if you use EWF RAM Reg mode. The reason is simple - in RAM Reg mode EWF stores all the configuration settings in registry. So when you copy the image to another device, all the EWF settings will be properly copied along with that. No need to worry about hidden partitions and such. You can simply use xcopy to copy the image files. Certainly, cloning tools such as Ghost or Altiris can be used as well no problem.

However, in you happened to use EWF RAM or Disk mode you got yourself in troubles. If you just xcopy the image (or use ghost tools the same way you'd use to capture as smallest image as possible) at the cloned system launch you will notice that EWF is not working. If you execute EwfMgr commands it will report the it cannot find the EWF volume (and there it will refer to the EWF config volume that stores all the EWF configuration settings and, in case of EWF Disk mode, the overlay data). Obviosly, with the Windows standard tools (xcopy and etc.) you won't be even able to see the EWF partition. So another approach shuld be taken and here is a few I can think of:

1) Use Ghost's -IR switch (or similar switch of another cloning tool if suported) when capturing the golden image. It forces the ghost to grab every raw data byte of the source disk vs going through the file system to copy only files as the ghost without IR switch does.
Big disadvanges of this solution is that depending on the target device's hard disk setup you may end up with a GHO file with a huge size (ghost with IR switch doesn't know anything about files on the disk and capturing every single byte of the specified storage device). Also, this way you won't be able to operate and clone partitions, only entire disks.

2) Create a tool that will copy over the hidden EWF partition to all the target devices. Something like WinHEX editor or any partition management tool that allows you to view and save the content of disk sectors would help you here. I typically use Paragon Partition Manager for that.
This approach is quite complicated and not easy to automate without a 3rd party tool which may add some extra licensing to your device production.

3) Have EWF disabled in the golden image and re-enable it on the cloned runtime very early at the first boot. You can then xcopy the image files to target devices or use Ghost the regular way (FS aware).
However, this would only work if you re-create the EWF Config partition on the cloned image. Here is the command that will help you to accomplish that:
rundll32 ewfdll.dll, ConfigureEwf
- or -
rundll32 ewfdll.dll, ConfigureEwf Start
(both seem to have worked for me)

You can launch this command with a FBA Generic command set up to run after the cloning phase (phase number > 12000) or use [HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce] key or Startup Menu item if the Explorer Shell is used in the runtime. Otherwise you can use [HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon],"UserInit" key to add more command you want to run at run time. Just make sure to clean up that key and return its value to original (default) when the job is done. If you do all the commands from a batch file that will also add some .reg files that will do it.

Obviously, after you created the EWF Config partition you will need to issue "ewfmgr : -enable" command and reboot the target device so that EWF can take that command in affect. Again, all these commands are easy to combine in one batch script file.

4) Switch to use EWF RAM Reg mode. After all, there is almost no advantages of EWF RAM mode over the RAM Reg mode (except the ability to use -disable command). However, EWF with Disk Overlay has its own value that would be hard to replace with EWF RAM.


Kevin Bulgrien said...

A hardware cloning solution is great for production environments.

For example, use the Mirror feature of a LogiCube OmniClone duplicator. This device simultaneously duplicates multiple disks (including solid-state drives).

KC Wu said...

Hi you mention that

"Switch to use EWF RAM Reg mode. After all, there is almost no advantages of EWF RAM mode over the RAM Reg mode (except the ability to use -disable command)"

Can I assume that EWF RAM Reg mode cannot perform a ewfmgr c: -disable?

As I can only disable using the command ewfmgr c: -commitanddisable

Thank you

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