The difference between file-based and sector-based imaging

Before choosing an imaging and deployment solution, you might want to take a peek under the hood. File-based imaging and sector-based imaging both have their uses. Understanding the differences can help you use the tools most efficiently.

Traditional sector-based imaging
Sector-based imaging is a traditional approach to imaging that’s based on duplicating a hard disk. It relies on creating an exact disk copy, and then applying that copy to an identical device. As indicated by the name, it works by copying the source, sector by sector. This is what companies mean when they use the term “disk cloning”. Long ago, this was the only way to do imaging and many companies continue to use disk cloning solutions even though technology has advanced and there are more efficient options available.

Flexible file-based imaging
File-based imaging, on the other hand, isn’t cloning. With a file-based approach, images consist only of the unique files captured. This approach offers greater flexibility for applying image payloads to diverse hardware environments. File-based imaging offers greater flexibility because it lets you create an image based on your preferred software instead of limiting you by hardware make and model that an image was created from. That means you can more easily, and without workarounds, create one golden image that can be deployed to any hardware. The result is a smaller image library that often leads to more efficient deployments across the organization.

Choosing the right solution for your needs
The right solution depends on your environment and needs. If you need to preserve the exact structure of the original machine image and clone it to identical machines, sector-based imaging might be appropriate. Or, you want to take a backup of an existing machine at a certain point in time. But this approach could present problems if your environment contains a mix of hardware systems. Another limitation of cloning is that it doesn’t support simple updates to the images and machines. You need to update all your original images and re-clone all the client machines for each update which can be incredibly time consuming.

Flexibility, simplicity, and speed with SmartDeploy
In contrast, SmartDeploy uses a file-based imaging approach for ultimate flexibility and versatility. For example with SmartDeploy, only one hardware-independent image is needed for all machines. This is achieved by use of Platform Packs which are created as a service for SmartDeploy customers and include all of the drivers necessary for each hardware model. Image file size and deployment time are also greatly reduced using SmartDeploy.

Disk cloning software, or sector-based imaging software is best used for something like backing up a specific machine. But, for flexible, fast image deployments and easier updates in a mixed hardware environment, file-based imaging with SmartDeploy might make your life a lot easier.

To learn more about file-based imaging, check out this video:

(Last updated October 23, 2020)