Windows Tip Sheet

ISOs -- Getting Your Valuable Time Back

Archiving files are a pain in the you-know-where. Save time making ISO images.

A common chore for many administrators -- at least I think it should be -- is archiving old files. I’m sure you have plenty of files that are no longer needed on a day-to-day basis, but you’d like to keep a copy for archival purposes. The traditional way is to back up the data to tape. But what if users still need occasional, read-only access for reference purposes? What if you have some files you want backed up and burned to CD? By now, you know that I’m going to look for a solution that is quick, free and lends itself to automation. But I don’t just want to copy files to a CD and call it a day. That’s too limiting.

Instead of going right to CD or DVD, create an ISO image of a directory. Once you have an ISO image, you have options. You can burn it to media (watch for a future column on alternatives). You can mount it as a virtual drive (yep, more on that in another column). You can store it on a file server or, if you're lucky, a SAN for near-term file restores. Think of the ISO file as a point-in-time snapshot of the directory in a single file.

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There are a variety of software programs or utilities to create an ISO image. Personally, I like tools I can run from the command line so that I can put them in batch files and use scheduled tasks. For the longest time, I’ve used MKISOFS. This command line tool is now part of an open source project but if you search for it, you can find and download compiled binaries for Windows. I use a version that I used to deploy in tandem with Bart’s CD Creator and Bart’s Boot Disk. Another tool you might look at is MagicISO.

To create an ISO of My Documents, I run a command like this:

mkisofs -o e:\iso\JDHMyDocs.iso -J –l -V MyDocs "%userprofile%\my documents"

Because of the mission of this column is to keep this stuff short, I don’t have space to explain all the switches. Type mkisofs –help to see for yourself. The switches are case-sensitive.

You can even backup network shares, although you’ll want to watch the network impact:

mkisofs -o e:\iso\Public01212007.iso -J –l -V PublicFiles \\FILE02\Public

Or perhaps you’d like to create ISO images of your user’s home directories:

E:\users>for /f %d in ('dir /b /ad')do @mkisofs –o e:\iso\%d.iso -J -l -V %d_Files %d

This solutions isn’t a panacea and isn’t for shops with high disk utilization. The ISO format doesn’t compress files, so you need to make sure you have as much free space as the files you are copying. But if you can swing it, having ISO image backups might offer you opportunities you never knew existed.

About the Author

Jeffery Hicks is an IT veteran with over 25 years of experience, much of it spent as an IT infrastructure consultant specializing in Microsoft server technologies with an emphasis in automation and efficiency. He is a multi-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP Award in Windows PowerShell. He works today as an independent author, trainer and consultant. Jeff has written for numerous online sites and print publications, is a contributing editor at, and a frequent speaker at technology conferences and user groups.

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