Restore on Reboot: Technology or Process?

Reboot to restore is a commonly used term in IT that refers to a technique in which the disk of a computer is automatically wiped and restored to a “clean slate”, or master image every time the computer or device is restarted, rebooted or turned on.

The Reboot and Restore Concept: How It Originated

Disk imaging is and always was considered the “Brick and Mortar” method of rebuilding a system from bare-metal. Hard drive cloning is still used today in most disciplined IT shops to recover a PC from bare metal. The process of rebooting and restoring is not a technology – it is a process of automation.

Since hard disk cloning was a time consuming and arduous task – it would require too much resources for IT departments where Public access computers were available. It would be too difficult for IT departments to spend resources to image PC’s after public use (schools, internet cafes, kiosks etc.). Many organizations searched for ways in which the process of disk imaging could be automated. Thus, restoring PC’s automatically on every reboot.

Automate the Process of Restoring PCs

Reboot to Restore evolved into a process of re-imaging PC’s. The idea being that the workstations should be in full working order and should have been wiped clean for viruses and malware. The other need that this process addressed was that PC’s would be available at all times, eliminating downtime and thus a less burden on IT departments. Today the process of restoring on restart is widely used by cybercafes and some training and educational institutions, and helps ensure that even if a user maliciously hacks the registry or downloads inappropriate programs, or infects a computer with a virus, the computer will be restored to a clean, working state. The reboot and restore process can either take place irregularly when a computer shows signs of malfunctioning, on a regular basis (e.g., on reboot) or even, in some cases, every time a user logs off or nightly.

The reason that Restore on Reboot is a process and not a technology is that there are many products available using a wide variety of technologies that will restore PC’s by rebooting. Some technologies essentially write-protect the hard drive, some use advanced Windows programming that makes the user believe that they are working on an unprotected system; when in actuality they are working in a buffer space that is wiped clean on restart and the previous baseline is restored on every system startup.

Hardware Recovery Cards: Reboot Restore cards begin

In the early 90’s Hardware based Restore cards were invented. Hardware restore cards were designed to protect a hard drive at the sector level, similar to what block level protection applications today. The card would sit inside the PC on a PCI slot and would redirect reads/writes on a drive to a buffer space.

Many eons ago we use to have “floppy disks” and in order to protect the data that was saved on the disk we would “Write-Protect” the disk by simply sliding a small piece of plastic. This would simply tell the PC that this disk can only be read but not written too. Another way to look at the technology of Reboot Restore would be to think of write-protecting the entire hard drive. Many of today’s solutions are based on this single fundamental. Do not allow users to make any permanent writes onto the hard disk.

Who Is Reboot Restore Really Designed For?

Originally the Reboot to Restore solutions were designed for public access computer environments where the IT objective is to automate the process of maintaining a consistent computer baseline and to make sure that workstations are always available for multiple users. Public access computer environments are also known as shared computers.

Free Reboot Restore Software Solutions

The most notable freeware utilities used for restoring PC’s on every reboot are as follows:

Windows SteadyState: SteadyState (formerly called Shared Computer Toolkit) was part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s ongoing drive to put computers into schools and libraries. SteadyState, was offered by Microsoft as a free alternative for preventing unwanted changes to public PCs. Microsoft has discontinued developing SteadyState since 2010.
Related articles: Microsoft SteadyState Leaves Institutions in Unsteady State

Reboot Restore Rx is a Freeware utility that makes it easy to maintain PC’s in small public access computing environments (classrooms, computer labs, kiosks, internet cafes, libraries, etc.). Every time you restart the PC’s – they will automatically reset to your desired baseline settings on every restart (hence Reboot Restore technology)

Commercial Solutions that can Restore on every Reboot

The only time you would look at commercial software designed to restore on reboot would be if you were looking are more advanced features or functionality beyond restoring every time the workstations are restarted. The most feature rich yet cost effective solutions are as follows:

Drive Vaccine immunizes your PC’s from any changes being made making them bullet-proof and unbreakable. It is designed for public access computing environments, such as computer labs, kiosks, internet cafes, libraries, etc.

RollBack Rx is an instant time machine for your PC… Also known as the Instant recovery software. A Comprehensive Windows System Restore solution that empowers users and IT administrators to easily restore their PC’s to any previous state within seconds.