I'm in a bit of a predicament. I have a operation of servers which are all the same model (HP DL140) The units don't have an optical drive, so a CD installation is not one of the options. I fiddled around with the bios to attempt installing from USB, but I didn't have any success at that either.
The bios of these units are very fickle and very uninformative. I'd prefer to simply access the boot menu and select the USB, but I haven't a clue which key brings up the boot menu.
So, I tried my hand at a different method. I took the harddrive of a server with a working OS and popped it into a server which did not have an OS. To my surprise, it booted normally. So this brings the question: Maybe I can just copy over the files of a working server onto the harddrive of another?
I'd imagine since the files transferred over are literally the same, there shouldn't be any problem.
This usually works, most of the hardware is standard enough that the operating system will easily be able to adapt to any changes.
The only time where it doesn't work, or where it can't be made to work, is when the source computer and destination computer have storage controllers that are not natively supported by the operating system that you are trying to boot. If this is the case, it might not be able to boot if it does not have the destination machine's drivers available on startup. Most enterprise controllers are well supported by Windows Server 2008 R2 as well as most Linux distributions with the exception of the new X79/C602 chipsets.
So yes, if you want to fully duplicate an environment from one machine to another all you really need to do is clone the OS partition and the boot record. You can easily do this from within a LiveCD such as PartedMagic. It is imperative that you do not have the drive that you are cloning mounted while you are cloning it.
You will not be able to drag and drop the files because that will not copy the parts of the boot process that are not a part of the file system. You can certainly drop a source drive into the open bay, pop PartedMagic into the optical drive, boot PartedMagic and then use PartedMagic to clone the drive.
Alternatively you could partition the source drive such that it contains a bootable cloning tool as well as a partition containing the OS you wish to clone. In this case you would boot into the cloning tool and clone the other partition to the destination drive but not the cloning tool itself. This would only really save you the trouble of having to pop in an optical disk.
It is unsafe to clone a drive from which you have booted from because a write to the source drive will not be replicated to the destination drive if that part of the drive has already been cloned and this can cause filesystem inconsistencies, hence my recommendation to use a bootable cloning tool such as one included in PartedMagic.
PartedMagic is free, linux based, and uses GPL software. Here's a link
So from what I can gather the scenario would play out like:
-- Both HD bays filled. 1 with the OS, the other with an empty HD.
-- Mount PartedMagic to a virtual drive.
-- Run PartedMagic from said virtual drive and target the empty HD to receive the working OS.
-- Remove newly copied OS and pop back into original server.
You will not be able to run PartedMagic from a virtual drive. It is a bootable LiveCD which means that it is an operating system that runs entirely from memory, no Windows installation involved at all. You will have to burn it to an CD and put it in a physical drive or install it to a USB stick and load it from there
If they are the same model/hardare you can cloan/image fine. Dont expect it to work with differnt models, tends to cause major driver issues. this is standard practice in enterprise/school environments. Install one the way you want, take an image to a server, pull the image to all the other PCs. Norton ghost being the classic example.
As long as you remember to take care of any licensing issues for the OS/software in the image your fine.