Microsoft’s VHD (Virtual Hard Disk) format is widely used to contain and run guest operating systems using Microsoft virtualization software, MS Virtual PC. Unlike previous versions of Windows, Windows 7 natively supports creating and mounting virtual hard disk using Disk Management utility. Not only does it create MBR partitions, it also allow creating GUID partition on VHD to store large amount of data. With Windows 7, you no longer need an additional tool to attach VHD files for accessing virtual hard disk data and backing up files and folders to virtual hard disk file. When you attach a virtual hard disk file, you can access and modify its content just like the way you use physical hard drive’s volumes. Since Windows 7 provides all disk-related features with attached virtual hard drive, you can use it as a secured backup storage. In this post, we will guide you through the process of creating a virtual hard disk and encrypting it with BitLocker to securely backup files and folders.
Performing disk management tasks require you to login to Windows as administrator. So, make sure that you have required administrative privileges for creating a new hard disk volume. First off, open Computer Management console from Computer right-click context menu, and navigate to Storage –> Disk Management.
In order to create a virtual hard disk, select Create VHD from Action menu. It will open a dialog, asking you to specify the output location of VHD file and its size. Windows 7 also allows you to specify the format of virtual hard drive that you want to create; choose either Fixed or Dynamically expanding format. Once done, click OK to create a virtual hard disk.
Once the virtual hard disk is created, you need to initialize it before formatting the drive. Right-click the Disk to select Initialize Disk option.
It will now ask you to choose the partition style – MBR or GPT. The Master Boot Record disk formatting style allows booting from the disk, whereas the GPT style is used for large storage mediums. We recommend selecting MBR partition style, since it’s being used widely, and supports previous versions of Windows. Clicking OK will start initializing the virtual hard disk.
When disk is initialized, you need to format the drive to store data. Right-click the newly created VHD to start a simple volume wizard, which asks you to specify the drive letter, file system, allocation unit size, and volume label.
After formatting the drive, an auto-play dialog will pop-up (if not disabled), indicating that you can now use the virtual hard disk for storing data.
Now, you can backup the files and folders on virtual hard drive. As mentioned earlier, Windows 7 lets you perform all basic and advance disk-related operations over the virtual hard disk, you can encrypt the drive using Windows 7 native BitLocker encryption utility. After you’ve backed up the required files and folders to virtual hard drive, right-click the attached virtual drive, and select Turn on BitLocker from right-click context menu.
This will start BitLocker Drive Encryption wizard, asking you to enter the password for unlocking the drive. It also lets you create recovery key file, which helps you recover data from locked drive when you forget the password. Once key file is generated, it will start encrypting the virtual hard drive.
It must be noted that Windows 7 automatically detaches the virtual hard drive on system reboot, and therefore, you have to attach it each time you log in to Windows from Disk Management console. Once attached, it will prompt you to enter the BitLocker password to unlock the drive. However, if you find it laborious to open Disk Management console just to attach a virtual hard drive, install VHD Attach, an application that lets you attach and detach virtual hard drive from right-click context menu. The application allows adding upto 4 virtual hard disk-related options to Windows right-click context menu including Attach, Detach, Attach read-only, and Detach drive. You can choose which options to add while installing the application.
Once installed, you no longer have to open Disk Management to attach the drive. Just right-click the VHD file, and select Attach. Likewise, when you want to detach the virtual hard drive, save all the changes, and select the Detach option.
Apart from attaching and detaching VHD files from context menu, you can also view detailed information about virtual hard disk including File size, Virtual Size, Block Size, Vendor ID, Device ID, Creation timestamp, Disk geometry (number of cylinders, heads and sectors), disk type (fixed or dynamic).Just launch the application, and either drag the VHD file over the interface or use Open option on toolbar to list all the available details.
The application also enables you to auto-mount the selected virtual hard disk on system startup. Just select Not auto-mounted option on toolbar, and it will automatically mount the VHD file on Windows logon. VHD Attach works on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7, provided you have .NET Framework 3.5 or higher installed.