Imaging Software


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Using Ghost or other Imaging Software in a Large Environment

Why use an imaging software such as Ghost by Symantec to deploy a large number of computers?

You can use imaging software to create a master copy of a given computer brand make and model then use the master copy (or custom install) to insure all the other computers have the same Operating System, options, and programs.

Large companies use a "Best Practice" of insuring all computers conform to a set standard. To keep from having mistakes and "rouge" installations they use a imaging type of program either by the local IT department or a service provided by the manufacture the company it is purchasing the computers from.

Another thing that the companies use as a "Best Practice" is Active Directory Group Policies. (Windows Servers only!)

The way it works is like this scenario:

Management realizes that most of the computers in the company are not functioning as well as they did five years ago.

How did management figure that out? Did they listen to the IT Department? Ahhh, nope...

The CODB (Cost of Doing Business) had gone up mainly in the IT Department, too much labor being consumed by repairing the older computers.

Now management must make a decision: Keep paying to repair those computers or purchase new computers.

The gain comes from three years that the new computers will be at the leading edge of technology and under manufactures warranty. (Normally when a company purchases a large quantity it is cheaper to by an extended warrantee for the product.)

Next after the decision to buy new computers they consult with the IT Department (most times...) and decide on how to get the most bang for their buck. If it was up to the IT Department the cost would be twice as much as the more frugal purchasing department.

After a few meetings the decision is made, the budget is set, the lawyers go over the purchase agreements and warrantee agreements.

At the start of the purchase the IT Department will get two or more "demo" computers from the manufacture (I had one on my desk for almost two years before they wanted it back...).

This is how we did it at one large company of over 100,000 employees:

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The IT Department will load up all of the programs used by the different departments of the company then pick a user in each department to "test drive" the computer, a custom install. (We would pick a user we knew was extremely picky on how the computer worked, if we could please that user then we knew the other users would be very happy with the new computer.)

Once the test phase was over we would wipe the hard drive, go though our notes on what worked and what didn't, what our picky user liked and didn't like and make a new custom install.

We would load the Operating System, then the programs, fix any problems that came up in the test phase, change some options to the company standards, and lastly do the OS optimization. (If you do the optimization prior to doing the image or installing the image on multiple computers it will save you a lot of time and complaints of slow computers in three or four months, been there - done that!)

Then we make the first ghost image, sometimes there would be a change and we would have to wipe the drive and do it all again. (One laptop was so finicky that we had to make four images before we had our master image.)

Once we were satisfied with the computer operation and had our first master ghost image the next step is using a Microsoft tool called SID  (System ID) Changer to remove the original System ID from the computer to insure no duplicate names or SID's in the Domain.

Next we bring the computer into the Domain. Once in the domain we test the GPO (Group Policy Options) against the machine GP to see if there are any conflicts for the user and the programs. This is very important step, if you have a program or a option that will not work properly in the domain with a new computer or Operating System then you will have wasted a lot of peoples time by re-issuing an new image.

If no problems are encountered we have a good master image or it is back to fix the problems and testing then a new ghost image.

Now we that the master image that works and is ready to deploy.

To deploy the ghost image you have a some options:

  • You can make an install CD/DVD for each tech that will be doing the actual installation of the new computer.
  • You can contract to the manufacture to install the image on each computer as it is assembled (this could present a problem if your company has proprietary programs or information in the image, something to think about before you use this option).
  • You can make the image into an ISO and put it on a secured network drive, give access only to the IT Department, let each tech make their own CD/DVD (this is the cheapest option by the way).

Now your techs have the image in hand, you can send them out to install each computer with a known good image that will last.

This is where the handy program called SID Changer comes in, once the image is on the computer you need to change the name of the computer to the company standard then run the newsid.exe program to change the System ID to match the new name, then you can bring the computer into the Domain and not worry about having duplicate names and SID's, nice. One step instead of a three page checklist you would have to use with Sysprep by Microsoft.

Note: The program from Microsoft called nwsid.exe will NOT work on Vista and newer Operating Systems, after a check of MS tech net there isn't a program to do the work, you will need to search tech net to find the solution, it is a long and involved process. If you have the capability or your IT Department has someone that can write the scripts to do the task that would save you hours of time per image deployed... Your other choice is to use Sysperp, which in itself is additional hours of labor... [sigh] (Why not a link to the tech net info? There are too many different approaches to the problem!)

Occasionally you will want to update your image, some times a program is out dated or the updates to a program take longer than putting an updated image on all the computers.

You can also use the imaging software to "Broadcast" a custom install image to a set of computers.

Normally this requires a separate network from the company network because the amount of data that will be transferred from the image server (or Ghostcast server) to the computers receiving the image.

A company I worked for had two networks in the IT Department, the local company network and a separate network not connected to the company network.

The "Ghost Imaging" network had it's own Domain, groups, and server. We would connect up a number of computers (up to 30) to the imaging network, boot with a special cd, logon, type in the serial number of the computer then run a batch file: image. bat   Smile...

How long does it take? Depends on a few things:

  • Speed of the optical device or network connection.
  • Size of the image or number of images per machine.
  • Prep done before starting the process. (Prep is start the computer, go into the BIOS and check settings - set Time & Date, etc. Set the primary or boot partition Active and size, additional partitions).

Something to consider:

A ghost or other imaging program can save an IT Department years worth of man hours by setting up a test computer, load the OS, programs, set company options, and optimizing the OS for the maximum efficiency then testing with actual users to insure a great not mediocre product. A great product means you have very satisfied users vs. a large quantity of complaints and trouble tickets to fix daily... Actually if you are an IT Pro or Manager your job depends on this step don't rush it.

Now to make a new image...

Update 02/14/20 With most companies being forced into Windows 10 you may want to consider your options when doing the image, one option would be to run the update program on the computer(s) you will be using to create the deployed images. The last time I loaded Windows 10 on new computer the update took almost three hours and that was over a 40MB DSL connection not behind a firewall or proxy server!

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