ImageCast Keeps Drives Clean, Costs Low

SAN MATEO (03/06/2000) - Drive-image copiers make life much easier for system managers by slashing the cost of setting up new machines, as well as shortening trouble resolution time on installed machines. However, their use is limited and usually requires a visit to users, which can be extremely time-consuming.

Change management is also a growing issue. Each system configuration requires another image file, and shops with many different types of PCs have massive amounts of storage space tied up by disk images. Worse, when an application is updated, all the images that have these packages in them need to be re-created.

I recently looked at Symantec Corp.'s Ghost Enterprise Edition 6.0 and Altiris Inc.'s eXpress 4.0, but Innovative Software Ltd.'s ImageCast 3 (IC3) was the best product, and at the lowest cost. IC3 and eXpress are worthy contenders, but IC3 has the edge in ease of setup and use. I rate it Very Good. (For our product reviews of Ghost and eXpress.)IC3 now includes centralized management and control, allowing system managers to handle most imaging tasks from the comfort of their own desktops.

To test IC3, I used its four components: the client software, the central console, the client agent, and the post-copy configurator to image and restore PCs. The IC3 client software can function as a stand-alone product, easily allowing the system manager to manually make or restore disk images.

To support the client software, IC3 is bundled with a client disk creator. This let me create disks that can either load the client software for use with a CD or removable media, or that can connect to the network server where the disk images are stored. I found the disk creation process very flexible.

The only fly in the ointment was that a separate boot disk had to be created for each type of NIC (network interface card) I support. Platinum's AutoConfigure can support up to 15 NICs -- a reasonable goal for such a utility.

The next major components, the control console and the client agent, work together. I could make disk-image copies of PCs, copy images to the PCs, and apply software updates. The client agent let me speed troubleshooting by looking into each PC to see what OS it was running, what hardware was under the hood, and to copy images to or from the PC.

It is possible to script sets of commands and schedule them so, for example, at noon all the computers in a classroom could be told to reboot, copy themselves to the network, pull down a new image, and then reboot again.

The other major tool in IC3 is the post-imaging injector, which applies software to a PC after it has been imaged. It uses information captured by the application imager, which captures the changes that have been made on a PC, such as when an application is installed, and can bundle them into a self-installing executable file. The self-installing images can function independently of IC3, so the files can be sent via e-mail to a remote PC to help someone install an application. Coupling the post-imaging injector and the application imager with the scripting options offered by the console let me apply an operating system image and then application software updates to PCs.

Using IC3 was easy and largely intuitive. The learning period for its use should be fairly short. The largest obstacle to its use will be rolling out the client agent, which requires a system manager or technician to visit every system.

Although IC3 received a score of Very Good, Altiris' eXpress and IC3 are strong contenders. Both have very effective post-imaging configuration options, and both are powerhouses that allow excellent enterprise-level control over imaging functions. However, at $11 per seat, IC3 has a price advantage that CTOs will appreciate.

Mike Avery (mavery@mail.otherwhen.com), is a networking consultant in Beaumont, Texas. He has designed and supported networks of all sizes.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

ImageCast 3 4.0

Business Case: By minimizing the amount of needed storage space, ImageCast 3 (IC3) reduces storage-related expenses. In addition, centralized control and scheduling reduces the need for expensive visits to end-users.

Technology Case: IC3 uses relatively small installation files instead of storing complete disk images, which makes finding image files much easier. The documentation is excellent, making the product very easy to use.

Pros:

+ Smooth boot diskette creation process

+ Scheduled and scripted operations via centralized console+ Storage requirements reduced by post-imaging operationsCons:

- Only a single NIC handled by each boot disk- Grouping of PCs for ease of selection not allowed by consoleCost: $1,100 for 100-client licensePlatform(s): Clients: DOS, Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NT; Console: Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NT 4.0 or higherInnovative Software Ltd., Milwaukee; (800) 817-5119; www.innovativesoftware.com.

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