No Cloning Around

Ever stare straight into the face of an enterprise rollout of hundreds of NT workstations? It's ugly. If just one typical NT workstation build takes four to six hours, an entire deployment is equivalent to a short jail sentence.

Luckily, there are software packages that give you a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. We looked at two disk-imaging tools that go a long way in helping administrators roll out multiple desktop machines.

You won't find vast differences between Symantec's Norton Ghost 6.0 Enterprise Edition and Power-Quest's Drive Image Pro 3.0 clients. They use the same method to clone disk drives. Their performances are similar. And they support the same operating systems. But we gave our Blue Ribbon Award to Norton Ghost because its centralized management console is an advantage in an enterprise environment.

We found the ancillary utilities bundled with each program to be the biggest differences.

Norton Ghost Console lets you select a machine by media access control address or computer name from a central console and clone it over the network. This capability requires Ghost client software on the remote PC, which is installed using a boot disk and a script. Using the Ghost Console, you can remotely change settings such as PC name, computer description and domain affiliation -- a must-have feature in an enterprise environment. One potential shortcoming of the Ghost Console is that it does not integrate into other vendors' management software.

While Drive Image Pro does not have a comparable enterprise management feature, it does ship with several useful administration tools. These include:

-- DeltaNow, which distributes changes to software applications after an image has been distributed.

-- Drive Mapper, which lets you correct drive letter inconsistencies during image restorations, and-- MagicMover, which lets you move applications from one partition to another.

Our tests showed that these utilities work well.

Norton Ghost has a feature similar to DeltaNow, but it lacks the functionality of the other two programs.

Getting Started

For our first test, we measured the time it took to go from shrink-wrap to creating an image file on a test workstation. We did not want to make registry changes, modify existing programs or add software to our NT workstations.

Both products are shipped on CD-ROMs that automatically load. We did not want to add CD-ROM driver support on our boot disk, so we copied the program files to a boot diskette. With both products, this process was cumbersome. It took 20 minutes to install each product and start creating an image file. Once we got the products up and running, it took Drive Image Pro 51 minutes to create an image of our 3G-byte hard drive. Norton Ghost required 53 minutes to create that same image.

Both products have a DOS-based graphical user interface, support a mouse and offer menus that were intuitive enough so that we did not have to refer to either product's documentation. We found Ghost's interface easier to navigate without a mouse, but both were comparable when using a mouse.

Norton Ghost and Drive Image Pro status screens provide detailed statistical information during the cloning process. Both products imposed the DOS eight-character limit for file names. After creating several image files, it was difficult to identify images using only eight characters. However, Drive Image Pro allows comments to be added that describe image files. This makes it very easy to select an image file to restore.

Once you have an image, you can begin to distribute it to other workstations.

The most effective medium used to distribute images is the network. Both products also support a variety of ways to transfer images from one computer system to another -- parallel port, Jaz and ZIP disk, Superdrive, tape drives, CD-RW and with a CD burner CD-RW -- but all these methods are slow.

We found the best way to distribute an image for "mass deployment" is to use a method that Symantec calls Multicast and PowerQuest calls Powercast. With these features, you can have one image file sent to hundreds of workstations at the same time while preserving network bandwidth. Both products require that you create a special client boot disk, which was an easy process. It should be noted that Powercast won't work over a token-ring network.

For quick-and-dirty single-PC cloning, you can connect two workstations on the network using a crossover cable and set up one workstation as the source and the other as the destination. We could clone as many as four systems simultaneously. As soon as we brought up a fifth machine, the cloning performance on all machines suffered significantly. Using Novell's LANalyzer we found that the Ethernet segment had become overloaded. We then tried the same five workstations using Multicast and Powercast and found we had bandwidth to spare.

We found that Drive Image Pro was slightly faster in restoring a 5G-byte hard drive -- 30 minutes, vs. 32 minutes for Norton Ghost to do the same job. With that comparable performance, the difference in lapsed time is not a differentiating factor.

Each program has an easy-to-use scripting language that can automate the entire process. Additionally, each manufacturer has its own simple program to change the security ID on each cloned workstation. The security ID is a 64-digit value that is generated using a complex formula during the installation of Windows NT.

The manual for each product was 175 pages in length, and each provided adequate information without being overly complex.

Both products did a commendable job creating new desktop images and restoring damaged ones. We feel that Norton Ghost is best-suited for a large enterprise environment with standardized hardware and software. On the other hand, we felt that because of the flexibility Drive Image Pro offers, it may be the best choice for an environment that is not standardized across all desktops.

Whatever system is used, disk cloning is by far the quickest and most reliable way to roll out a new operating system and applications.

(Spindler is a technology consultant in the San Francisco Bay area. He can be reached at spindler@dnai.com.)

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