Ghost may calm net managers

Symantec Corp. recently presented a series of free Webcasts to walk network managers through the various uses of its Ghost 7.0 disk imaging software.

Intended for administrators who are evaluating various disk cloning products, the virtual seminar detailed Ghost’s ability to capture user profiles for migration from one desktop to another, automate software distribution across local and mobile environments and create incremental snapshots of PC data for up-to-date remote backups.

With the spectre of Microsoft’s Windows XP peeking over the shoulders of IT managers, Thom Bailey, Ghost’s Cupertino, Calif.-based worldwide product manager, said that version 7.0 addresses the physical act of migrating to a new operating system.

“There are a number of features within XP which complement Ghost in a network environment. Windows XP extends its support of remote installation services, for example, which Ghost has had support for since version 6.0. And we will continue to support the initiatives that Microsoft provides for the rapid adoption of their new OS and in all instances we do complement that distribution methodology,” Bailey said in a Q&A session after conducting the Webcast.

Although there are many fundamental changes that come with Windows XP, Rob Davidson, a Mississauga, Ont.-based technology specialist with Microsoft Canada, said that the core migration tools that appeared in Windows 2000 are extended into XP, including unattended installation, batch setups on a network and a disk imaging tool called Sysprep.

“Sysprep takes all of the components of Windows XP, rolls them up into a small file that basically tells the computer what the configuration is, what the desktop resolution and colours are and the way the computer should be set up if you’re setting up multiple machines. Then you can use a tool like a Disk Image or a Sysprep to take that big file – which is actually your entire hard drive once Windows XP has been set up – and put that out on a network location or a CD-ROM and make it bootable so the setup runs from it,” Davidson said.

However, the task of installing from a remote location is better suited to third-party tools, Davidson said.

Bailey agreed, joking that a major goal of Ghost was to save wear and tear on administrators’ shoes.

“One of the big features within the 7.0 product is that it’s console-driven: it has the ability from within the console to scan and capture user settings and data files. It’s not necessary to visit [an individual] workstation and install a specific piece of software in order to scan the PC locally. Instead, we took the tack to scan that PC remotely from the console,” Bailey said.

Despite the utility of tools like Ghost, there are some “very problematic” aspects of migrating to Microsoft’s new .NET, environment, especially if a company is heavily tied to third-party hardware and software, said Dan Kusnetzki, a software analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp.

“The .NET server may or may not run on the equipment that is currently supporting Windows NT or Windows 2000 because it may require more storage, more memory, more processor power. It may or may not support devices that are needed by the organization, such as special devices for tape drives, or special storage devices for backup or recovery,” he said.

“What we urge people to do with this upgrade, just like any other upgrade, is to possibly buy one copy, and execute a pilot project to determine whether or not everything works.”

Davidson agreed that it is wise to check all existing hardware and software before unleashing XP on a network, and recommended using the compatibility tool on the Windows XP web site.

“That being said, Windows XP has a great level of support for device drivers. We’ve got 8,500-plus device drivers in the box, and some 6,000-odd tested applications,” he added.

Completing a successful migration to XP will require a number of different planets to successfully align, which is a worrisome proposition, Kusnetzki said.

“The complexity of [the changeover] depends upon whether a person has proceed through the upgrade from Windows NT, to Windows 2000, to the Windows .NET server. If a person wants to make use of the software they really must understand Active Directory, and Active Directory takes careful planning because the tools are somewhat primitive. I would say that the management tools are somewhat analogous to the tools that Novell provided with NetWare Version Four,” Kusnetzki said.

“If you make a mistake in the design there’s no way to readjust it – you must blow it to the ground and start over, which is just what happened with Novell’s NetWare Directory the very first time it came out.”

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