Computer imaging is a must for any IT department with a decent number of users. Imaging allows a user to create an exact duplicate of a computer's entire hard drive or partition inside the hard drive and then transfer this copy to another computer. This will duplicate every single file, all of the drivers and every setting on the machine. This image is normally copied to an imaging server where many computers can access the image file and copy it to their hard drives.
Imaging has several uses in the IT world. The most common use is to deploy new computers. Most IT departments buy many of the same models of desktops, notebooks and servers at one time. They also prefer their users have the same basic operating system and programs installed.
With imaging software, an IT department can create a base image of a machine, copy it to the main image server, and then pull that image down to as many computers as they want in a very short time. If a computer crashes, then a technician can copy the image back onto the hard drive and have the user up and running with a fresh install within the hour. This saves a tremendous amount of time for the IT department, allowing them to focus on other tasks.
With features such as PXE boot — the ability to boot to a small OS via the LAN card — a tech can set up a computer to have an image pulled from the user's desk instead of bringing the computer to a repair center. Most images take anywhere from five to 20 minutes to pull down over the network.
Imaging technology was rolled out in the late 1990s by a company named Binary Research. The product was named Ghost, which is why most IT people refer to imaging as “ghosting.”
Imaging is also used for upgrading a hard drive, doing a full backup and restoring a computer to its original format. Imaging software has the features to take a copy of a smaller hard drive and place it on a larger one, which is perfect for someone who wants to upgrade their storage but does not want to reinstall everything. The ability to restore a computer to its original settings after every reboot is also a must. If someone installs software that makes the computer crash, just reboot and everything works correctly again.
Imaging saves time for technicians when repairing computers and allows users to get back to work very quickly, which means less down time and less money wasted. There are several imaging packages available, from hardware appliances to open-source software. Imaging software manufacturers are also adding more features to help IT departments do their job more efficiently. Some of the newest features allow IT departments to perform software/hardware inventories, partition and format hard drives, change computer names and deploy service packs and applications.
Justin Dover is network administrator at Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tenn.