Still a Friendly Ghost
Whether you're an enterprise network or a small company, there's nothing to be scared of with this Ghost.
- By Greg Shields
1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
Ghost gave my IT career a jump-start. The same goes for a whole crop of IT people.
Ghost was the tool that arrived just when we needed it to speed up new workstation
deployment. During one of my projects many years ago, Ghost increased our deployment
productivity by 1,100 percent over the manual method. It was so successful, I
ended up getting promoted.
Ghost Solution Suite version 2.0 is Symantec Corp.'s most recent release of
a product line that has been around for a generation of IT workers. It has long
provided an easy-to-use and high-performance mechanism for deploying operating
system images to workstations and servers. Ghost is so synonymous with image
deployment that the imaging process for applications is often referred to as
The New Boo
The new version of the Ghost Solution Suite has three major enhancements to
the core Ghost engine, as well as a group of updates to the Ghost Console. While
Ghost Server, the core Ghost product, does most of the heavy lifting, the Ghost
Console often goes unnoticed. It's this console that is the focus of the first
major set of enhancements.
The Ghost Console is intended to be an elementary inventory system to help
you create dynamic machine groups based on inventory data. Once you've created
those groups, you can use them to deploy images and software packages based
on policies. You can assign a task to a target machine group that clones the
machine, captures the user configuration, deploys a software package, executes
a scripted command or many other options. This process lets you take a more
holistic approach to deploying OS images, elevating what was before just a straight
image dump to a more process-centric approach.
While it certainly has enough features for the small- to medium-sized network,
the Ghost Console's functionality may not be granular enough for enterprise-level
customers. Most likely, these large customers are already using a fully featured
systems management tool like Microsoft Systems Management Server or Altiris.
For those who don't, however, the Ghost Console provides some critical inventory
information like hardware composition, installed applications and patches on
the target systems.
One of the console's new features that will be useful for Vista deployments
is the ability to filter all your systems to show which ones are candidates
for a Vista upgrade and which ones are not. This feature alone will be a great
assistance to the harried administrator tasked with Vista upgrades, but having
trouble determining the actual hardware requirements.
[Click on image for larger view.]
|Figure 1. The
Ghost Console lets admins perform multiple tasks from a single GUI.
Ghost's improved capability to do user state migration is arguably the most
impressive of the new features in version 2.0 of the core Ghost engine. Although
user data migration tools have been around for a while, previous attempts were
often difficult to implement. The way Ghost handles user migration takes everything
off a machine that makes it unique, such as desktop configurations, profile
information and application settings.
Another aspect where Ghost excels is in its handling of third-party applications
and their associated customizations. It supports configurations for several
dozen third-party applications like Yahoo! Messenger, Lotus Notes, Palm Desktop
and Acrobat. The comprehensive manual (at 700-plus pages) will give you detailed
information about the captured settings. All the migration pieces are now integrated
with the Ghost Console itself.
The third new feature is compatibility with Vista upgrades. Any Vista installation
requires a 32-bit pre-OS, which is different from any of Microsoft's earlier
OSes. Ghost uses this pre-OS, typically the Windows Preinstallation Environment
(WinPE), to deploy images to workstations.
This shift to a 32-bit pre-OS for installation opens up a host of new functionality.
First, images are now essentially architecture-independent. You should be able
to deploy a Vista image generated on one processor architecture to a machine
with a different architecture. You can now mount and edit offline any file-based
Ghost images created from NTFS partitions. This means you can manipulate the
image contents offline without having to deploy, update and recreate a new image.
The 32-bit pre-OS also sets up additional bootstrap drivers that let you use
Ghost with more types of RAID arrays than previously possible.
Interestingly enough, in an era where many companies are trying to scale their
products to enterprise-level customers, Symantec's focus is on the SMB user.
While many enterprise-level customers use the Ghost Server piece to handle their
image deployment, they may not need the Ghost Console to manage inventory. SMB
customers, however, have a defined need for Ghost Console support and the functionality
that comes with the console, including application packaging.
The application packager in Ghost is designed for the IT administrator who's
not necessarily a pro at package development. It includes features like pre-
and post-installation differencing to identify the updated files and registry
keys. These features are available in other packaging tools, but usually for
an additional cost over and above the deployment mechanism.
So, do Ghost's new features and functionality warrant a purchase or an upgrade?
If you're a small-market customer and you need an integrated inventory and image
deployment tool, Ghost is a mature product that has been doing it well since
many of us started our careers.
If you're an enterprise customer who's been using Ghost Server for years, you'll
want to consider an upgrade, if for no other reason than to add Windows Vista
deployment support. In either case, this new release matures a successful product
that continues to hold a special place in the hearts of many IT old-timers.