If you are like me, you are always looking for ways to make your job easier…or become more efficient (as we like to call it when we're explaining it to management). One program that can help is Symantec Ghost.
Ghost is available in two flavors: Norton Ghost and Symantec Ghost Corporate Edition. The Norton Ghost program is aimed at the Home and Home Office user and the Corporate Edition is geared for the enterprise user. Both tools will perform basic cloning and backup operations, but the Corporate Edition adds many additional features that can assist network admins.
Most administrators are probably familiar with Ghost as a program for cloning systems. However, the Corporate Edition of Ghost is actually a suite of programs that builds upon the cloning capabilities of Ghost; it allows you to mass distribute images, software packages, and registry settings and can perform hardware and software inventory functions.
I'm going to examine the Ghost Corporate Edition 8.0 suite of tools and show how each component works individually, as well as how the tools can be used together to make a Ghost System for image and package distribution. A trial version of Ghost Corporate Edition can be downloaded from the Symantec Web site.
The Ghost Corporate Edition suite consists of four main components:
- Ghost – The Ghost executable is the core component and is used to copy, or "clone" a partition. The partition can be copied directly to a file on another partition or network drive, be burned to a CD/DVD, or be copied directly from one drive to another.
- Ghost Console/Client – The Ghost Console is the MMC snap-in used to manage and perform tasks such as distributing images or packages to systems and gather hardware and software inventory information. The client component resides on the systems to be managed.
- Ghost Tools – The tools consist of the Ghost boot disk wizard and several command line utilities for working with images.
- AI Builder – The AI (Automatic Installer) is the tool used to create individual software packages that can be distributed via the Ghost Console.
The Ghost CD launches a main menu that allows installation of individual components, tutorials or the entire suite (Figure A). Let's take a look at each component in more detail and then we will examine a Ghost "system."
Ghost.exe is the main component that most admins are familiar with. Ghost can copy an entire disk partition to another physical drive, network drive, partition, or burn directly to CD-ROM or DVD. Ghost 8.0 has improved support for CD and DVD burners. In my own experience, prior versions of Ghost were limited in support for burning directly to a disc. This version now includes support for USB-connected devices—a welcome addition. Another long awaited improvement is the ability to write to NTFS partitions. Prior versions could read and image an NTFS partition, but could not write an image to an NTFS partition.
Ghost is a DOS-based program and can be installed on a set of floppies, or installed on a bootable CD-ROM. When the Install Standard Tools option is selected from the installation menu, the Ghost Boot Disk Wizard is installed. The Boot Wizard provides the option of creating boot disks for each particular scenario of using Ghost (Figure B). Creating a bootable CD is only available when an image is burned directly to CD or DVD.
Ghost32 is a 32-bit Windows version of ghost that is also installed as part of the tools package. The Windows version has a major limitation when compared to its DOS counterpart: Ghost32 cannot image any partition that has open files; therefore you cannot use it to image the current system partition.
In addition to the two versions of the Ghost executable, several other utilities are installed. One tool is Gdisk and Gdisk32. Gdisk is a direct replacement for the DOS partitioning utility fdisk. Gdisk is a command line utility and has no user interface like its DOS counterpart. However, what it lacks in a user interface it makes up for in power. Gdisk can do everything that fdisk can and adds more features such as the ability to create hidden partitions and also includes a disk "wiping" feature that meets U.S Department of Defense specifications (see documentation for details).
Ghstwalk is another command-line utility that allows a unique security identifier (SID) to be assigned to a system after cloning. When a system is cloned with Ghost, the SID is cloned as well. Ghstwalk resolves the issue of having multiple systems with the same SID (which can lead to serious problems).
OmniFS and OmniFS32 are utilities for manipulating files in a locally attached disk or partition. OmniFS allows NTFS access from DOS and Windows 9x, and FAT access from Windows NT.
The AI Builder, or Automatic Installer, is a Windows tool used to create installation "packages." The tool works by taking a "snapshot" of a system prior to software installation. The software is then installed and another snapshot is taken. A comparison file is created that contains all the changes made by the installation. This file then becomes an installation package that can be distributed via the Ghost console or another method, and can be used in place of traditional installation methods. The package can be further customized with user prompts and dialogs as needed.
A Ghost system
While each of these tools is quite powerful on its own, when combined with two other components, they can make a complete software and hardware inventory, distribution, and patch management solution. The two other needed components are the Ghost Console and the Console Client (as mentioned above).
The Ghost Console is the MMC snap-in used to manage a Ghost system (Figure C).
The Console can be installed on a Windows 2000 Professional (or higher) machine. The Console communicates with Client machines and is responsible for managing the Client machines. The Console can also be used as an inventory management tool. Using the Windows Management Interface (WMI), the Console can gather hardware and software information about all systems running the Ghost Client software.
The Ghost Client is the software component installed on each system that will communicate with the Console. The Client communicates with the Console to determine when a package is available and performs the installation as scheduled. The Client can be installed locally from the Ghost install CD or remotely from the Console itself.
With the addition of another component, the Ghost Boot Partition, the client can also receive an entire partition image as a package. The Ghost Boot Partition can be a hidden hard drive partition installed when a system is created, or a virtual partition installed on an existing system. The boot partition also makes it possible to perform Ghost multicasting. Multicasting allows images to be distributed to multiple systems simultaneously. This feature is ideal for training and educational environments where a fresh image is required on a routine basis.
As with all good things, there are some "gotchas" to be aware of when using Ghost. Cloning a system is a great time saver if all the systems use similar hardware and software. Otherwise, you end up creating multiple images for each configuration.
Using Ghost on server hardware is not officially supported. It's great to clone desktop systems, but it can have problems with servers. Ghost does not work well with RAID. Symantec states that it can work with RAID, but it is not supported. In my testing on a Dell Poweredge 2650 server, with a PERC 4 controller and two mirrored drives, I could successfully image the drives, but could not successfully write the image to an identically configured server.
I found if I installed an OS first and created an NTFS partition and then copied the image to the new partition, I was then able to apply the image from one server partition to another. Typically, on desktop systems, I would create partitions using fdisk and apply the image. While this workaround took longer, the end result was successful imaging of ten servers.
Despite a few limitations Ghost is a very useful tool. I didn't have enough space to cover all the features of this product in-depth, but as you can see, Ghost Corporate Edition can do a lot more than just clone systems.
For additional reading, take a look at my article "Reduce Ghost images by using Sysprep when rolling out desktops".