Imaging is common practice in many IT shops today and has been around for quite some time. The concept of creating a master system and using an image of that system to quickly get other systems to your organization's standard configuration (or a custom configuration) is a great help to the IT staff in charge of desktop systems.
The concept is the same regardless of the size of organization or the application you choose to manage your images. Recently I started down the path of imaging in my current organization and came across Snap Deploy from Acronis and found it to be very user friendly and straight forward. In this spotlight I am going to look at Acronis Snap Deploy for PCs which is used solely to image workstations.
To use Acronis Snap Deploy for PCs you will need to create a master image of a system. This computer should contain all of the standard applications used by your organization to create a "golden image" for use company-wide.
Creating an image for mass deployment is very simple. The Snap Deploy management console (or bootable media) allows you to create images online and offline when the master system is configured as needed. Using offline mode, when booted to Acronis media, simply select the location to store your image and the application handles the rest.Supported operating systems:
- Windows 98
- Windows 2000
- Windows ME
- Windows XP
- Windows Vista
- Windows 7
Who's it for?
Acronis Snap Deploy is for busy systems administrators or IT departments who need to get new workstations provisioned quickly for new staff or refresh older PCs with minimal effort. The Snap Deploy deployment process greatly reduces repeat system deployments and can be configured to image multiple systems all at the same time or work through a list of waiting PCs one at a time.
What problem does it solve?
Repetitive installations are very tedious and time-consuming to complete. Consider the following example: the sales department in an organization brings on three new field representatives who will be starting in a week. When they come in for orientation they will need laptops configured with the organization's sales application and email. For an IT department with multiple staff or nothing going on, it would be no problem to individually build these systems, but with constant support and questions, the workday of the IT department is rarely so calm.
Snap Deploy alleviates this by allowing a master image to be built containing all the applications needed by the sales team. When the image is ready, the workstations can be targeted by booting from media or a PXE server (which ships with the application). Once booted ,the PC will connect to a host system which handles the deployment; the administrator simply creates a template for sales, which tells the server where the master image is and includes any storage drivers needed. Once the deployment begins, the IT staff is free to move on to other tasks.
Snap Deploy allows templates to be saved on the deployment server. These templates contain the information needed to get the deployment finished. The following are specified in a template:
- Image location
- Storage drivers
- Additional files to copy to the target system
- Network credentials for joining the domain
- Multicast/Unicast deployment: Allows the deployment to use all available switch bandwidth to speed up deployment when in multicast mode. Unicast mode allows the deployment to communicate directly with the target system at rate determined by the administrator.
Acronis Snap Deploy management console
Acronis Snap Deploy media creation wizard
Snap Deploy has a great feature set and, with the Universal Deploy add-on, can push an image to targets with dissimilar hardware. The problem with this isn't in the software, but that it is not included in the base cost of licensing. Snap Deploy costs about 25$/target machine to license, but if you wish to push an image across machines with dissimilar hardware, you will need to license that as well at about $13/target. It isn't a huge cost, but can become expensive depending on the number of clients being targeted.
If your targets are all the same, this add-on isn't needed, but it seems that PC manufacturers change parts and requirements whenever the next version of a system is released. Universal Deploy solves the problem of constantly creating new images when new hardware is purchased.
Bottom line for business
With the speed of technology changes today and the constant growth of organizations being able to manage a variety of computers with minimal effort is a great asset to the often busy IT staff. Keeping the process of rolling out new (or refreshing old) workstations to a minimum after initial configuration is sure to be a great help. Simply scheduling a deployment when a new laptop is delivered, plugging it in to the network and booting to connect to the server is much more efficient than formatting and loading everything manually.
Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.