Ghosting/clone images of machines- fast way to restore over networking

websss used Ask the Experts™

We are wanting to remotely flash PC's with a fresh copy of windows with all the preinstalled software
Most of the hardware is different, so the images will need to be restored to machines with different hardware

Ideally, we would be able to do this from our seats, and not have to travel
Either remotly connect to machine, or better still pick from a list of hardware and choose to  flash the fresh image
we have over 200 machines and need to do it 4 times a year, so ease of use is paramount

cheaper/free solutions are preferred
But if there is just one player that does it well, then we will have to go for that
all advice appreciated

some other bits of info
We are microsoft based
All on a LAN
Windows 8 (currently XP but will be upgrading via this route)
Active Directory and people log onto domain
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Here is an interesting idea for you to consider....

If the hardware varies radically you can solve this by virtualizing the workstations.
This way one single master image would work on ALL computers regardless of the hardware.
Look at VMware workstation 10 and VMplayer.
You can even keep existing OS and use it as the host OS...


the computers vary in spec
would that mean the performance would be slower? and would older computers be able to be virtulised

What would the end user see? would they have to load the virtual PC or would it boot into it automatically?
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

If your sites have a Windows Server, then install the WDS role on the server.  Then build an image using your Volume License (VL) Media (ONLY VL media permits this) and load it into the WDS server(s).  Then add your applications based on WMI criteria using MDT.  That's the "free of additional license fees" way.

The more expensive option but I believe 100% automated way is System Center Configuration Manager.
You would have to try to see how the "old" computers would work, but that would be same issue if you are putting on the new OS.

Think about the advantages though...

ONE configuration for all!!!!

You simply execute the VMplayer that loads the image and BAM.... You are running new OS on top of the old one!

If you use roaming profiles for the domain users OS updates/maintenance etc will be as simple as loadin new image you distribute and... BAM ... ;-)
Why would you even want to go there?

VDI is where it's at if you're going to do that.
I agree though not knowing the company infrastructure it may or not be possible...
Virtualization option is much closer to scope of the original question and can be easily adapted to VDI solution in the future.
Been through many an upgrade

You're just adding a layer of complexity by using player because you're also dealing with an app that needs to patched, upgraded,tested and managed.

If you've ever dealt with VM Workstation ,any upgrade is basically a new install for every build.

No way I'd go that route.
pgm554 I think that you may be confused what is been suggested...

use ONE VMware workstation to create MASTER image...

Purchase MANY VMware Player Plus to run on each remote PC.

There is NO need to install VMware workstation on each PC....
Mike TLeading Engineer


The first step you have to do is create base images for every model of hardware type you have. You can and must do this using MDT which is free. Once you are happy with the hardware build you can look at adding your apps, again using MDT.

All this will result in 1 gold image for each hardware model you have and will be choosable from a menu.

Your main challenge is how to get the gold image to the target machines. You have 3 options:

DVD (limits image to 8GB)
over the network using WDS which is just a free feature of Windows 2008

You have not mentioned that state of your network, whether it is a WAN or *shudder* ISDN. You really need a good, fast LAN connection because the images will be big (a few GB). The more apps you include the bigger your image will be.

Hence it may well be a lot easier to just post remote offices (or staff) a "build on a stick" and they can rebuild their machine in about 30-45 minutes.

Deploying over the WAN works better with SCCM but then you're talking $$.

For more info and some links see my previous answer:

I would not bother with VMware player. You still need a "host OS" to actually install it so you still need to do the work creating base images just for the hardware. i.e. you need something to boot into to then run VMplayer. Also Vmware player plus is not free.

MDT + WDS is free. The cost is network bandwidth or USB sticks!



Thanks all
The WAN network is a large 30 acre site on a fibre back bone

Its a school with about 500+ machines
I will need to rebuild each machine 3 times a year, so ideally a quick process is the key
Not sure if you need more info or if that changes things?
Leading Engineer

If you have fibre then I expect things to be fine. Given the scale I would go with Configuration Manager (aka SCCM). You have to make sure all the inter-connecting network hardware is configured with the correct ports and allow PXE traffic in that case too.

As it's a school I would not even attempt USB/DVD as the risk of it getting in the wild is too great. I would also add a build password and other fail-safes to prevent un-wanted rebuilds. Leaving PXE with just an F12 between students and machines is doomed.

For any build you do the best practice is:
1) use MDT to create the gold image
2) create the gold image on a Hyper-v virtual machine (to remove hardware issues)
3) capture the result
4) deploy with SCCM

As for speed it depends what you put into the image. If it's OS + Office + Flash it will take about 30 minutes on a machine with 4GB RAM, regardless of CPU.

If it's a "fat image" with lots of software on then expect that to push out to an hour. The slowest stage by far is patching, so it's best to patch the image offline. Patching can take 20 minutes alone (for about 80 patches) and will obviously get worse as time goes on.

The time will be about 10 minutes quicker if you use cloning instead and is so much work to manage I would avoid it at all costs (just in case anyone mentions it).

Hope that helps,


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