Caveat Cloner! Best Practices for PC Management with Cloning Software - Page 2

Jim Szopinski

Strategic Planning Considerations

Cloning and Continuity of Operations
Cloning is foremost a strategic concern. That doesn't mean you'll need weeks or months to implement it inside your organization. But it does mean carefully considering cloning in the broader context of continuity planning. Complement�ary to COOP, cloning can markedly reduce the time for IT managers to restore users' PCs after a discontinuity in operations.

Take a manual restore, for example. Unassisted by cloning software, this can easily consume five hours or more of an IT professional's time per machine. That includes 45 minutes to install the operating system, two or three hours to load applications, plus additional time to locate and install drivers, retrieve backup data, and configure user preferences, passwords and network settings. At such a pedestrian pace, an organization with multiple PCs may be in for a nasty surprise in the wake of a major incident: hours, days, or in some cases weeks of inoperability while IT personnel toil to restore critical PCs. Time enough, indeed, to provoke a crisis in confidence among even the most loyal of customers and shareholders.

Cloning simplifies PC restoration to a single step of porting a previously created image to the user's PC. In ideal circumstances, the process may be complete in 10 minutes or less. However, caveat cloner: An Image of one PC may not readily port to a different machine because of driver incompatibilities between the two hardware platforms. An Image of a Dell desktop, for example, won't port to that IBM ThinkPad in the office next door. It might not even port to another Dell if the processors or model numbers differ.

Universal Imaging
Faced with this portability problem, organizations with multiple disparate PCs have had little choice other than to create a unique Image for each configuration of desktop and notebook computer. That might mean maintaining two or three dozen Images - an overhead that diminishes the value of cloning software. Moreover, Images are perishable, becoming rapidly out of date with every patch, fix and operating system update. Any PC cloned from an out-of-date Image will therefore require an extended setup by an IT professional to make it current.

Fortunately, the Universal Imaging Utility (UIU) solves the problem of Image portability. This remarkable innovation - developed by Big Bang LLC and distributed by Binary Research International - is an enhancement to cloning software, allowing users to deploy a single Windows Image, created using any cloning solution, on any hardware platform regardless of make, model, processor, or configuration.

The UIU works by preparing a master or source PC (a fully configured platform that the user wishes to clone) prior to executing cloning software. Figure 2 illustrates the process. Specifically, the UIU installs on this master an extensive database of drivers. The Image subsequent�ly created by the cloning software will then deploy to virtually any destination PC.

Key to this advance is the UIU's database, which contains drivers for more than 35,000 hardware components from systems integrators and OEMs like Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Intel, nVidia and 3Com. Yet despite the need to accommodate such a comprehensive set of drivers, the database is small enough to fit comfort�ably on a single CD. Moreover, the UIU continuously updates its stock of drivers, minimizing the chance that an Image will ever lack the requisite drivers for a destination PC. Now organizations need barely skip a beat when challenged by even the most catastrophic of operational discontinuities.

Cloning Schedules
Today's cloning solutions include management consoles to help automate the Imaging process, but the IT department must still decide critical issues like which machines to Image and the frequency of Imaging. In all cases, greatest success will follow from working closely with personnel across the enterprise to create a cloning schedule that reflects the organization's business require�ments.

To this end, begin by asking questions: Which PCs are mission critical? Based on the current investment in business continuity, how much time would elapse in order to port Images of these PCs to new hardware? What's the longest acceptable outage? Is the organization's PC environment sufficiently disparate to benefit from the Universal Imaging Utility? What are the costs and benefits of Imaging on a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly schedule? How much would the business units be willing to invest to fortify the organization's data protection and business continuity initiatives?

Such questions are not easy to answer. Indeed, business leaders - chief executives, managing directors, and financial officers, for example - may first need education in cloning from the IT department or third-party consultants before they can even make sense of these questions. Moreover, conflicts of interest are likely to emerge between the different constituencies within the organization. That prompts another question: Who is going to balance these interests and build the necessary consensus around an optimal cloning strategy?

Coordination and Staffing

In mid-size and large organizations with hundreds or thousands of PCs, project coordination is a leadership responsibility best fulfilled by the chief information officer, the vice president of operations, or a senior member of the IT department who combines business savvy and technology smarts. A diplomat's touch won't hurt either, for this is the person who'll have to keep his - or, just as likely, her - head when all around are losing theirs.

Project staffing is another consideration. Whereas a cloning application's centralized console reduces the hands-on aspect of PC Imaging, local personnel will still be necessary to perform ad hoc tasks beyond the capabilities of remote management. The net labor savings of using a cloning solution should be substantial, but don't expect cloning utilities to do all the work of PC management.

By the same token, don't underestimate the complexity of project manage�ment. In all but the smallest organizations, application software like Microsoft Project can help monitor progress and resource utilization, empowering the coordinator to make informed decisions and keeping the Imaging project on track.

Infrastructure Considerations

System Requirements
Before selecting a cloning solution, take time to conduct an inventory of the PCs you need to clone as well as any servers that might host the cloning software. Today's cloning solutions are often feature-rich application suites with demanding server-side requirements. Legacy PCs, meanwhile, might also struggle to fulfill client-side requirements, perhaps needing a browser update or a network card before they can communicate with the server software.

Symantec's industry-leading Ghost Solution Suite, for example, integrates three PC management applications: Ghost, the principal Imaging application; Client Migration, a utility for migrating PC data and desktop settings; and Deploy Center for deploying operating system and application updates to existing or new hardware.

Minimum server-side requirements to install all three components include a Pentium III processor, 512 MB of RAM, Internet Information Server 5.0 or higher, and a co-located database: MSDE 2000, SQL 7.0, or Microsoft SQL Server 2000. The workstation that hosts the centralized management console must have a 400 MHz Pentium-compatible processor, Internet Explorer 5.01 or higher, and 64 MB of RAM among other requirements. Meanwhile, client-side requirements of each PC include 32 MB of RAM, Internet Explorer 4.01 or higher, and available disk space equal to twice the size of the largest file on the C: drive.

Image Storage
Though often overlooked, storage presents a greater challenge than system requirements for most organizations. The challenge is particularly significant when using cloning for data protection as well as PC management. This means Imaging on a sufficient scale and frequency to back up every PC that hosts mission-critical data.

Even when data protection is not a concern, the number of Images can be sizable, especially in heterogeneous environments. Faced with the need to store and manage multiple Images, organizations will sometimes use the Universal Imaging Utility to substantially reduce the scope of the Image library - sometimes down to a single Image that ports to every PC in the organization.

In another approach to Image reduction, IT managers will create unique Images for each functional group. In this way, an Image for the organization's sales group might conform to one configuration including, say, salesforce automation software, whereas Images for finance, engineering, and customer service will integrate applications and other group-specific settings relevant to that business function. Unlike the creation of multiple Images to accommodate incompatible hardware requirements, these multiple Images are created for reasons that align with the organization.

With such considerations in mind, the project coordinator must assess the options for storing Images. Local storage - that is, storage on another local drive or a drive partition of the client PC - may simplify Image management, make efficient use of unused disk capacity, and avoid the need for connecting the client PC to the corporate network. However, local storage has disadvantages in many COOP scenarios - for example, a fire or some other situation that impedes access to the Image. A more flexible option is storage on removable media such as CDs, DVDs and USB drives. But this, in turn, may frustrate Image management when numerous versions of out-of-date Images begin to accumulate. A third option is storage in a network-accessible location such as an ATA-based disk array. Though potentially more expensive, network-accessible storage provides instant scalability, superior data protection, and greatest opportunity for centralized and remote PC management.

Network Assessment and User Disruption
Out of sight and out of mind. That's the goal of every well-behaved child and every well-conceived cloning initiative. To this end, consider the impact of deploying a new operating system across several hundred PCs or harvesting Images from every machine. What would that mean for your network? Do you need to access PCs over a wide-area network? Would you be able to disrupt users during the work day? How would you gain access to telecommuters and notebook-toting road warriors?

To help minimize the impact on the network and its users, cloning solutions such as Symantec Ghost support multicasting, a load-minimizing strategy in which routers send data over each link of the network just once. However, the impact may still be considerable unless the organization's routers support IGMP, the Internet Group Management Protocol. IGMP-capable routers can constrain multicast traffic to prevent its interference with other traffic on the network - for example, submissions of urgent print jobs, incoming and outgoing e-mail, and exchanges of data between PC clients and an application service provider.

Organizations that don't have IGMP-capable routers face the choice of either updating their network infrastructure or performing cloning operations during the night or on weekends, when network traffic is usually lighter. An off-peak schedule will also minimize disruption to users when an IT professional needs hands-on access to a user's PC in order to perform certain tasks.

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Aug 2, 2011 11:08 PM piedakatelin piedakatelin  says:
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