Duplicate hard disks with ease

\[Editor's Note:Symantec purchased Innovative Software. The software package is now available through Symantec.\]

Suppose that your company's IS director puts you in charge of upgrading Windows 95 clients to Windows NT. With dozens of desktops to upgrade, you're convinced you'll need months to finish the job. You might wonder what you can do. You can try Innovative Software's General Hardware Oriented Software Transfer (GHOST) program. GHOST is a system duplication tool that lets you transfer the contents of one disk to another (i.e., a one-to-one transfer). The software also lets you transfer the contents of one disk to a disk image file and use that image file to create copies of the original disk (i.e., a one-to-many transfer). This second option makes GHOST an ideal utility for system rollouts and upgrades. GHOST supports FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS partition types, so you can use the software in any type of environment. Using GHOST isn't complicated if you plan your data duplication strategy properly. You can use multiple methods to ghost a system; the method you choose depends on your goal.

If you want to ghost hard disks internally, the process is simple. If you want to create a disk image file and ghost the file over the network, you must have sufficient disk space for the file. If you intend to ghost an image file to more than one computer hard disk, you might want to store the image on a central server or a recordable medium. GHOST also performs transfers over peer-to-peer connections through NetBIOS network connections or over a parallel port using a LapLink cable.

After GHOST performs a transfer, the software checks to ensure the transfer is complete (i.e., performs an integrity check). Screen 1 shows GHOST asking whether the user is ready to proceed with an integrity check.

GHOST's Features
GHOST has several features that competing software programs don't have. For example, GHOST provides a multicasting feature that lets you transfer a disk image file to multiple destinations on your network simultaneously. This feature reduces network traffic and bandwidth congestion. GHOST includes Ghost Walker 1.1.3c, a security ID (SID) update utility. When you run this application on an NT workstation, it automatically assigns new SIDs to objects on the system. Without this utility, ghosting the contents of one hard disk to another might cause security problems because objects on one system might have incorrect SIDs or duplicate SIDs.

GHOST has extensive disk image file creation capabilities: You can duplicate an entire hard disk or select partitions. Using GHOST's built-in file compression, you can create an image file that is smaller than the original partition. If you want to put the image file on a medium in which it would otherwise not fit (e.g., if you create a 2GB ghosted image and want to put it on recordable CD-ROMs to distribute to remote sites), GHOST has a media-spanning feature that lets you use multiple media sources to save your image. With this feature, only the amount of media storage space you have limits the size of your disk image.

My Experience
Installing the GHOST software is not a simple process. The documentation is disorganized and lacks substantive detail about how to perform transfer operations. However, using the one-to-one transfer method, I managed to ghost an old IDE hard disk from one of my NT workstations to a new Seagate 10GB Ultra direct memory access (DMA) IDE hard disk. About 30 minutes later, I completed the transfer. When I installed the new Seagate hard disk on my NT host, my disk subsystem ran faster.

To Buy or Not to Buy
You can purchase GHOST in several license configurations. For example, the multicast package is licensed on a per-workstation basis (i.e., you can ghost one disk image file to a hard disk per license).

GHOST's price is significantly lower than the cost of paying a systems administrator to manually upgrade your system. However, if you're considering ghosting hard disks but don't need the advanced features GHOST offers, you might want to invest in a hardware-based disk duplicator instead.

GHOST 5.0
Contact: Innovative Software * 414-964-2200 or 800-817-5119
Web: http://www.innovativesoftware.com
Symantec * 541-334-6054 or 800-441-7234
Web: http://www.symantec.com
Price: $15 for one workstation license
System Requirements: 386SX processor or better, 4MB of RAM (8MB for NTFS), DOS 5.0 or later, DOS 5.0 or later
Corrections to this Article:
  • "GHOST 5.0" incorrectly reported that Symantec purchased Innovative Software. Symantec acquired Binary Research, the company that developed GHOST. Innovative Software is a privately owned company and will continue to sell GHOST.