Easy disk imaging

Let's suppose you're a computer reseller. Each machine you ship includes Windows NT or Windows 95, Office 97, and miscellaneous applications. Customers often take the preloaded software for granted, usually without regard for how it got on the hard disk. The people working on the vendor side know that preloading software is far from easy. The same applies for network administrators trying to create standardized systems that are easier to support (for instance, when designing a training course). In general, you can preload programs onto a hard disk in two ways: You can install and tweak everything manually, or you can use a drive image duplication program, such as Micro House International's ImageCast.

ImageCast's functionality is distributed across two applications: the ClientBuilder and the Controller utility. The ClientBuilder is a DOS program that lets administrators create images locally, rather than consuming precious bandwidth over the network. The Controller utility is a network-centric Windows application that lets you create and copy disk images on remote systems.

The key to ImageCast's power is its simplicity. To create a 500MB image of a basic client machine (NT Workstation, Win95, and Office 97, all preinstalled), I launched the ImageCast Client by booting off the client disks (created with ImageCast's ClientBuilder). Within the ImageCast Client, depicted in Screen 1, the Save to File function let me create the proper disk image. The entire process ran for about 10 minutes, resulting in a perfect copy of the hard disk contents. Unlike other drive-cloning products, ImageCast includes a security ID (SID) creation function that automatically creates unique SID tokens, saving you a step during the cloning process.

After creating the disk image, I was given the option of extracting it to various PCs on the network. You can perform this task in one of two ways. I chose the first method, in which you use the Restore from File option in the DOS ImageCast Client to send the image to a target PC. Performing a full extraction of the image took just over 15 minutes--perfectly acceptable considering how much easier this method is compared with installing everything manually. Alternatively, you can use the Win32 Controller utility to distribute disk images. If you plan to take advantage of ImageCast's multicasting function, you must use the Controller method.

TCP/IP multicasting lets ImageCast simultaneously send a copy of a hard disk image to multiple machines on the network. You save time by working on all the machines simultaneously, and you save network bandwidth by sending only one copy of the image across the network, regardless of how many machines are receiving the image. The multicasting feature is exclusive to the Controller utility, which means you need an easy-to-use GUI. Copying the disk image to remote machines is simply a matter of selecting the target systems and clicking the Copy button.

ImageCast includes EZ-Copy in every box as a bonus. EZ-Copy is a simple utility that replicates the contents of IDE hard disks. One of EZ-Copy's more impressive uses is to upgrade from a smaller IDE disk to a larger disk with the same interface. For instance, if you have a 540MB bootable IDE disk and you want to replace it with a 4GB disk, you simply connect the new hard disk and set it as the slave. Then you invoke EZ-Copy to duplicate the contents of the 540MB disk onto the 4GB disk (if the smaller disk is set to boot, the 4GB disk will be bootable as well), remove the old hard disk, and set the new one as master. The end result is a seamless upgrade that nets you nearly 3.5GB.

ImageCast worked impressively well in practice. The only downside is its lack of Macintosh support--the ability to create images of Macintosh hard disks would be the icing on the cake. Regardless, the program does what it's supposed to with a minimum of fuss. If you are a system reseller or a network administrator, ImageCast will serve you well. The program supports different partition types, including NetWare partitions, UNIX partitions, and the FAT32 file system in OEM Release 2 (OSR2) of Win95. As a result, you can duplicate the contents of nearly any machine on the network. ImageCast is also surprisingly versatile; enterprising users with plenty of disk space on their file servers can conceivably use ImageCast as a backup utility. This combination of power, versatility, and simplicity makes ImageCast a useful tool.

ImageCast
Contact: Micro House International * 303-443-3388 or 800-926-8299
Web: http://www.microhouse.com
Price: $99 (10-client license)
System Requirements:Windows 95