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Symantec Ghost is a drive cloning application currently maintained by Symantec. Ghost is an acronym for General Hardware-Oriented System Transfer. I am not a big fan of Windows-based versions of Ghost, as it defeats the overall goal of the program.
Ghost makes a bit-by-bit copy of an entire drive (or partition) and saves it to a file. This file can be transferred to a different computer, or kept on the same computer. Ghost images (.GHO or .GHS extension) are generally large in size. If not compressed they are approximately the size of the files on the disk. For instance, if you have a 200GB drive with 22GB used, your disk image will be roughly 22GB. You can restore images, thereby making a duplicate of the original partition.
Ghost 8.2 (shown right) is a very popular version of Ghost used in corporate environments. It is a DOS executable. View How To Make a USB Drive Bootable for more information on making a USB Drive DOS Bootable, thereby allowing you to run Ghost. You cannot save a ghost image to the same drive you are making an image of. Likewise, you cannot restore an image stored on Drive C: to Drive C:.
Ghost is used to solve two main problems. How do I backup my own drives in case of a virus or dataloss? How do I quickly installed the same OS on multiple machines with similar hardware?
Ghost for Backup
How do I backup my own drives in case of a virus or dataloss?
Most consumers use ghost for simple backup purposes. Lets build an example… You have just built a brand new computer, you've got a Windows Installation Disk, and you'd like to backup your OS. How do you proceed? Generally if you plan on creating new images and restoring images on a regular basis, you want to create a new partition for Image storage.
Imagine the following Partition Table:
|Ghost Images (E:)||0GB||200GB|
After you install your Operating System, configure it EXACTLY how you want it. Install all your games and any program that update often to “D:\Program Files\”, so they don't take up space in your image. Install smaller system-related programs to their default location in “C:\Program Files\”. Be sure to run Windows Update, and update all applications to their latest versions. Once you've got your Operating System and applications configured how you want, consider running a program such as [http://www.ccleaner.com/ CCleaner] to clean out all temporary files, then shutdown your computer.
Start your computer, boot it using your flash drive (or other method for running Ghost), start Ghost and create an image of your C: Drive, saving it to your E: Drive.
Now, anything that was on your C: Drive is not contained in the .GHO file saved to your E: Drive. In the future, if something happens to your system which makes it unusable (or undesirable) you can simply boot Ghost, open your Ghost Image, and restore it to your C: Drive. Any data that is on the C: Drive will be overwritten with the data that was on the drive at the time of Image creation.
Consider this situation: On Monday you create an image. On Tuesday you write a term paper and save it on your Desktop. On Wednesday your machine crashes and starts getting BSoD Errors. Wednesday night you decide to restore your Ghost Image from Monday. Your C: Drive is erased, and data from Monday is copied to C:. Your term paper is now lost, unless you've backed it up.
On the other hand, it can be used to restore deleted files. Consider this situation: On Monday you write a term paper and save it to My Documents. On Tuesday you create an image. On Wednesday you are doing some computer cleaning and accidentally delete your term paper. You remember that you made an Image on Tuesday, so you restore your Ghost Image. You boot into your restored Operating System, open My Documents and the file is there.
Ghost for Multiple Systems
How do I quickly installed the same OS on multiple machines with similar hardware?
This problem is most prominent in a corporate or large organization's environment. Consider this example: You work in the IT Depeartment of your local School District. Your School District has just finished construction on a new building and leaves it up to you to build the new computer lab. You order 30-40 identical desktop computers from a manufacturer.
Once they arrive you have your staff set all the machines up at their stations in the new building. You keep one computer in your IT Department and set it up exactly how you want it. You update everything, install the appropriate learning software, limit what users can run and view, etc. You create an image of the entire drive and save it a secondary physical drive in the same computer. From here you have two choices, GhostCast, or manually distributing the image.
Manual Image Distribution
This is perhaps the most tedious of the choices, but is also the most reliable. You can plug the physical hard drive that contains the Ghost image into the machine and run Ghost manually on all 30-40 computers. Another option is to use a USB External Hard Drive, configure it to be bootable from USB (somewhat advanced and requires some hacks), copy the image to this external, and go from computer to computer and restore the disk image on each. Other options include installing Ghost and the Image (if it is small enough) on a DVD or series of DVDs and running the DVDs on each machine. Remember that you can neither save nor restore an image on the same partition which its data or image resides. IE backup C: to an Image on C:, or Restore an Image on C: to C:.
This is by far the quickest and most preferred method if Image Distribution, though it requires all machines to be networked. For this, you host the Ghost Image on a machine running the GhostCast Server. You then use a CD, go to each of the 30-40 machines and boot a GhostCast Client and connect to the server. Once you have all 30-40 machines connected to the server you can “push” the image to all the clients at the same time. It is not a good idea to run this on a network that is connected to your main network. Consider disconnecting the building's uplink to the IDF, therefore preventing your GhostCast session from slowing down the rest of your network.
Network traffic can be a HUGE concern. Lets say you have 30 clients, all trying to receive a small 20GB Image. You're looking at transferring 600GB. ALL this data must be sent from the server, which means you are limited but the server's network adapter speed. On the other hand if you're looking at 40 clients transferring a more average-sized image of 35GB then you will need to transfer 1400GB of data through your network.
You may want to considering running separate GhostCast sessions to reduce network load and speed up your deployment. Running two 15-client sessions after each other is going to be faster than running 30 clients all at the same time.