ImageCast Deluxe speeds up the configuration of multiple PCs

Price: $250 for 25-license pack; $795 for 100-pack and
unlimited multicasting to limited number of target machines

Pros and cons:
+        Multicast fast and reliable
+        Easy to set up host and destination PCs
–        Supports only Ethernet multicasts
–        Backup utility slow

Real-life requirements:
Win9x or NT, Ethernet connection for multicast, CD-ROM drive

Forget sheep. ImageCast Deluxe lets you clone entire hard drives from a single machine
onto as many as 100 client PCs distributed across a network.

It’s a dream come true for administrators who need to set up large networks
quickly or who reconfigure PCs constantly for groups of new users.

The administrator first configures a PC with all the applications the workgroup will
use. Once the first system is set up perfectly, ImageCast can wipe the contents of the
target computers, replacing operating systems and all applications with an exact copy of
those on the first PC.

This can be done over a network to several clients at once, depending on the size of
the license agreement purchased with the software.

Updating many PCs at once is ImageCast’s obvious strength, but it works only on
Ethernet. Arcnet, token-ring and other network flavors do not support multicasting. You
can still update PCs over such a network, but one at a time.

It’s not quite hands-free cloning, either. Even if you have an Ethernet LAN, you
will need one floppy disk for each PC that accepts cloned software.

Each PC must have its bootable floppy disk to install the ImageCast files. The program
requires that emm386.exe and himem.sys files be present on every floppy, but oddly, it
does not install the files as part of the setup process. The program merely warns that
each disk must have the files, then leaves it up to the user to find them and manually
copy them onto the disk.

When you have gathered all the floppy disks and installed the ImageCast software, which
requires knowing the IP address of each PC you are cloning, and have copied the required
system files, you are ready to start the drive cloning—almost.

ImageCast next requires booting each target PC with its individual floppy. Then you run
a master cloning program on the machine about to be duplicated. That program detects each
client that has been booted with the ImageCast software. The master computer makes a final
check of all PCs to be cloned, and duplication finally begins.

The multicast method is fast once you get started. In the GCN Lab, it took about an
hour to multicast 350M of data across the network. It did not seem to matter how many PCs
were targeted to receive cloned software, as long as each had an individual IP address and
had been booted with the special floppy.

When backup is complete, the target computers look exactly like the host PC, right down
to the desktop interface and shortcuts.

Unfortunately, if you cannot use the multicast feature, standalone cloning takes much
longer. You can clone only one PC at a time, and more network bandwidth is needed.

Most of the time is wasted waiting for a transfer to finish before running the entire
process over on another PC. Cloning more than 20 computers could easily take days to
finish this way.

ImageCast works a little faster for PCs running Microsoft Windows NT because it can
automatically assign network addresses for them during transfer.

Another feature worth noting is that you can back up an entire hard drive for
restoration in case of emergency.

I did this by making an image file of the hard drive on the computer I was using to
test the multicast feature. My plan was to finish testing and restore the original
configuration, erasing the cloned software.

I didn’t lose any data, but on an IBM PC 350 with an upgraded 200-MHz IDT WinChip
C6, backing up 3G of data took almost five hours. Granted, I was using high compression to
save space, but who has five hours to spend on backup?

ImageCast is a mixed bag. If everything goes perfectly, the administrator can quickly
configure entire networks of PCs based on the specifics of one computer. This would be
most helpful at training centers, where a separate PC could be mirrored to every other PC
between classes, assuming about an hour between sessions.

I would not recommend the disk backup utility unless you have an exceptionally fast
machine or are willing to use low compression, which takes up more room.  

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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