Computer imaging is a must for any IT department with a decent amount of users. Imaging allows someone to create an exact duplicate copy of a computer's entire hard drive and/or partition inside the hard drive and then transfer this copy to another computer. This will copy every single file, all of the drivers and every setting on the machine. This image is normally copied to an imaging server where many computers can access the image file and copy it to their hard drives.
Imaging has several different uses in the IT world. The most common use is to deploy new computers. Most IT departments buy many of the same models of desktops, notebooks and servers at one time. They also prefer their users have the same base install of OS and programs.
With imaging software, an IT department can create a base image of a machine, copy it to the main image server, and then pull that image down to as many computers as they want in a very short time. If a computer crashes, then a technician can copy the image back onto the hard drive and have the user up and running with a fresh install within the hour. This saves a tremendous amount of time for the IT department, which allows them to focus on other tasks.
Imaging was discovered in the late 1990s by a company named Binary Research. The product was named Ghost, which is why most IT people refer to imaging as “ghosting.”
With features such as PXE boot — the ability to boot to a small OS via the LAN card — a tech can set up a computer to have an image pulled from the user's desk instead of bringing the computer to the repair center. Most images take anywhere from five to 20 minutes to pull down over the network.
A few other popular uses for imaging are upgrading a hard drive, doing a full backup and restoring a computer to the original format. Imaging software has the features to take a copy of a smaller hard drive and place it on a larger one, which is perfect for someone who wants to upgrade their storage but does not want to reinstall everything. The ability to restore a computer back to the original settings after every reboot is a must for public computer labs as well. If someone installs software that makes the computer crash, just reboot and everything is working correctly again.
Imaging saves time for the technician to repair the computer and allows the user to get back to work very quickly, which results in less down time and less money wasted. There are several different types of imaging packages available from hardware appliances to open-source software. Imaging software companies also are adding more features to help IT departments do their job more efficiently. Some of the newest features allow IT departments to perform a full software/hardware inventory, partition and format hard drives, change computer names, and deploy service packs and applications.