Computer cloning, or ghosting as it is sometimes called, involves setting up the operating system, drivers, software, and patches on a single computer, then automatically replicating this same setup on other computers using specialized software. It is sometimes referred to as imaging as well, as the configuration dataset is called an "image." Depending on the type of software you use, cloning can be done using a disk or other media, or over a network. Cloning allows you to efficiently set up multiple computers, and can be done at any charity or organization where you want to ensure that every workstation is configured the same way and with the same software.
There are obvious reasons to clone computers in a community technology center (CTC), but cloning can also be a huge help for any organization that needs to configure multiple computers at once. Setting up just one workstation manually can take anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day; deploying an image on the same machine, in contrast, takes much less time. Cloning can even be advantageous for a standalone machine that's not on a network, for the following reasons:
Disk images are primarily meant to save you time and automate the routine work of installing operating systems and software. Disk-cloning programs can provide some incidental protection against data loss, but their main purpose is to capture a particular configuration of software and operating system. This means cloning software isn't appropriate for day-to-day backups of mission-critical data. You should rely on dedicated backup software to protect data files in case of a hard- drive failure or other disaster.
Keep in mind that the machines you clone must all use the same operating system. While cloning can be performed for any platform, Mac clones won't work on PCs, Linux clones won't work on Macs, and so forth. That said, the following are some considerations to get started:
If you're cloning lots of computers, image one or two and examine them carefully before deploying to your entire charity or organization. Check that your image is reliable and uncorrupted. Also, look again to make sure that you haven't forgotten an important setting or an important piece of software. Remember that any mistake you make will be replicated across a large batch of machines. In some cases, you might want to image your computers in waves.
As you formalize your cloning policy and strategy, you will also need to figure out how to store and manage these different images. With most cloning software, you can save your images to a local hard drive, a network drive, a tape backup, CDs, or DVDs. Avoid CDs and DVDs if you can. Since most images won't fit on a single CD or DVD, you'll have to span your image across multiple disks. However, once you've saved your master image to a local hard drive or a network drive, you can use DVDs to create backups of these images.
If you support a large number of computers, disk-cloning software can save you a lot of time. However, plan carefully before you commit yourself to a particular solution, and test thoroughly before you re-image a large batch of computers.
Image: Teacher Helping Student in Computer Lab, Shutterstock
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