Once upon a time, not all that long ago, there was a wonderful program called Ghost -- a utility that could clone...
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hard drives either on the same system or across a network. Recently, Symantec Corp. purchased it and rebranded it as Ghost Solution Suite. However, I drifted away from Ghost and found myself exploring alternatives like Image for DOS and now g4u.
The g4u (current version: 2.3) is a NetBSD-based boot disk, either a floppy or CD-ROM, that can write a disk image to an FTP server or retrieve it. The FTP server can be running anywhere on any system -- out on the Internet somewhere or (preferably) on a machine in your LAN. There is no support yet for multicasting directly from a single source to multiple targets, but once you have the source image set up, it's easy enough to draw it down to multiple targets.
Using g4u 2.3 is relatively straightforward. After booting the CD or floppy, g4u will attempt to obtain a network address from DHCP. The program's commands are all entered from a common language infrastructure prompt, and the machine can sense IDE, SATA, SCSI or RAID discs from various manufacturers. g4u does not perform partition resizing, but the target filesystem generally needs to be the same size as the source filesystem.
Now, for g4u's caveats: For one, the network devices in your system may not be recognized correctly, although there is built-in support for a fairly broad range of network devices. The list includes wireless network cards, although you'll need to configure wireless network support manually whenever you run g4u on a client. Also, the command-line structure of the program means you have to read the documentation thoroughly to get the most out of it. If you want a more "guided" version of g4u, programmer Rob Bennett has created a modified version of the program called MIDS, with a friendlier interface and a bit more automation.
About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of Windows Insight (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of experience working with Windows, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and other TechTarget sites.