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I am setting up a small computer lab at a school in a small town up in the hills of Panama, where we will be starting with 10 similarly-configured student PCs. My desire is to create a locked-down system image on the first PC, then clone it to all the others--easy enough with tools like Ghost or Acronis, etc.

However (stay with me here), since their options for "tech support" in the town are little-to-none, I need these systems to be fairly self-sustaining. Specifically, I would like to leave them with a custom, bootable DVD that will re-image any of the PCs to the original "clean" image similar to the hardware "System Restore Disc". And it must meet the following requirements:

  • easy for the non-technical users--no questions or options, just boot to the DVD and click YES to restore the disk
  • the bootable DVD should be self-contained, with the image file automatically applied
  • it should not just restore the image, but also run SysPrep or NewSID or such to ensure that the new PC name and SID doesn't conflict on the network

It's been a few years since I've used Ghost or PowerQuest or the like for anything but a single backup and restore, and the feature-sets that these products boast have exploded... so I don't know which one to pick.

Anyone have experience and recommendations from using one of these programs to make such a system restore disc? Your comments are much appreciated!


I'm heading to Panama on Sunday to do this installation, so I need to have my tools ready before then. So any comments, tips or suggestions from people who have used one of these tools (Symantec Ghost, Acronis Backup & Recovery, Clonezilla, FarStone DriveClone Pro, Paragon Deployment Manager, etc.), it would be much appreciated. Thanks!

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Why not use Windows Steady State - if it's a windows

newsid is not needed: http://blogs.technet.com/markrussinovich/archive/2009/11/03/3291024.aspx

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Although SS isnt exactly what you requested, I think it would suffice. It is used all over the world wherever there are public-accessed PC's for the same reason as you requested. It includes the ability to configure restrictions for the public account and it offers Disk Protection...and its FREE! I have also used DeepFreeze, but it isnt free. –  cop1152 Nov 12 '09 at 19:20
    
I had forgotten about Steady State, since I haven't needed to do anything like this for a while. Checking it out now--but it looks great. And interesting article on the NewSID stuff -- I guess good ol' SysPrep is good enough just as it is for my needs. –  ewall Nov 13 '09 at 16:01
    
SteadyState ended up being a great choice for this project. I did use Ghost to clone the initial systems for the whole lab, but I did not end up making any kind of "restore" disk for them. If necessary, I can do that myself should the need arise. –  ewall Nov 23 '09 at 18:50

What about http://clonezilla.org/ and a small script which runs at the first boot and executes NewSID?

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It's true that Clonezilla does have instructions for building your own recovery CD (clonezilla.org/clonezilla-live/make-live-recovery.php)... but what I'm really hoping for is people with experience, comments, and tips, y'know? I only have one chance at building this while I'm at the site, so it's gotta work. –  ewall Nov 12 '09 at 0:42

I use SystemRescueCD for this, which includes partimage which can handle cloning NTFS partitions, storing only the data actually used - a typical Windows XP image is around 6GB, for instance. You can even install it to a small partition on the harddrive of the server, along with the disk image of the main partition, and write an autorun script to automatically run partimage and re-image the Windows partition. Then you use GRUB bootloader to do a two-option menu, probably password protected to stop children tinkering, one of which loads Windows, the other of which loads Linux to reimage the machine. I don't bother running NewSID, I simply create a separate image for each machine.

You could also look at FOG, which seems to be a pretty comprehensive cloning solution.

If there is money available for the solution, your easiest option might be Faronics DeepFreeze, which keeps a Windows machine in a constant state.

With all those solutions, you might want to consider partitioning the disk up into two NTFS partitions for Windows and redirect My Documents to the second partition, so you can restore the OS without nuking everyone's files.

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Good points, all of them. As for the partitioning, that's wise. In this I think I'll have any user data redirected to a server's mapped drive. But the idea of putting the recovery image on a second/hidden partition might work much better than the bootable-DVD idea. –  ewall Nov 13 '09 at 16:04
    
What server are you going to have - a Windows Domain Controller, with each workstation joined to that domain? Individual machine's identifiers will expire after a month, so you you restore a month-old image the PC will not be able to log on to the domain. You can simply rejoin the machine to the domain, though, which shouldn't be difficult for someone at that end to manage. –  David Hicks Nov 17 '09 at 19:41

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