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Managing Multiple Image Sets

The challenge posed by working with image-based deployments for Intel Macs is multiple images. Many Mac systems administrators complain about this requirement, which has led to a lot of experimental efforts to create a universal Mac OS X image that can be used for all Macs in a network (Intel and Power PC alike). Although I do appreciate the effort that maintaining additional images can create, I do not think it is a terribly significant hardship.

In my experience as a network/systems administrator of Mac, Windows, and multiplatform networks, maintaining multiple images for workstations has always been a fact of life. For Windows workstations, in particular, this is often a requirement because the images are nowhere near as portable as Mac OS X, and even a small network can require several different images. But even in Mac-only environments, it can often be helpful to maintain multiple distinct images.

This ensures that varying departments, school grade levels, or classroom types each have an image that addresses their specific needs and/or computers. Although the same Mac OS X installation can be used on a fourth-grade eMac as on a tenth-grade iBook, the configuration of the operating system (to say nothing of the installed applications) is likely to be significantly different. Yes, some of those differences can be handled by using Managed Preferences in a Mac OS X Server environment or by using post-deployment tools. But the ability to touch each machine once for deployment and to make minimal post-deployment changes can easily be worth the effort of creating a generic Mac OS X install as an image and then creating variations on that install to be used as your final install images.

This process might also be expedient for tech support purposes because the specialized image can be used to reimage a computer that has suffered some level of operating system or application failure, or corruption with a minimal need for further configuration (and thus less downtime for the user and more productivity from the support technician).

Managing additional image sets for Intel Macs can simply be integrated into existing processes and infrastructures. To ease the process of developing and using these additional images, grouping all new Intel Macs into a single department, school, or lab is an ideal approach. You need to create only a single new image for that department, school, or lab rather than deploying a mix of Intel and Power PC Macs within a given area and then needing to create and manage duplicate images. It also means that you can ensure that the applications used by that department are universal wherever possible to improve the performance and user experience of the new Intel Macs in your network.

Depending on your deployment methods, the additional work might simply be limited to creating the additional images as needed and setting up storage for them. If you are using a network-based deployment method, which is largely regarded as the most efficient use of NetBoot/NetInstall or Mike Bombich’s NetRestore, make it possible to simply create the appropriate images and sets on a NetBoot server. You can then boot the machines over the network, relying on your chosen tool for actual deployment.

If you use Apple Software Restore (including multicast restore for increased deployment performance), you need to configure an alternate boot disk for the target workstations. The same is true if you want to deploy from a portable hard drive. This can create challenges, as discussed earlier in this article.

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