Symantec Revs up Drive-Imaging Market

The difficulty of deploying and managing Windows NT workstations is a contributing factor to the high total cost of ownership in enterprise environments. Consequently, a number of vendors have responded with software products that take some of the pain out of operating system and application software distribution by imaging the hard disk environments of existing client workstations. With the announcement of its intention to acquire drive-imaging software vendor Binary Research Int’l Inc. (Auckland, New Zealand,, software giant Symantec Corp. (Cupertino, Calif., will elbow its way into an already crowded market -- one in which Microsoft Corp., too, is interested.

Binary Research distributes a software tool called General Hardware Oriented System Transfer (GHOST), one of the more popular drive-imaging products on the market.

But Binary Research is far from alone in providing drive-imaging functionality. Vendors such as PowerQuest Corp. (Orem, Utah,, publisher of Drive Image Professional; Keylabs Inc. (Provo, Utah,, publisher of ImageBlaster Pro; and Intelligent Computer Solutions(Chatsworth, Calif.,, publisher of ImageMaster 200, have all produced software-based products that can image an operating system and application software environment and then distribute it to client workstations across the network.

Enrique Salem, vice president of the security and assistance business unit with Symantec, positions his company’s acquisition of the Ghost tool as a move driven primarily by customer demand. "Corporations suffer a tremendous amount of wasted productivity when they roll out new PCs, whether it is 100 or 100,000, by manually installing the operating system and applications on each system," explains Salem. "Our customers have clearly communicated a tangible need to address this problem. The addition of Ghost to our corporate solution set will help our customers make the rollout process faster, more efficient and reliable, resulting in reduced cost of ownership and increased productivity."

However, Microsoft recently announced that it soon will make available a System Preparation Tool that supplies much of the functionality provided by existing imaging solutions. Accordingly, the system preparation tool for Windows NT Workstation 4.0 will allow IT managers to clone or image a Windows NT Workstation system and application environment and then use a third-party utility to distribute homogenous client environments to workstations on a network.

Microsoft provided testimonials from drive-imaging vendors such as PowerQuest and new Symantec acquisition Binary Research on its Web site, both of which championed Redmond’s moves in the drive-imaging arena. According to an analyst with an IT consultancy who didn’t wish to be identified, however, such claims may have the ring of hollowness about them, as both companies could have exchanged long-term viability for the short-term fame that all too often surrounds an association with Microsoft.

"Microsoft is notorious for chewing companies like these up," the analyst maintains. "These two [PowerQuest and Binary Research] might have cashed in their long-term viability for near-term fortune and glory. It’s only a matter of time before Microsoft incorporates the complete functionality [provided today by their products] into NT."

Symantec’s products have often complemented existing Microsoft solutions in the past, however. The Speed Disk disk defragmentation tool that Symantec provides with its popular Norton Utilities software is a case in point, emerging as one of the most popular such utilities for the Windows 95 platform, even though Microsoft provides a free disk defragmentation utility with every copy of its operating system.