Saturday, January 10, 2009

tt4t_070 A New Year, A New Computer Lab

It’s Saturday, January 10th, 2009 and welcome to episode 70 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This has been a busy time for myself and countless other folks that help keep technology working in schools. I had planned on taking off several days over break but we received 34 new Dell computers the week after Christmas for the ITC Lab to replace the old ones. All 34 computers needed to be installed and configured before our students come back for the new semester. I am not alone in that there are many dedicated technology coordinators and support staff across the country that work to make sure the technology is ready for faculty and students when they come back for a new semester.

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Unfortunately the best time to do such major work is when everyone else is off so you do not interfere with the day-to-day activities of school. The same is true over the summer breaks as technology coordinators plan their upgrade activities so that there is the least amount of disruption as possible.

Setting up a new lab is a daunting task especially when you are under time constraints. First all the existing old machines have to be removed then the new computers unboxed and setup. All the required software has to be loaded on the new computers and then each computer desktop needs to be customized for the preferred standards that have developed over the years. We installed the Office 2007 suite of applications along with about a dozen other applications that we regularly use in the ITC Lab. You also have to install JAVA, QuickTime, Flash, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and other common plug-ins. Finally you need to make sure an anti-virus program is installed along with all operating system updates.

Once you are satisfied that you have one computer configured the way that you want it, it is time to make an image which leads me to my Technology Pick of the Week.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a free program from Microsoft that allows you to make an image of a computers hard drive, the name of this method is called ImageX. I have provided a couple of links in the show notes articles that explain ImageX in greater detail for those interested.

PC Deployment with ImageX

Windows Automated Installation Kit

I apologize upfront for the heavy technical detail that is involved with this weeks tech pick but I strongly encourage all technology coordinators that support Microsoft Windows to take a look at ImageX. If your school uses Microsoft Windows computers please pass along this information to your technology support staff in case they do not know about ImageX. The benefit in time savings that this method has saved me this past week is definitely worth the learning curve. ImageX can save you many hours of time when installing and managing large numbers of machines and is a great solution for Windows computer labs.

The advantage of making an image and then copying it to multiple machines is two-fold. First it saves great amounts of time because you do not have to install software applications on every machine individually, the Office 2007 Suite alone takes about 15 minutes to install not to mention the dozens of other programs that may need to be installed on each machine. Secondly, imaging provides consistency in that you setup one machine once and get it as close to perfect as you can, then make this machine your master image. This includes setting up your browser preferences, desktop icons, and program menus the way you want. Of course after you think you have that perfect image someone requests an additional application for the lab that you did not know about, sigh. Now back to step one…

I used the ImageX approach in setting up the new computers in the ITC Lab this time and I am pleased with this new method. For years I have used a program called “Ghost” by Symantec that allows you to make an image of a hard drive that can then be copied to multiple like machines. After the image is copied to a new computer you then have to customize each image so that each “ghosted” machine has a unique name on the network.

ImageX differs from the Ghost software that I have previously used in that ImageX is a file-based imaging process rather than a sector-based image process like Ghost. The advantage of the file-based imaging process is that it is a lot faster. Previously restoring a 5GB image using Ghost took me about 20 minutes per machine but with the new ImageX method I was able to cut the time down to about 5 minutes per machine for a 5GB image. That may not sound like a lot but consider 34 machines times 20 minutes and you end up with about 11.5 hours if you ghosted machines individually. You can cut that time down to about 3 hours with ImageX. Now work a little bit smarter and image multiple machines in batches of ten and you can really cut down on deployment time.

Oh, did I mention ImageX is free! Ghost software is a commercial product.

The ImageX process did take me quite a bit of time to figure out but I can now reap the benefits of this new method and I am so glad I took the time to learn it. If you would like a little more detail in how I use the ImageX process send me an email. So this week has been quite busy getting the ITC Lab ready for the new semester but we have met our deadlines and are ready for the students on Monday.

I am sure there will be a few tweaks that we will need to do to the new computers but the lab really looks nice and I hope the faculty and students appreciate the large screen monitors and much faster computers. Happy New Year!

That wraps it up for episode 70 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at > just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

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