Some of you who follow my twitter ramblings know that I recently completed an evaluation of Ghost Solution Suite vs FOG for a major system cloning project we have at work. Below are my final findings and recommendation that lead our organization to select the Open Source package FOG over our existing Symantec product. Please note, that we were already using Ghost Solution Suite version 1.0 not the most recent 2.5. Therefore this evaluation is really weighing whether to upgrade to 2.5, stay on 1.0 or migrate to FOG.
To FOG or not to FOG, that is the question?
So I’ve spent most of the day evaluating Ghost Solution Suite to better understand just what capabilities it offers. I’m ready to report those findings, and I’ll say upfront, while I don’t want this to appear like a “bash fest” it might start to sound that way. None-the-less, here is what I’ve found in several key areas we should consider.
Manageability: Ghost uses a tried and true File Based Image management system, accessed behind an MMC plugin. The MMC does appear to offer remote capabilities, so once this tool is loaded on a third machine you can access the server remotely. This model is similar to the SAV 10 and below model (a model that has been discontinued in favor of a Java approach beginning with SAV 11. It is also worth pointing out that this MMC model precludes access from any clients other then Windows. FOG utilizes a Web browser access front end atop a database driven model, therefore any computer with a browser can manage the cloning server.
Manageability Advantage: Neither
Platform Support: Ghost really starts to show its age here, OS support only extends up to XP in the core product and only up to Windows 2000 for the accompanying 3Com PXE services (more about these below.) Since there are no patches for version 1.0 the only recourse for additional OS and File systems would be to purchase an upgrade to the a newer version. While Vista support is not key to us now, at some point we will need to migrate to Vista or Win 7, both of which use a newer version of NTFS than XP. FOG presently supports Vista, and has a track record of regular updates.
Platform Support Advantage: FOG
Hardware / Network Interoperability: Since Ghost 1.0 is already a few years old it suffers from a lack of current H/W and NIC support. This is compounded by the fact that it outsourced the PXE Network Boot tasks to an OEM software package from 3Com, which was even older then Ghost. 3Com Boot Services 1.02 is so old it does not officially support Windows XP, just up to 2000. On top of this, the built in Ghost method for adding network cards is NDIS driver based, meaning that if we are imaging a system with a new / different model NIC, the driver must be found for it and then a custom boot image must be loaded on a USB or DHCP/PXE server for each different NIC. Compared to the FOG methodology where a single generic Linux kernel is pushed out, that then has custom behavior on a system by system basis – there is no comparison.
Hardware / Network Interoperability Advantage: FOG
Inventory Functionality: Unlike FOG, Ghost has no H/W level inventorying system. Since FOG treats each piece of hardware it encounters as a unique record (ala the NICs MAC address) in a MySQL DB, it provides detailed hardware level reporting, independent of the image loaded on the system.
Inventory Functionality Advantage: FOG
Training and Learning Curve: Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of Ghost is its familiarity. It has been in place here for some time and running atop a consistent Windows interface makes it operator friendly. FOG is a Linux only application and therefore some training will be necessary. This should be minimal as all management is web based and with PXE Netbooting on clients, there is no requirement, once the server is operational, for any deep Linux knowledgebase.
Training and Learning Curve Advantage: Ghost
Licensing and Cost: Since it is possible that Ghost 2.5 (the current version) addresses many of the current versions shortcomings, price does come into the picture, as we would be required to get on support or worst case re-purchase the whole product. Comparatively FOG is bound by its GPL 3 license to always exist in a free and open form. FOG’s version history goes back 25 steps right now, and there is no indication that the project will soon be discontinued.
Licensing and Cost Advantage: FOG
Given the overwhelming feature superiority of the Open Source package, FOG, and it’s low barrier of entry, financially and in training, I’m confident in recommending we migrate from Ghost to FOG.