Deep Freeze Your Network's PCs For Total Control

Monday Oct 22nd 2001 by Drew Bird
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Networkers frequently have to concern themselves with desktop computers and thin clients that are used by temps, freelancers, and other users who may migrate through the enterprise or campus. Here's one solution to ensure that the required access is provided, but that the machine will return to its original state.

Of all the tasks related to PC desktop support, frequently the province of the network management team, by far the most time consuming is dealing with issues created by users. Some of these issues are minor and easily corrected, whereas others such as when a user unwittingly launches a virus are a little more time consuming and potentially damaging. Either way, the end result is the same. Someone has to spend time fixing the problem, and that someone may be you.

For a long time, these occurrences were simply considered a necessary part of systems support, but in recent years an increasingly varied range of methods have emerged to limit what a user can do to a system.

In recent years, 'ghosting' has provided a way of returning the system to a previous configuration. The only problem was that as well as being potentially time consuming to restore, ghosting requires an image for each type of PC, and if configuration changes are made a new image must be created. An alternative approach is to use tools, such as profiles, that allow the changes to the system configuration to be restricted. The problem then becomes how to preserve the systems purpose as a productivity tool while at the same time restricting users as to what damage they can do to the system.

The solution to the problem may be in the form of a product called Deep Freeze, from San Ramon, Calif.-based Faronics, Inc. Deep Freeze is a software product that literally 'freezes' the configuration of the system. Any changes made to the system while it is in a frozen state are lost when the system reboots. The product is so robust that the hard disk can actually be completely formatted, and it will still come back as a completely functioning system when it is rebooted.

At first glance a system using Deep Freeze looks like any other. The system acts and reacts as you would expect. There is no apparent detriment on performance, or any loss of functionality. In fact, the only way to actually tell that the system is frozen is the existence of an icon in the system tray. The program does use about 10% of the available hard disk space, but in today's market where disk space is cheap this shouldn't be too much of an issue.

The Deep Freeze program loads as part of the standard system boot. During the Deep Freeze initialization phase, indicated by a series of periods, you can enter the Deep Freeze menu and disable it if necessary. This allows configuration changes to be made or programs to be added or removed. Once the changes are made, a reboot makes the changes become part of the frozen setup and the system is once again protected.

The only drawback, and it is a big one, is that any configuration changes, or any files that are saved on the system while it is frozen are lost. This requires a degree of education for the user, and a degree of awareness for the administrator. Users who unwittingly save their work to the C: drive are unlikely to be understanding if you explain the freezing process only after the event.

Restricting changes that people make, and preventing files from being saved are a bonus in terms of reduced administration, but such a level of control would be inappropriate in certain circumstances. Imagine trying to tell the Regional Sales Manager he can't change the Windows wallpaper or install Real Player, because his system is frozen. Under other circumstances, where the issue of control is paramount, a product like Deep Freeze really has its place. Such an environment is the educational sector where a single PC endures a variety of users on a daily basis and where the users are, how should we put it, less than kind towards the systems.

Deep Freeze comes in two varieties. The Standard version provides the basic freezing functionality and is reasonably priced at $125 for a 10-license pack for educational users. The Professional version includes additional features such as centralized management and the ability to specify a certain directory to be left unfrozen. The Professional product is more expensive than the Standard but still comes in at under $200 for a 10-license pack for educational users. Bulk licensing agreements bring down the price considerably, with a Professional license costing less than $5 at the 1000 license mark.

Although Faronics is focusing its attention on the education and corporate markets rather than the retail sector, a single license package, designed for home users, is available for $60. The current versions of Deep Freeze supports Windows 98, 95 and Me. A version for Windows 2000 is expected soon, with a version for Windows XP to follow shortly after.

Perhaps understandably, Faronics are tight-lipped about what exactly makes the Deep Freeze magic possible. All they will say is that the system makes you think you are installing software, making configuration changes and deleting files, but in reality the changes are not actually being made. Confused? Well, the great thing is that Deep Freeze works so well you'll find yourself simply accepting that it does it's thing, without worrying too much about how it does it.

Detailed product information and a 60 day trial copy of deep freeze is available from www.deepfreezeusa.com.

This article was first published on CrossNodes, an internet.com site.

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