Acronis' Snap Deploy 3.0 client imaging system is first to bat in our InformationWeek review of Windows 7 deployment software. Acronis focuses only on client imaging and deployment. If you're shopping for a full enterprise desktop management suite, look elsewhere. However, for organizations that simply want to deploy Windows 7 now, Snap Deploy 3.0 makes quick work of it.
Snap Deploy 3.0 installs easily. All client and server components are compressed into a laughably small 120- MB executable. A typical Snap Deploy setup includes a management console, a licensing server, an OS deployment server, and a PXE server. While these server roles can be separated for scalability, smaller environments can easily get away with installing all roles on one server, or even within one VM.
One gotcha we discovered during installation was the need to purchase an add-on license to deploy an image to machines with different hardware specs. While annoying, the incremental $12.50 per-universal-client upgrade seemed like a reasonable charge on top of the base $25 per standard client license.
Walk With The Wizard
Creation of a master image couldn't have been easier. A wizard-driven menu walks you through the process of creating a bootable ISO image that can be burned to CD/DVD, removable media, or floppy disk. The bootable image is a Linux-driven boot loader with a universal IP packet driver. After bootup, a client simply connects to the deployment server and waits for the administrator to kick off a unicast or multicast image deployment.
Note that you must image both the system partition and the 100-MB boot partition that Snap Deploy creates, otherwise your target machine won't boot without going through an OS repair. Once we realized this, we deployed Win 7 to five machines in 10 minutes flat.
One thing we like about Snap Deploy is that you can insert hardware drivers unique to target systems directly into the imaging process. As a result, you generally won't have to deal with issues like blue screens of death when pushing images to varied hardware--always a plus. Another useful feature of Snap Deploy is the PXE server that's included with the product. We generally had no problems booting our various test machines to the Acronis console for mass imaging via the network. The only issue we ran into was an older laptop that didn't support PXE boot.
However, as mentioned, Acronis will only deploy Windows 7. It can't help you manage the OS. All of the remaining players in this Rolling Review bring full deployment and management suites to the table, so if you're in the market for something beyond deployment, stay tuned for more options.
Randy George (email@example.com) is an industry analyst covering infrastructure and security.