Persystent imaging and repair

By admin, July 31, 2008 4:05 pm

I received a briefing last week from Persystent Technologies, the new kid on the block in the desktop imaging market, which left me deeply conflicted: is it best to eliminate the sloppy system architecture which creates the need for constant repair and re-imaging, or to look for a best of breed solution such as Persystent to simply make it as painless as possible?

I'm still not sure I know the answer; but if you are reconciled to dealing with the problem on its own terms, Persystent's demo is impressive. The company claims to have the only pre-boot imaging system on the market today, which puts them in a position to address types of PC system compromise that other vendors can't touch. The system is also blindingly fast; 25 seconds at boot to analyze and fully repair any type of system malfunction by reverting to a base image… without infringing on any local user data or profile information.

With licensing subscriptions (the only terms the company offers currently) starting at $36 per year per computer, it's not terribly expensive, either, and with the desktop support savings made available by telling users to just reboot instead of taking up the time of a valuable support technician, the company claims that any client will see a positive ROI within 12 months.

I was extremely skeptical of the 25 second time to repair claim, but the company sticks by it. While I am not going to accuse Microsoft of any prodigious feats of engineering, it strikes me that the initial installation of all that software takes hours. Simply copying the relevant files from point A to point B can take 15 minutes to a half hour, depending on hardware. Claiming to be able to restore an image containing all those files in a matter of seconds is, on the face of it, unbelievable. I got a clue, however, later in the briefing when Chief Marketing Officer Ken Fitzpatrick (late of Checkpoint and Computer Associates) mentioned that the company is working on a virtualization product. Could it be that they are already using virtualization technology under the hood, simulating the OS layer so that any user-created changes don't affect the base files? If that's the case, then the ultra-fast repair times may be something you are paying for in performance hits during normal operation, as with all virtualized systems. That's just speculation, however. Persystent will be making available a downloadable trial version soon, which will allow real testing to be done.

The software functions by hijacking the MBR and directing function to itself initially, rather than the operating system, and it can work with either on-disk images (up to twenty of them) or network-based images. The usual array of management policies are available. Persystent is currently oriented primarily at Windows environments but has several clients using Linux and plans to support additional operating systems in the future. And, while they are currently offering only their Enterprise Suite product, aimed at larger businesses, they are working on an appliance based version for SMBs. The SMB market, with fewer legacy management systems and a generally more lax approach to customization and security, may be the real winner with this software.

For the rest, it's up to the CIOs to decide whether or not the basic system of corporate IT is irretrievably broken by its dependency on machines which allow an environment requiring such frequent repair, or whether the flexibility and customization afforded by the PC environment is worth investment in a tool to quickly and seamlessly deal with the problem on an ongoing basis.

EDIT: I had mistakenly given the pricing originally as $36/month instead of $36/year which has now been corrected; hopefully people picked up on the discrepancy between that and the "not terribly expensive" rate I identified it as and recognized the mistake for what it was, but it's now been corrected in the post.

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