- Simplifies the creation of a single Universal Image
- Supports Sysprep
- Installs a regularly updated driver database
- Requires a fully-working disk imaging application
- Doesn’t support Windows 64-bit or Windows Server
- RAID disks not supported
- SCSI drives can’t be used as image sources
- Not compatible with non-ACPI compliant systems
Universal Imaging Utility (UIU) was developed by Big Bang, a Milwaukee-based software training, consulting and development company. According to the company, the need for the product became apparent when it was presenting Norton Ghost Training workshops. Workshop attendees were apparently searching for a solution to the problem of creating, storing and maintaining multiple image files.
Big Bang partnered with Binary Research International, a software distributor and training developer (best known as being part of the company that developed Norton Ghost), and the rest is history.
The burden of creating, storing and maintaining multiple disk image files has become increasingly unmanageable. Many IT personnel waste valuable time juggling images or doing extensive post-cloning configuring to get their desktops and notebooks fully functional. UIU works with popular cloning packages such as Ghost, Altiris, Acronis and Zenworks, allowing you to create a single master image for any Windows Vista Business or Enterprise 32-bit versions, XP, 2000 or Tablet PC Edition — regardless of HAL type, processor or PC type.
The greatest benefit of UIU is that it allows you to simplify rollouts, migrations and deployments; it's also a valuable disaster recovery tool. With several functionality improvements and a large driver database of over 25,000 models, version 3.5 makes cloning your computers relatively straightforward. Specifically, it lets you reduce the time and effort spent on creating and maintaining multiple hard disk drive images for a wide variety of desktop and notebook configurations, allowing you to deploy a single master image across all of your hardware.
Although vastly more efficient than the manual process of deployment, disk imaging has one major drawback: images created on one hardware platform can't be easily deployed to another. This problem is particularly prevalent on notebooks, where even essentially similar machines often have different drivers and therefore require different images. For example, a Dell Latitude D830 and a Dell Latitude D531 would require two separate images to be maintained — each image taking three to four hours to create, and each one needing modification every time new upgrades and patches are released. In addition, there is the logistical problem of deployment and ensuring consistency across all images.
These disk imaging issues can be effectively resolved with UIU. The software prepares the master machine so that the image created with your cloning software can then be deployed to multiple hardware platforms. For example, UIU can be used in conjunction with Altiris to deploy core applications such as Windows XP, Office 2003, WinZip and Acrobat Reader. The software's extensive and regularly updated driver database is also a boon as large rollouts can take months.
It's this comprehensive driver database — which consumes about 600MB of disk space in the master image — that gives UIU its real strength. With so many drivers available, Windows' chances of auto-detecting your hardware are greatly improved. To remain up to date, UIU lets you download the latest driver database to use in your master image. Once the utility adds the driver library to the template machine, UIU initiates Windows' Sysprep and prepares the image for duplication.
Creating an image is relatively easy. After setting up your master Windows 2000, XP or Vista computer and capturing a base image (this is actually the most time consuming part of the process), UIU modifies your system, installs drivers, launches Sysprep and then shuts your PC down. You also need to take a normal image in DOS or Win PE using your disk imaging software. UIU even creates a Sysprep.inf or Sysprep.xml file, leaving you to deploy the image to your other PCs the way you always have.
Because UIU strips the image to its bare bones, you could potentially take an image built on an IDE-based machine and port it directly to a SCSI or SATA platform. And as it resets the original Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), you don’t even have to confine your image to similarly configured machines (the HAL acts as the interface between hardware and software).
Excellent, despite limitations
Universal Imaging Utility is an excellent utility that could prove invaluable to larger businesses looking to reduce the time required for image creation and deployment. However, the software is not without its limitations. Most noticeable is that Windows Server installations aren't supported — even if the imaging software can create server images — and RAID disks aren't compatible. We were also disappointed that SCSI drives can't be used as sources, and images created on an ACPI-compliant system aren't happy on a system that isn't. You also need to make sure that your disk imaging software is able to run from a DOS prompt because Windows-based imaging software isn't supported.
Universal Imaging Utility is licensed on a per-seat basis, meaning a licence is needed for each machine that receives an image created with the UIU. It costs £11 per seat for up to 99 computers, reducing to under £5 per seat for 5,000 or more licenses. Included with each licence is one year of maintenance, which provides technical support, product upgrades and access to the driver database.