October 20, 2003 6:19 AM PDT

Symantec tackles patchwork approach to patching

Symantec released on Monday a new version of its Ghost software for managing PCs that's designed to let information technology administrators apply patches en masse.

The Internet security company's Ghost 8.0 Corporate Edition tries to eliminate much of the grunt work that goes along with updating software installed on desktops or notebooks in medium-size to large companies.

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With Ghost 7.0, administrators update desktops and notebooks from a central location more or less simultaneously by sending out a completely new version of an application or an operating system.

"Now we can apply patches, even shortcuts, to a desktop," said Stuart Sing, senior product specialist at Symantec. Besides being used for such updates, the tool, which is similar to products sold by Microsoft and others, can be put to work on disaster-recovery efforts.

But Ghost 8.0's approach can suck up an inordinate amount of bandwidth, a problem Symantec has tried to deal with by way of a feature that profiles existing PCs in an organization to more efficiently target updates, Sing said. For instance, the tool will identify which desktops have enough memory and hard drive space to handle an OS upgrade; the IT manager can then select only machines meeting that profile for an update.

Similarly, it can be used to identify which PCs have not received the most recent bug patches and then to apply them remotely, Sing said.

Bandwidth consumption is also addressed by a new feature called the Client Staging Area, which permits administrators to store an extra version of a user's software on a hard drive. If the active version is somehow damaged, the spare version can be called up without having to come across the network.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec, primarily known for its antivirus software, has been moving more deeply into computer management tools over the past several years. The Ghost technology came from Binary Research Limited, a New Zealand outfit Symantec bought in 1998.

In September, the company bought PowerQuest, which makes provisioning tools.


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