Use Norton Ghost for what it is good at, backup.

Updated November 5, 2020: This blog post was published years ago, but people are still finding and reading it, so we’ll keep it here. Although Norton Ghost is now gone, the main idea holds true for the other disk-cloning systems that replace it—namely, these cloning solutions may be just what you need for backup, but they are not the best imaging solution for deploying a common, consistent computing experience across every endpoint IT manages.

Macrium, who offers an alternative cloning solution for backing up disks, gives a concise account of the rise and fall of Norton Ghost. Forbes has a more thorough history of the demise of Symantec. Meanwhile, enjoy our original piece about Norton Ghost and SmartDeploy.


Norton Ghost (a.k.a. Symantec Ghost) has been an industry leader for many years, but many customers are struggling to use Ghost in modern IT management environments that feature diverse hardware. Ten years ago, Norton Ghost was great for imaging and backup. Now, with diverse hardware environments and better alternatives for imaging, Ghost still has its place—but as a backup solution.

How Norton Ghost Works

Norton Ghost works by copying the hard-disk drive, sector by sector, to create a clone of the operating system. This means it works best when deploying devices with identical hardware, or to backup an existing machine.

These days, IT administrators need to support many different devices and configurations, so creating an image for each machine has become unmanageable. Norton Ghost makes deployment easier than manual rebuilds, but its dependence on hardware limits its flexibility. Using Ghost with newer operating systems introduces more deployment roadblocks because Ghost has trouble capturing all of the necessary technical details in modern OS’s, like Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

To use Ghost, IT admins boot up each reference device in their environment, make necessary changes, and then capture a separate image of each hard drive. This process of creating an image for each device, and potentially different departments can quickly become an unsustainable IT management practice. In this use case, consider using Norton Ghost for creating backups of existing machines rather than using it as a baseline for your initial imaging practice. Given the sector-based nature of the Ghost file format (.GHO), getting a specific machine back to a specific configuration and point in time is a great use of the technology.

When it comes to non-backup tasks like new hardware rollouts, OS migrations, and new employee onboarding, look for an imaging alternative that better supports the ability to have one image work on all devices. Sector-based imaging tools will always be inherently tied to a specific make and model (partitioning, blocks, registry settings, drivers, and other hardware-specific software). Meaning they are not great for imaging, but great for back up.

Long-time Norton Ghost customers turn to SmartDeploy for imaging

After thirteen years of using Symantec solutions, Nicholas Schraufnagel, IT Manager at WAV, Inc., found himself struggling to integrate the latest version of Norton Ghost with his company’s HP Elite Series desktops. Three weeks into the struggle, he decided it was time to try a different approach to device refreshes and installed SmartDeploy. On his first go-round with SmartDeploy imaging software, Nicholas was able to create an image from scratch and load it onto three different types of computers—all within a few hours. In the end, Nicholas imaged thirty machines with SmartDeploy before he could even get Ghost to work with one computer.

Because of its unique features, like single image management, pre-built driver packages, and a flexible, layered architecture, Michael Kuter, Systems Administrator at Jesco, Inc., says that SmartDeploy is one of the best imaging solutions he has encountered. Michael has tried Norton Ghost, Altiris, and Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, and none of these solutions really satisfied him. Then he downloaded a trial of SmartDeploy. It was so easy to use that Michael was afraid it was too good to be true. He had a colleague rebuild a system with SmartDeploy, and his colleague confirmed it: SmartDeploy is easy and intuitive to use.

Learn More

Read about the difference between file-based imaging and sector-based imaging.
Compare Symantec Ghost Solution Suite to SmartDeploy side-by-side.