What’s the easiest way to manage old Windows CD software in a 30-machine computer lab?

Joe Videtto May 7, 2012
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I work in an elementary school in a computer lab that has 30 old Dell Optiplex GX 280 machines connected by LAN. The school has lots of old disc-based (CD) windows software, and of course not enough disc space on each machine to hold it all.

1.) What’s the easiest way to run the software without the need for the actual CD’s to be placed in the CD-ROM drive ?

2.) Can on each of the 30 machines be run off one single shared drive that all the computers can see ? If so – would I expect to have performance problems when multiple users are accessing the same drive ?

Finally – if either of these are possible, what resources can teach me to set this up, and what software might I need to purchase or download ?


  1. Joe Videtto
    May 11, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Thank you all for your solutions to this problem - very helpful.
    Joe V.

  2. Oron
    May 7, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Joe,
    There are many ways to do this, but if all the computers have the same software, then the easiest will probably be to create a disc image of a complete machine, and then roll it out (i.e. "build" the machines from the image) to all of them. There are plenty of disc imaging products out there, as indicated in previous posts. Acronis and Paragon Software rule the roost in the paid-for software market, and DriveImage XML and Clonezilla are popular free options.
    Using a shared network drive for the installers is an option, but there are so many permutations of how to do this, both in terms of server (Windows Server vs. Linux or a pre-built NAS) and in terms of actual deployment (scripted installers, MSIs, streaming applications, virtual desktops...) and the potential use of group policies that I'm reluctant to suggest anything at this stage.
    In short, if you're a newcomer to this area then I'd suggest you go for using disc images and possibly Windows Steady State which I've recommended before.

  3. ha14
    May 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    if you transform the cd to iso file then you can use Daemon tool free edition to open iso file and access it.

    The faster the connection the better the network performance

    Wireshark is a network analyzer
    start a new capture from the workstation, then save it. you'll have a capture for each which shows the number of network packets, the time it took to do each step....


    Slow performance when you use a mapped drive to copy files to a ...

    SAN Configuration for Shared and Dedicated Drives

  4. Bruce Epper
    May 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    An item that you left out of the discussion here relates to software licensing as well. Having multiple users accessing the software from a shared drive may not be adhering to the EULA for the software which can result in (oftentimes) heavy fines for the violator. You will really need to check this before attempting to implement any kind of shared solution. This would also apply even if you could do local installs on each machine and remove the requirement of the CD for the software to work.

    If you have the proper licensing for the software, you could set up a terminal server where each user would connect to a central server in order to use the software. Each user would be able to create their own session on the server which is independed of the sessions created by other users. The server itself is the only machine that would then require access to the CD to run the software. The potential bottlenecks here are the power of the server which must be greater as more concurrent users are added since the software is only running on the server, not the client machines, and the available network bandwidth between the server and the user machines.

    If many of the software packages require the CD to run, instead of having a CD drive for each drive, you could possibly rip an ISO file and connect to that instead using a virtual CD drive instead. I have done that to run various games on my system in the past instead of having to keep the CD/DVD nearby every time I want to play the game. I just load the ISO file into a virtual drive on my computer in lieu of placing the DVD into a physical drive on my computer. By doing this you will not be hindered by a lack of physical CD drives or the slower access provided by them, but instead of the filesystem of the ISO files (which tend to be faster than optical media) and the network infrastructure.

    Other topics related to these issues can be found by searching for the following: Windows Terminal Server, terminal server, and application server,

  5. Mike
    May 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    I think all you can do is trial & error.

    For example there might be some programs which simply require all the contents of the CD to run (comparable to a portable App just on a CD). In that case you could simply copy the entire contents into a directory on some storage.

    The next thing to test is to simply put that directory on a central server and open the software simultaneously on multiple machines. Some software are enabled to be used from a single source on multiple machines ~ others are not.

    For example in the Office 97 up to Office 2003 days a lot of companies used to have Office installed on a central server with all clients opening it from there.

    Performance simply depends on the hardware. Opening a software from a central server is mostly file access which doesn't take a lot of resources. You are only limited by the network interface and networking hardware.

    With the right set of network interfaces on the server and capability of the switch one could do NIC-Teaming (Ethernet Bonding) - two network interfaces share the same IP address and create a failover and double bandwidth.

    Having that said there might be some programs which simply won't work from a single central network share. I have never attempted to mount and use e.g. ISO images from a server ~ no idea if that would work.

    One may have contact the developer to ask for possible solutions.