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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility OS X Server
I am a system administrator on a small network of five servers with around 80 to 90 clients. Recently I wanted to image a group of 25 MacBooks to get them ready for staff to use. Searching the web, I found a lot of information about using SIU (System Image Utility). Based on my searching and my experiences, I'd like to offer up this "How to use SIU" how-to. Please note that this process is best done when the load on the server (from the users) is at it lowest. If done when you have users accessing the server, you will have complaints about things going slowly.

So here goes...
  1. Set up your client machine as you would like it. Install apps, download updates, and set up preferences for a user as you would like.
  2. Once complete, restart while holding down the T key to boot the Mac into Target Disk Mode.
  3. Attach a FireWire cable between your server and the client machine that has been configured. You should see the main disk of the client mount on the desktop of the server.
  4. At this stage, you need to open Disk Utility (in Applications » Utilities). I prefer to start it using Spotlight. However, if you're working on OS X 10.5 Server, and have found Spotlight doesn't work for some reason, all you need to do is set up the Applications folder as a share, in Server Admin, and enable Spotlight on that share. Make sure the share is only visible to you as server admin.
  5. Once Disk Utility opens, you will see in the list of drives an Apple FireWire Target Disk. Check to make sure this is the disk you are wanting to use to create a netinstall image, as it may take some time to create depending on the size of your client machine's drive.
  6. In Disk Utility, click on File » New » Disk Image From disk0s2 (replace disk0s2 with your client machine's drive).
  7. Leave the default options set (this assumes you are using Disk Utility Version 11.1 (252.4)), which are Compressed image format and Encryption set to none.
  8. Find a destination to save the image and click Save.
  9. Now would be a good time to break out your favourite beverage and sit back and relax on the deck (lucky you if your workplace is like this).
  10. Once the image is complete, close Disk Utility and double-click on the image to mount it.
The remainder of the instructions rely on the fact that you have enabled SIU as a service in Server Admin. It will not start until you have an image for it to serve, however.
  1. Once the disk is mounted, you need to open System Image Utility. If you have installed the Server Admin Tools, make sure they are the most up-to-date version.
  2. When SIU loads, you should see the name of your image in the left-hand column. Single click on the image.
  3. Select NetInstall Image and then Continue.
  4. Give the NetInstall Image a name that means something to you. I suggest you do something like this: NetInstall image of MacBooks for staff 2008-12-20.
  5. Give your NetInstall image a description. State the operating system, the machine type, and any other details that will help you to identify what is on this image.
  6. Click Create.
  7. You will need to agree to the SLA and then provide a location for the image. The image needs to go into this folder: /Server HD » Library » NetBoot » NetBootSP0.
  8. SIU will now start the lengthy process of creating the NetInstall image. Be patient!
  9. The server is now going to use nearly all the resources it has to create the image you need. If you need an indicator of how things are going, open the above folder and watch the system.dmg image increase in size until it matches a similar size as the image you created using Disk Utility. Once again, I say be patient. Walk the dog, take a stroll on the beach, have lunch with a friend.
  10. Once the NetInstall image is complete, all you need to do is go into Server Admin and enable it. Make sure to set the options on the image relating to the type of system, and how it is to be distributed. I have used NFS successfully, but never tried HTTP.
Using this process I have deployed the image to a single machine in 20 minutes -- this is with an image size of 15GB over a Gigabit network. I also tested imaging 20 machines all at once, and found it took around eight hours including the time to verify the process.

My experience with SIU is that it works very well and provides consistent results. I would not consider using another tool as I have tried one that many people said was good for the job, and found it a lot more difficult to configure and make work. You just need to be prepared to wait for the image to create. Make sure you do a Disk Repair through Disk Utility after applying the image to a machine, and you will also need to give each machine a unique name in the Sharing System Preferences panel. Happy imaging!!
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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility | 14 comments | Create New Account
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Is this a hint?
Authored by: jay1 on Dec 24, '08 08:40:49AM

Not sure if this should be labeled as a hint (even though your article title does say how-to).

It's a good write-up, but maybe it should go in macosxhowtos ?



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Authored by: SeanAhern on Dec 31, '08 12:08:14PM

Never heard of it. And google doesn't seem to know about such a place, either. Mind providing a link for us?

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: mistersquid on Dec 24, '08 08:47:08AM

What a beautifully written hint, one that (in its third step) shows how the late 2008 Macbooks are not as appropriate for wide deployment in an enterprise/institutional environment as the earlier Macbooks.

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Step 3 for Unibody MacBooks
Authored by: gabester on Dec 24, '08 10:50:45AM

3A. Remove your battery.
3B. Remove screws (3-4?) and 2.5" SATA Hard Drive.
3C. Place Macbook HD in an external USB / SATA bridge enclosure.
5A. Once Disk Utility opens, you will see in the list of drives an external USB drive.
Check to make sure this is the disk you are wanting to use to create a netinstall
image, as it may take some time to create depending on the size of your client machine's drive.

Really, it's not that much harder, is it?
Yes, I'd prefer eSATA and FireWire to USB for data transfer as well, but removing the FireWire
from the MacBooks (and Airs, and probably revised Minis) is hardly a dealbreaker
these days with the proliferation of (inexpensive!) USB2 devices.

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: treehuger on Dec 24, '08 08:52:02AM

Another, possibly better option is to look at InstaDMG (found on Using InstaDMG you can create a "modular" image, which is based on putting packages together vs cloning a system. When cloning a system, you leave yourself open for also cloning system settings, such as ByHost files and the local Kerberos database.

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: jpbjpbjpbjpb on Dec 24, '08 11:31:07AM

Instadmg is totally the way to go. It can be a bit of a hassle in the beginning to get all your changes into packages rather than manually tweaking the golden machine, but once you have that, getting an image for new hardware is a snap.

Well, a snap that takes around two hours to run, but your involvement is about 30 seconds at the beginning. QA is a lot easier, since you only have to QA your packages once, not every single time you make a new image.

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: kendals on Dec 24, '08 10:42:58AM

I used SIU on my systems at home..this is my setup:

Server hosting SIU image: Mac Mini G4 with 1Gb RAM
client macs: Intel C2D iMac, C2D Macbook, 2 G4 Mac minis

This works perfectly for me, BUT I do have one problem..

I tried to take my image (again, which works perfectly on PPC or Intel macs) to my parents house and put in on their server... the client Macs never boot, they always get the System Restart gray screen. The only difference between their setup and mine is that they have a Intel CoreDuo Mac mini..

Do I have to create a separate SIU install just for their environment?

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: leamanc on Dec 24, '08 11:28:11AM

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: No, but you would need to modify your image to include components for a Core Duo system. I imagine you imaged off of a Core 2 Duo system. Unfortunately, the transparency of PPC Mac OS across different systems is long gone. For best results, maintain an image of each different iteration of the Intel architecture (CPU and video cards).

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: BiL Castine on Dec 25, '08 06:26:08AM

i image a lot of disparate systems: G4 PowerBooks, G4 PowerMacs, G5 PowerMacs, Mac Pros, and MacBook Pros from a single 10.5.x image. they key is to build your image on the latest available hardware to insure you have all of the platform specific tweaks. once the next system update comes out you can update your image and it will support the latest hardware. for example, my 10.5.5 image wouldn't support the new unibody MacBook Pro until the 10.5.6 update came out, now it supports all machines again. it's likely that if you are using 10.5.x you just need to update to the latest system release.

also, be sure to to delete machine specific network configuration files from your image:

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: Asmus Vierck on Dec 24, '08 05:27:37PM

If you were just going to create a NetBoot / NetInstall set, you can leave out the steps 4-10 (where the .dmg is created) and just select the mounted Mac-HD in the System Image Utility. This will save you about 1-2 hours or so.
On a sidenote, I strongly recommend to read the book "Mac OS X 10.5 Deployment v10.5" from Peachpit, as it covers the whole Deployment-through-NetBoot setup in good detail. After reading this, I was able to set up our server to push the image on ~ 8 Macs per hour.

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: rlaan on Dec 25, '08 03:11:24AM
I suggest DeployStudio, you can also make images through the network, so no Firewire is needed. Furthermore it is really built for large multiple image deployments:
This is THE tool for managing images both for Mac and PC. If you spend time to learn how it works, it saves you LOTS of time afterwards.

The box said, Windows 95 or better, so I bought OS X.

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: mm2270 on Dec 29, '08 10:40:45AM

Nice write-up, however, I'd like to mention a few things. Like Asmus mentions above, you can skip the steps of creating the .dmg if you are just creating a NetInstall set. Secondly, and more importantly, in my experience, its unnecessary to have your actual server create the Netinstall set in the first place. As long as you have an admin Mac somewhere that you install the Server Admin tools on. No, you do not need to be running OS X Server on this Mac, just the correct version of OS X (Leopard) to use those tools, including SIU. Just connect the target Mac you want to create your image from to the said admin Mac in target mode, run SIU, and follow the latter steps of choosing the system to create the image from.

This will save you the trouble of putting any unnecessary load on your server. The only extra step is you will need to copy the resulting NBI image file once its done to the appropriate location on your server. In most cases, this is in /Library/NetBoot/NetBootSP0, although in could theoretically be on any attached disk system if you set the location in Server Admin

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: icondaemon on Jan 07, '09 12:24:30PM
I've been using SIU now for several years to push to my campus macs (> 150 total, including iBooks and MacBooks) and the software just keeps getting better. Several things to be aware of, though, before you delve right into SIU:

• Update to server 10.5.6, which fixes some major problems with binding machines to OD after pushing the NetInstall image. See: for more info. I have yet to need 10.5.6 for NetImaging myself, but I wish Apple had caught this before I spent 3 days pulling my hair out last September before I figured out was was happening.

• In terminal, use the scutil --set commands before you image to make sure that you blank out the three 'name' locations: LocalHostName, HostName & ComputerName:

scutil --set LocalHostName ""
scutil --set HostName ""
scutil --set ComputerName ""

• If the source machine has been under construction for a while, system logfiles and other crufty logs build up. It helps for future troubleshooting to see log data gleaned during the use of a particular machine itself, and not all which came before NetImaging. In terminal, type sudo periodic daily weekly monthly to clean things up. Once the source is mounted in FW Target mode visit /var/log and /Library/Logs and delete all the *.gz and *.bzg compressed files. It won't hurt to delete all the logfiles you find, either. And don't forget to empty the Trash and user Downloads folders, too!

• Although the disk image creation step can be eliminated and the NetInstall image created directly from the target machine, I like to create the disk image and make a copy read/write so I can make changes to various files without having to boot the source should the need arise.

• Once the source machine is booted into FW target mode, always run the Repair Permissions and Repair Disk actions in DiskUtility.

As for SIU itself, the 10.5.4 version had some errors & omissions which also caused some grief:

• The "Apply Computer Name and Local Hostname settings from a file" module is broken.

• Make sure to disable Spotlight indexing for the FW Target drive once it is mounted on the server.

+- IconDaemon -+

Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels! - Samuel Butler

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A basic how-to for using System Image Utility
Authored by: robdevereux on Jul 22, '13 12:32:32AM

Can I ask if anyone has done this recently using Mountain Lion and ML Server. What I am finding is that if I create the image, that part works fine but if I then mount it and try to use SIU to install from it, it only gives me the option to use a NetBoot image and no Netinstall or Netrestore. Anyone else seen this?

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