Remotely wiping down multiple systems

No one wants to manually wipe down hundreds of machines. Save yourself a lot of time with one of these tools.

I have a lot of computers that I want to retire from service. I want to securely wipe them down without having to pry out each drive. Is this possible?

In the past, when people talked about wiping a hard drive, it was in the context of one machine or hard drive at a time. That has changed as remote management of fleets of computers has become commonplace.

A popular free tool for wiping hard drives one at a time is Darik's Boot and Nuke (DBAN). This tool installs onto a CD-ROM or USB flash drive and can be used to automatically wipe down a system. It's a great program but it suffers from a major drawback: It doesn't work over a network. The only way to wipe 50 machines with it is to boot DBAN on every single machine -- a tedious task, especially if you're dealing with machines that are not in the same geographical location. A variant of DBAN, eBan, does allow the remote wiping of multiple systems, but it's only available as a commercial product through a third party.

Another way to remotely wipe multiple systems is through the free program FOG, a Linux application that was nominally created as a disk-imaging solution. It was a replacement for the imaging app Ghost, which was eventually acquired by Symantec.

In addition to performing remote imaging, FOG also has multiple remote-wipe methods for different levels of data security. Another key feature of FOG is that it uses Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) network-booting technology, so local media isn't required to initialize the wipe. (You can always fall back on DBAN or something similar for machines that don't support PXE or aren't configured to use network booting.)

FOG can be run as an application on an existing Linux install or as a virtual appliance. The latter is useful if you're using it only to perform remote-wipe operations because you don't need to dedicate any disk space to storing system images. If you also plan on using FOG for imaging, you should dedicate a server to it with plenty of storage, have the virtual machine speak to whatever storage system you might be using for such things, and outfit all of the above with the fastest networking hardware you have.

Note that because FOG is free, the software doesn't come with a warranty. Use it entirely at your own risk.

Furthermore, the professional version of Ghost, Ghost Solution Suite (GSS), also has a remote-wipe feature. GDisk can be used to remotely erase multiple systems using methods approved by the U.S. Department of Defense. A 30-day trial version of GSS is available so you can get an idea of how effective the program would be for your own use.

Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about personal computing and IT for more than 15 years for a variety of publications, including (among others) Windows Magazine, InformationWeek and the TechTarget family of sites.

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