Windows Insider

Smooth Deployment Wrinkles with ADS

Bill looks at the pros (lots) and cons (few) of Microsoft's Automated Deployment Services tool.

If your job description includes setting up and configuring servers, you probably spend a considerable amount of time installing operating systems, selecting drivers, fussing with patches, configuring applications, and generally watching the days of your youth expire as you get boxes ready for production. Every week, you perform essentially the same set of steps that take the same number of hours with the same kind of hassles. If you're not allowed to play music in the server room to at least keep your toes tapping, rigor mortis may well set in.

How much simpler it would be to provision one server then use it as a template for all the others. Utilities such as Symantec Ghost and Acronis True Image can image one server's hard drives for later deployment to other servers, but imaging as a deployment tool is risky. Vendors often make small (or what they consider to be small) adjustments to hardware configurations without changing the model number. These differences can cause significant performance and stability issues if you use disk images for server deployments.

The Microsoft-approved method for avoiding hardware-related issues when deploying images involves using the Sysprep utility to remove hardware-specific information from the Registry prior to imaging.

Another alternative for doing a hardware-agnostic server deployment is Remote Installation Services (RIS). RIS uses a file-based image captured with a utility called Riprep that it integrates into an existing repository of installation files for the target platform.

RIS has its place, but it's not the ideal deployment tool. First off, it's time-consuming to capture and deploy RIS images because RIS essentially performs a scripted version of a standard OS installation using file-based images that are difficult, if not impossible, to change. Also, RIS is only useful for deploying the OS. You must install (and learn) some other application to deliver patches and service packs. Finally, RIS requires Active Directory, which means having access to a production domain controller from the setup lab, often a difficult thing to arrange in today's era of tight security.

Microsoft has addressed these and other RIS limitations by releasing a completely separate deployment tool called Automated Deployment Services, or ADS. It carries no license fee and has no client access license requirements. You will need to purchase Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition, which has a street price of $2,200, making ADS a somewhat pricey option for smaller organizations.

ADS Advantages
Like RIS, ADS uses the Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) to deliver boot images. For details of how PXE works in a Windows network, take a look at Microsoft Knowledge Base (KB) article 244036.

Using PXE to deploy a boot image is pretty much where the similarity between ADS and RIS ends, however. The chief advantages of using ADS over RIS are:

  • ADS captures and distributes sector-based images that can be modified easily by mounting the image as a standard disk volume.
  • ADS uses a SQL database (or Microsoft SQL Desktop Engine) to store configuration information, and therefore doesn't require AD or domain authentication. To validate computer identities, ADS uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).
  • ADS is configured and managed via an MMC console (Figure 1) that gives you access to all services, devices and support files. ADS also comes with a wide variety of command-line tools and a rich set of Windows Management Intstrumentation (WMI) commands that can be used to write automation scripts.
  • ADS can image up to 126 target servers simultaneously using multicast.
  • Unlike RIS, which can capture and deploy only the operating system partition, ADS can capture and deploy any volume on a server.
  • Although not normally an advantage for servers, ADS can image FAT and FAT32 volumes along with NTFS.
Figure 1. The ADS Management console
Figure 1. The ADS Management console includes a number of templates that make automating server deployments easier. (Click image to view larger version.)

In addition to its deployment-related features, ADS can send scripts and executables to managed servers where they run locally. The results are returned to the ADS server for review. This makes ADS a nifty platform for centralizing server management.

Although ADS was designed to deploy Windows server OSes, there are no blocks against using it to deploy Windows 2000 Professional and XP. This isn't specifically supported, however, meaning that Microsoft Product Support Services (PSS) has no obligation to help you if you encounter a problem.

ADS Process Overview
The most difficult part of installing and configuring ADS is getting accustomed to the complex interdependencies of the various components. ADS uses three server-based components plus a client component:

  • ADS Controller Service: Validates the identity of a managed device, sends commands to the device, accepts requests from the device and orchestrates image delivery to the device.
  • Network Boot Service: Listens for managed ADS devices as they come onto the network via PXE boot and delivers boot images to the devices. The boot images contain a Deployment Agent that can communicate with the ADS Controller.
  • Image Distribution Service: Captures an image, stores the image file and delivers the image to managed devices.
  • ADS Administration Agent: Client-based component that runs on a managed device and engages in SSL communication with the ADS Controller.

In a small data center, you would install all three server-based components onto a single physical server. If you want to deploy a large number of servers, you may want to put the Image Distribution Service on separate hardware to improve performance.

Image Deployment Overview
Configuring ADS is a little like preparing to teach a roomful of 14-year-olds: The secret to success is getting their attention early, then delivering the absolute minimum required information using terms they're willing to acknowledge.

ADS first gets the attention of a newly installed device during a PXE boot. Once the device has downloaded a boot image, the ADS Controller sends the device commands that tell it to partition and format hard drives, apply images from the Image Distribution Service, modify the Registry, run scripts and so on.

The ADS Controller stores these commands in a set of sequence files. Sequence files are XML files, so you can use Notepad, gvim ( or some other text editor to modify them. However, ADS comes with a GUI utility called a Sequence Editor that displays the XML content as fields in a form, and shows the actual XML content. Figure 2 on shows an example.

Figure 2. The ADS Sequence Editor
Figure 2. The ADS Sequence Editor, here showing the contents of the Reboot sequence file, displays XML content in an easily readable format. (Click image to view larger version.)

A standard image deployment using ADS involves these major steps:

1. A PXE device gets an IP address from a DHCP server and then requests a boot image from the Network Boot Service (NBS).

2. The NBS determines the device's identity via a Globally Unique Identifier (GUID) included in the DHCP discovery packet. It verifies with the ADS Controller service that the device is managed by ADS; that is, that the GUID is in the ADS database.

3. The NBS delivers a boot image to the managed device.

4. The device executes the image and displays the result on the console.

5. The device establishes a connection to the ADS Controller, which instructs the device to partition a boot drive and download an image from the Image Distribution Service (IDS).

6. The device contacts the IDS and downloads a sector-based image captured from a master device. The image was prepared using Sysprep.

7. The device applies the image to the partitioned drive then asks the ADS Controller for more instructions.

8. The ADS controller instructs the device to assign values to certain entries in the Sysprep.inf file and the Registry then restarts to complete the mini-setup.

9. The device is now a full-fledged server with its own name domain identity.

ADS Drawbacks
ADS is a great way to provision new servers and manage existing ones, but it does have some rough spots. For example, Sysprep isn't the ideal method for preparing a server for imaging. OEM vendors get to use a much better tool called WinPE, which is currently available only to registered system builders. The next version of ADS, due out either as a revision to the current downloadable version or as part of Windows Server 2003 R2, will contain a derivative of WinPE for preparing images. The next version will also have better reporting features.

Even with its limitations, ADS is a great way to deploy servers and well worth your time to evaluate. If you have questions, feel free to e-mail me.

More Information

ADS Resources:

comments powered by Disqus

Reader Comments:

Sun, Feb 2, 2014

jwms1: Thank you it's fun to see them all together, like liltte children lined up. ha ha ha!Seeing Anew: Thanks so much for you warm comment. I could be in a bad mood, but as soon as I start drawing or painting anything in nature I'm instantly up beat!As for the song: You Tube has free music you can attach to your video. The song I chose is: Bluebirds by Elfed Hayes. I don't know why the song title doesn't show up when you play the video, because on YouTube it did the other day?Yes, that song is wonderful I too would be interested to hear what other songs the artist has done.Amy: Amy! Yes! Join us! The next sketch class is Saturday April 30th at the Little Red Schoolhouse, more info and address is on the class page. We would love if you did try it out, and remember I will not take a picture of you nor your artwork if you do not want so no worries. I hope that take the fear out of things If you cannot make it out that soon, there is always Saturday May 28th. I cannot have class in June of 2011, just a heads up. Thanks! [url=]nxbzwu[/url] [link=]urkgusc[/link]

Mon, Jan 20, 2014

Hello!Here is the list of best classified ad is the 8th top site in the USA and the 24th top site in the world. Go there and sign up for an http://c DOT today. If your goal is to drive Internet traffic and you're using Craigslist it is absolutely crutial that you use what is called a buffer blog . Simply put, they have a rule: No links to sites with affiliate links. So, what you can do is create an article on an article site. Link your classified ad to your article, then link the article to your website. Just be sure that your article isn't too long. 300-350 words is good is a classified ads site that is based in Asia. Once you log onto the site you'll see that you have to pick a country to list under. You can pick Hong Kong, India or China. Just set up your http://c DOT and start adding your classified ads. Make sure you use their picture uploader and put up some nice pics. Note that only jpg files are accepted here. This website is rarely talked about on the Internet and has really yielded some excellent results for driving USFreeAds.comI hope my answer might be of use to you!

Sun, Jan 19, 2014

the short answer is to cnonitue to add content to your website and list your website on as many websites as possible. These are 2 of the most important things that a search engine looks for when listing websites in the search results.1. You should try and get as many links to your websites as possible.2. Try to get keyword links, these are links that use content relevant keywords' as the anchor text (see are a couple of things that you need to do to help with marketing your website. If your site is for your business' then you should submit it to Google Local Business: this can help you can gain top search results in Google for your business products or services using the Local Business service from Google. You will need to register for a googlemail account then submit your website / business details to Google's local business centre.The next step is to get links to your website. This is one of the most important things that you can do to help your website with regard to internet marketing and search engine results. To do this you will need to list your website on as many websites and directories as possible. Directories operate in one of 3 ways: Paid Listing Directory, Free and Reciprocal Link Directories.Paid Listing Directory: for a listing fee your website is listed, often these are higher quality directories as only serious website owners and business's will pay to be listed. These are usually the fastest way to get listed and get links to your website, as the paid listing directories are run as a business. There are niche/specialist and general directories.Free Directories: it can take a long time to get your website listed. As the service is free, there may be little or no control of the quality of websites being listed.Reciprocal Link Directories: these again can take time before your website is listed and your website will only be listed after you provide a link to them.Website owners wishing to promote their new website in the search engines are often in a hurry to get results' so the listing service offered by Paid Listing Directories is the fastest way to get links to your website.

Fri, Jul 8, 2005 Raj India

A very precise article .. and very crisp indeed ....

Sat, Mar 19, 2005 David N UK

Hi Bill -Is there a way with ADS where you may deploy to a target machine in bare metal state, a winPE (v1.2) environment straight into memory ? (Like you can with RIS). Reason is I wish to effectively PXE boot a bare metal target system, load WinPE, then use some tools we have when PE is up to restore a target system (scripted) in under a minute. Works great with RIS, scratching my head with ADS. I have a constraint to implement this using ADS. Many Thanks.

Tue, Mar 8, 2005 Bill Hillsboro, OR

This seems very cool (sysprep aside...), but my question is: does this work for RAID 5 drive setups?

If so, we may have found what we've been looking for...

Add Your Comment Now:

Your Name:(optional)
Your Email:(optional)
Your Location:(optional)
Please type the letters/numbers you see above

Redmond Tech Watch

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.