Windows Insider

Automating Windows 7 Deployments (and It's Free!)

Take the time to get the most out of Microsoft's free Windows 7 automation deployment tools -- you won't regret it.

Perhaps I'm biased because I teach Windows 7 deployment classes to companies big and small. When one assumes the mantle of IT trainer, one necessarily gets excited about the technologies he teaches. It's part of the package; it's also the mark of a good instructor.

The topics and technologies that surround automated Windows 7 deployment are rich and comprehensive. While not without their idiosyncrasies, they're also vastly improved over the duct tape and baling twine kludges most of us tossed to the curb years ago during our last OS upgrade.

They're also free. You can download the Microsoft suite of tools, replete with its trademark acronym alphabet soup, right off the Web site. The tools may be many in number, but by properly integrating them, you can inexpensively create a solution that automates just about every part of the Windows installation experience.

Hit F12, Walk Away
The powerful possibilities such automation presents ... well ... sadden me as I hear IT shops proclaim they'll "just have the vendor pre-image the OS." The rest of that conversation usually goes a bit like this:

Greg: "But have you heard about the ridiculous automations you can now do with the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit? With a little work, you could almost create a situation where you'd never need to troubleshoot again! Just offload the user data, reinstall the OS and applications, and then restore the user data. It can all be automated and won't cost you anything but the time to set it up!"

IT Shop: "A quaint idea, but we've decided to just have our hardware vendor pre-image the desktops they ship with Windows 7. We just ship them a DVD, and machines arrive already imaged. That's such a time-saver when we just don't have the staff ..."

It's here where I realize yet another IT shop has chosen the path of short-term gain. You can guess how the rest of the discussion goes.

Vendor pre-imaging is indeed a valuable service. By leaning on the vendor's ability to preload an OS image, the IT shop saves incredible time and effort during deployment. Using preloaded images, a Windows 7 upgrade project requires little more than muscle, shoe leather and a bit of cabling.

Yet that short-term gain also belies an insidious long-term loss, one I see repeated across IT shops of all sizes. These IT pros get so stuck in the break/fix mentality and fail to see how such automation might alleviate later troubleshooting. Desktop got a problem? Just re-image it. Everything's automated.

I pondered the impacts of this kind of automation in an August 2010 TechNet Magazine column titled "The Troubleshooting Singularity". In that article, I suggested:

"We're perfecting a true 'layering' of the entire computing experience. We can isolate OSes, applications, policies and user state information from each other and seamlessly shift them between devices. Stratifying the computing experience into isolated layers means we can manage each layer individually.

"We can also quickly and reliably reconstruct a layer when troubles occur -- loading a new set of applications, a copy of the user's state information, even a completely new OS -- rather than wasting time troubleshooting ...

"We're essentially approaching a state where it no longer makes economic sense to troubleshoot desktop problems. If there's an issue with the OS, remotely send a new one. If someone loses a computer in the airport, transfer that machine's exact state just before the loss to a new laptop. When applications crash, simply delete the old one and stream down another copy."

Technologies that accomplish exactly this exist today. In many cases, such as with the Microsoft Windows deployment tools, they're also freely downloadable. They indeed require an up-front effort to construct and develop, but their payoff is patently enormous. With that effort invested, you might eradicate many costly troubleshooting efforts with little more than, "Hit F12, walk away." Your automations do the rest.

Take advantage of your vendor's offer for OS pre-imaging, but also do yourself a long-term favor. Make the investment in truly automating Windows 7 deployment. Someday, you'll thank me.

TechMentor Las Vegas Oct. 10-14

Be sure to catch one of the Greg Shields Windows 7 Deployment sessions at TechMentor Las Vegas! Register today at TechMentorEvents.com.



About the Author

Greg Shields is a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Sep 28, 2011

By using Fog (Fogproject.org) you can re-image a computer in a matter of minutes and with folder redirection nothing has to be done to the user files. With the PXE boot option no disks are required. We love it in the school district easy way to fix student problems.

Mon, Aug 8, 2011

we have a standard policy to flatten and reload systems if we can't fix them within 30 minutes. it isn't as elegant as what you describe in the article, but the strategy is the same.

Mon, Aug 8, 2011

Great article. What would really be great is to be able to leverage your vendor pre-installed image for all core deployment and restore/recovery functions...to do the magic described in the article of over-the-air restore to any device. But there are still the problems of drivers and simply the large size of disk images that make remote restore more difficult but not necesssarily impossible. P.S. MDT is a nightmare to get working properly. While technically "free", the investment in time will almost certainly make MDT the most expensive IT toolset in your organization.

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