With Windows Deployment Services (WDS) and Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010 we can deploy images to our target computers with minimal interaction. We can automate selecting a different image for different makes and models of computer. We can optionally add drivers, applications, updates and features. What more could we need?
WDS and MDT are free components from Microsoft. You can have an almost fully automated deployment service with just these tools. If you have a small number of makes and models of computer – say a standard desktop model and a few different types of laptop – then you can build a dedicated image for each. The technician presses F12 at boot, and selects the image to apply. The rest is automatic. If you have a diverse range of makes and models, you can use the driver detection in setup to select and install drivers.
You can use Group Policy to install applications and configurations; or you can install an agent and pass the computer on to the control of a software distribution system. The only constraint is that someone has to be at the computer to initiate the process.
However you can avoid visiting the computer at all if the BIOS is set to perform a network boot first in the boot order. You set this by entering the BIOS setup, and changing the boot order.
- You need to have visited the computer to make this change
- You must already have a toolset that enables fully automated imaging.
When you set the computer to do a network boot first, it contacts the PXE server to obtain a Network Bootstrap Program. This tells the computer what to do next. By default it should time out if there is nothing to do and continue to boot from the hard disk. Otherwise it will begin the re-imaging job. With the WDS PXE Server:
- pxeboot.exe offers a prompt to press F12 again to continue
- pxeboot.n12 bypasses the second F12 and continues into a network boot
- abortpxe.com aborts the network boot and continues into a normal boot.
But to make use of this you need a deployment toolset that is capable of telling the computer what to do, based on an inventory of computers and jobs. If your computers are performing a network boot at present you already have this tool. And if they are not you would need to visit them anyway, to change the boot order.
The question then is whether as an organisation in future you want to be able to perform unattended imaging. If you do, then you need to both change the boot order on existing PC’s and adopt a deployment solution that enables it. If not, then you do not need a more complex deployment solution than WDS and MDT.