Deploying Windows XP, SMS 2003 Feature Pack

By Marcin Policht | Oct 3, 2005 | Print this Page
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The previous article of this series "Deploying Windows XP, Using the Windows PE", presented an alternative approach to traditional methods of unattended setup of Windows XP, based on Windows PE (Preinstallation Environment) technology. Although this approach offers numerous benefits, including reduced installation time, improved hardware support, and enhanced scripting capabilities, its main drawback is limited availability (and pricing), since the required software is provided exclusively to Microsoft Enterprise Agreement and Software Assurance Membership customers.

However, several other options are out there for organizations that want to take advantage of the same set of benefits inherent to 32-bit preinstallation environment. This article will focus on one of them: the Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 Operating System Deployment Feature Pack.

Microsoft's Systems Management Server 2003, like its predecessors (SMS 1.2. and 2.0), delivers a variety of management features, such as, centralized software and hardware inventory, application deployment and licensing management, and help desk support (e.g., the ability to control, execute, reboot, chat, and transfer files while interacting with remote clients). The scope of its functionality has been continuously expanding and now includes, Active Directory integration, improved roaming capabilities, more efficient handling of low-bandwidth connections, and, with the introduction of the SMS 2003 Operating System Deployment Feature Pack released in November 2004, installation of operating system images. Although it is possible to upgrade Windows clients with earlier versions of SMS, the new add-on simplifies this, significantly reducing the impact of incompatibility issues caused by legacy software and operating system settings. SMS has streamlined the process with automated application installation and user state migration, as well as integration with standard SMS software deployment mechanisms and leveraging collected inventory information.

The SMS 2003 OS Deployment Feature Pack is available for download from the Microsoft Web site. It can be used free of charge but only as a component of Systems Management Server 2003. It must be installed on an SMS site server, and it does not operate as a stand-alone product. In addition, since the Feature Pack leverages Windows PE technology (in several stages of the process), it also covers its licensing requirements. SMS 2003 servers must have Service Pack 1 applied (and, potentially, the hotfix described in the Microsoft Knowledge base article 888311, if Active Directory Site Boundaries are used).

Since user state migration is part of the deployment process, we recommend using the most recent version of the User State Migration Tool (version 2.6.4 or later), which can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site. It is not, however, included with the Feature Pack. (For more information on its functionality, refer to previous articles in this series.) In addition, since during Windows PE portion of the installation client computers obtain their IP configuration dynamically, the environment must have an active DHCP server servicing subnets where they reside.

Since user state migration is part of the deployment process, we recommend using the most recent version of the User State Migration Tool (version 2.6.4 or later), which can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site.

The majority of tasks the Feature Pack handles take advantage of SMS' capabilities. Hardware and software inventory provide a basis for selecting installation targets. Operating system images are represented in the SMS Management console as packages (under Image Packages node, they are created automatically when the OS Deployment Feature pack is installed on the site server), and they are delivered in the form of advertisements to collections functioning as containers for SMS clients. This approach follows the standard software deployment mechanism established since SMS 2.0, and every SMS administrator should be familiar with it.

The OS Deployment Feature Pack also supports Remote Installation Services and CD-based installation methods. It allows a "wipe and load" install on any system, regardless of whether SMS client software is present. Definitions of packages containing OS images are copied automatically across the entire SMS site hierarchy. Actual images, once selected for distribution, follow a bandwidth-optimized transfer algorithm between SMS sites and Distribution Points. Status monitoring includes image packages and advertisements, which simplifies troubleshooting and resolves any deployment issues.

Continued on page 2: The Four Phases of the OS Deployment Feature Pack

Continued From Page 1

The Four Phases of the OS Deployment Feature Pack
Operating system deployment with the Feature Pack consists of several distinct stages. The process starts with the installation of a "master" computer serving as the image source, followed by the capture of an image file, which is subsequently added to SMS distribution mechanism, and finally deployed on target machines. The last stage can be further subdivided into Validation, State Capture, Pre-install, Install, Post-install, and State Restore.

  • Installation of the "Master" Computer: Supported operating systems include Windows 2000, XP, or 2003 Server (depending on the goal of the migration process). Windows must be located to the C: drive, which must be formatted with NTFS. The SMS 2003 Advanced Client must also be installed. Depending on the organization's preferences, consider adding core applications (such as Microsoft Office, AntiVirus software, or an e-mail client); however, keep in mind that images cannot be modified. Thus, any content changes necessitate restarting the entire process from the beginning. On the other hand, hardware support in image-based installations has greatly improved since earlier days (primarily because of superior plug-and-play functionality in the recent versions of Windows).

    This enables coverage of a wider range of systems having nonuniform subcomponents with a much smaller number of images — so long as the Hardware Abstraction Layer versions are compatible across systems. (For more information, refer to Knowledge Base Article 309283.) Images are based on the new Microsoft Windows Imaging (WIM) format, which reduces the final size with an impressive compression ratio (about 3:1) and the elimination of duplicate files. Since the WIM format is file- not sector-based, it can take advantage of the Single-Instance Storage technology.

    Make sure the computer is configured (via BIOS) to boot from the CD-ROM before attempting to boot from the hard drive (this will be needed during the next step). Finally, since the creation of an operating system image involves running Sysprep (System Preparation Image), you must copy it to the C:sysprep folder. (See Microsoft Knowledge Base article 302577 for more information about Sysprep.)

  • Capture of an Image File: Once the "master" computer is installed and configured, launch the Image Capture Wizard. The wizard's executable is located on the Image Capture CD, which is created using the SMS Administrator console (after the OS Deployment Feature Pack is installed) to select "Create Operating System Image Capture CD" from the Site Database -> Image Packages -> All Tasks menu. Once the wizard is running, specify the name of the image to be created, the location to which it should be copied, and the credentials necessary to authenticate the connection.

    You can also customize the Sysprep parameters, although it is preferable to leave them at the default "-reseal -mini -quiet." The last part of this stage of the wizard runs the Sysprep utility, which prepares the system for imaging (by resolving main issues associated with replicating Windows images between computers, such as, for example, SID duplication). This is followed by restart. As long as the BIOS options are configured properly, you should be able to boot from the Image Capture CD into the Windows PE, which automatically launches the second stage of the Image Capture Wizard, and then copies the WIM file to the specified location.

  • Creation of an Image Package: The WIM file serves as the source for an SMS package that gets deployed as an advertisement to SMS collections containing computers to be migrated. To create a package containing an operating system image, choose the "New" option from the context-sensitive menu of Image Packages node in the SMS Management Console. This will trigger the New OS Package Wizard (and allow you to import the file as an Image Package). Next, execute the New Program Wizard (using the context-sensitive menu of the Programs node in the newly created Image package) to specify additional installation details. Provided entries are then displayed (and can be further modified) in the Image Package Properties dialog box, divided into seven tabbed sections labeled Destination Computer, Computer Settings, Additional Scripts, SMS Client Settings, Deployment Options, User Settings, and User Data (which allows the admin to specify such values as local administrative password, product key, and domain membership). Once the package is created, copy it to distribution points (which is done by setting Distribution Point entries for an Image Package). Next, make sure computers where the operating system image will be deployed are grouped within the same collection, and execute Deploy Software Wizard (which is used also for deploying standard types of packages) to create advertisement.

    Alternatively, you can copy the WIM file to your RIS server and make it available for deployments to any RIS-compatible computer (not necessarily having SMS client software present) or have it installed via a CD-based install (using the WinPE-based Image Deployment CD-ROM, created, like the Image Capture CD-ROM, with one of the options in the context-sensitive menu of the Image Packages node in the SMS Management console).

  • Deployment to a Target Machine: As mentioned previously, client installation is divided into several stages — Validation, State Capture, Pre-install, Install, Post-install, and State Restore.

    1. During the Validation stage, consider executing custom scripts to verify whether installation requirements (such as sufficient disk space or memory) are satisfied. At this stage, there is also an option to provide a notification informing users about impending installation. You can empower them to postpone and initiate it at their convenience. At the same rate, it is also possible to set the date and time when the advertisement becomes mandatory, which ensures that the upgrade will eventually take place.

    2. State Capture gathers information about users (which can be based on both Microsoft User State Migration Tool or custom actions), machines, and SMS client configurations. Depending on your preferences (and the availability of disk space), the state data contained in all user profiles can be stored on the local disk or copied to a network share. A subsequent restore ensures users, machine, and SMS-specific settings are preserved, which allows for a seamless transition with minimal administrative overhead. Note that USMT 2.6 is capable of migrating all user profiles (so long as the /all option is used during the capture).

    3. During Pre-install, Windows PE gets installed and activated. Once this is completed, the reboot takes place, and Windows PE is loaded. Arbitrarily designated custom actions and Diskpart utility can be used to complete pre-installation steps (such as modifying a partitioning scheme). This is followed by the Install phase, during which the existing operating system is erased, the captured image file is downloaded from the closest SMS Distribution Point (based on the information provided by the SMS Management Point), and the operating system image stored in it is activated via minisetup (characteristic of Sysprep-based installations). Additional custom post-installation actions (such as deploying additional applications) can be included at this point. State Restore (including machine, SMS, and user information) completes the process.

    4. SMS provides considerable flexibility when distributing operating system images. This includes setting local administrator passwords, adding a computer to the domain (with the ability to specify non-default Active Directory container), assigning IP address dynamically via DHCP or setting it to a static one inherited from the previous installation. It is common to install SMS packages (through advertisements) or run custom-defined actions (such as the installation of additional hardware drivers) as part of the deployment process. Note that image deployment of Windows XP or Windows 2003 does not eliminate the need for product key activation (unless you have a Select or Enterprise Assurance arrangement, which allows you to apply the same volume licensing key to all systems).

Although the primary purpose of the SMS 2003 OS Deployment Feature Pack is performing in-place operating system migrations (preserving user, machine, and SMS state), its features can also be employed in scenarios involving new deployments or replacements of systems that failed unexpectedly. In such cases, a new system can be installed via an Image Installation CD (which pulls an Image package from an SMS Distribution Point) or RIS (where an image has been copied or mounted). In either case, the new system is automatically configured as an SMS client and can have full set of necessary applications automatically installed.

Article courtesy of ServerWatch