Choosing the Best Windows 2000 Deployment Method

Deploying Windows 2000this new series helps you navigate the waters, circumvent trouble, and pull off a flawless deployment.

 By Jerry Honeycutt
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Do you support 100 computers? 1,000 computers? 50,000 computers? No matteryou have a plethora of deployment tools and techniques at your disposal to solve any problems. Some are more appropriate than others, but the perfect solution does exist.

You have to admire my confidence in your deployment plans!

The only problem is wading through all the murky options, choosing the one that best suits your requirements, and then uncovering any nasty surprises before they leap out and nip your deployment in the bud. That's why I'm writing this series of articles. After helping dozens of companies with their Windows 2000 deployments and teaching a Windows 2000 deployment seminar, I've decided to put what I've learned into words.

So, for my first installment, let's choose the best deployment method for your enterprise. Seldom will you be able to rely on a single method, thoughyou'll choose one as your primary deployment method and use the others as backups for special circumstances. Your primary deployment method might be disk imaging, for example, but you'd use custom CDs for field users.

In upcoming installments, I'll expand on the methods you'll learn here. These are writing answer files, installing Windows 2000 from network installation points, deploying disk images, and using Remote Installation Service. You'll learn the strengths and weaknesses of each; known bugs and workarounds; and best practices for each deployment method. For now, I'll introduce you to each of the methods available for Windows 2000.

Answer Files

Answer files are the heart and soul of any Windows 2000 deployment. You use them whether your method is a disk imaging technique, network installation points, or Remote Installation Service. Thus, this isn't a choice as much as it is a chance to build better deployments by understanding their foundations.

You might know answer files as Unattend.txt, the typical file name given to them. Answer files look just like INI files. They have sections with the format [name]. Within each section are parameters with the format name=value. The setup program looks for responses in the answer file rather than prompting users for that same information. The result is usually an automated installation that requires little or no user interaction.

The quickest way to create an answer file is using Setup Manager. Setup Manager, Setupmgr.exe, comes with the Windows 2000 Resource Kit. You can also use a text editor such as Notepad to create an answer file. In addition to Notepad, you'll need a copy of Unattend.doc, the document that describes all of the parameters you can use in an answer file; it also comes with the Windows 2000 Resource Kit. For the record, Setup Manager does not generate complete answer files, so you'll almost always have to edit them by hand.

Because answer files are so important, I've dedicated the next few installments of this series to them. The result will be a collection of snippets that you can cut and paste into your own answer filesa source of reusable answer files, if you like.

Network Installation Points

A network installation point is a deployment method that combines the Windows 2000 CD with your answer file to automate the installation. You run the setup program and pass the answer file to it as a command-line option. This method has the distinct advantage of being the only one you can use for upgrading from earlier versions of Windows.

Here's the way this works. You copy the i386 folder of your Windows 2000 CD to a network share; \\Camelot\W2k\i386, perhaps. Then, put your answer file in the Windows 2000 share and distribute the command to users. It might look something like:

winnt /s:\\Camelot\W2k\i386 /u:\\Camelot\W2k\Unattend.txt
You can use numerous methods to deploy the command:
  • Logon scripts
  • Systems Management Server
  • Bootable network diskettes
  • Bootable Windows 2000 CDs
  • Common registry hacks
  • Scheduled Tasks folder

This article was originally published on Dec 4, 2000
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