Latecomer's guide to deploying Windows 7

As businesses finally get serious about migrating from Windows XP, an expert shares what works in the real world

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3. Determine what type of OS images to deploy

A tough question for many organizations is whether they should deploy just the operating system (a thin image) and install the applications afterward, deploy the OS and all apps (a thick image), or deploy the OS and just the core apps required by all users (a hybrid image), with other apps installed separately later based on user needs and roles.

My preference is for the hybrid image; it is the fastest way to deploy the core capabilities to everyone and has the least labor impact on both IT and users. A thick image might be tempting, but if any application in the mix is updated, you have to remake the image each time, creating a management burden. A thin image may seem tempting as well, but it nearly doubles the IT deployment workload (two runs for every user) and creates a productivity gap where the user has Windows 7 but no applications to use with it.

4. Pick the image-deployment tool

Whatever type of installation image you choose, there are several tools available to create, manage, and deploy the Windows 7 image. Microsoft has several of its own: Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK), Windows Deployment Service (WDS), Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2012 (MDT), and System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM ) 2007 or 2012. WDS and MDT are free; WDS is a role that ships with Windows Server, and MDT is a free download.

Windows Automated Installation Kit. WAIK contains all the command-line tools needed to perform a complete Windows 7 installation to a new computer or to migrate from an XP PC. It gathers user state (user data, user settings, and application settings) and lets you create, manage, and deploy images. MDT, SCCM , and other tools use WAIK, so you can opt for friendlier interfaces and wizards rather than learn all the syntax for the various command-line utilities like copype, oscdimg, ImageX, DISM, Scanstate, and Loadstate. (Note that Microsoft is replacing WAIK with the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit for deploying Windows 8.)

Windows Deployment Service. To use WDS, you need hefty infrastructure requirements (Active Directory, DNS, and DHCP), and you're limited to thick images -- WDS can't deploy applications separately later. If you do go with WDS, I recommend you use Windows Server 2008 R2 because it supports multiple streams of multicast traffic. To use WDS for Windows 7 deployments, first configure your WDS server. Then add the main components of the deployment package.

The first component is your boot image. Add the boot.wim from a Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 DVD's \sources folder (or its .iso file equivalent) to the Boot Images node in the WDS snap-in. (Caution: Do not add into WDS a WinPE file for booting the client PC, as you'll get a Command Prompt window at the X: drive and never get a list of OS images to deploy. You'll use a separate WinPE at the client computer instead.)

The Windows Deployment Service (WDS)
The Windows Deployment Service (WDS)

In the Install Images node in WDS, add the OS images you have created. Or to install a thin image, just use the install.wim file from a Windows 7 DVD's \sources folder. Remember, you can't install applications via WDS, so don't add any application images.

After your newly deployed machine is ready, sysprep the client PC using the -generalize and -oobe switches. (I like to run the GUI version from C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep\Sysprep.exe. Check the Generalize option in the System Preparation Tool dialog box that appears and choose Shutdown as the Shutdown Options pop-up menu rather than the default Reboot.

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