Microsoft

Build Your Skills: Getting started with Remote Installation Services

Learn about the installation process and basic configurations required to set up a functional RIS server.


Active Directory may be hogging the spotlight, but Windows 2000 Server also offers several other new features that will make your job easier. Some of these features allow users to connect remotely from laptops, while others provide for complete lockdown of client computers.

In this article, I‘ll discuss Remote Installation Services (RIS), a new Windows 2000 Server component that not only simplifies the administrator's life, but also provides an economically feasible means of upgrading your existing desktop infrastructure to the current environment, Windows 2000 Professional. In a follow-up article, I’ll explain ways you can fine-tune RIS to better meet your needs.

Laying the foundation
RIS comes native with Windows 2000 Server, all flavors inclusive. In a nutshell, RIS allows client computers to boot via the network, connect to an RIS server, download Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional setup files, perform the installation, and have a client computer running without an administrator having to nurse a CD-ROM-based installation.
A topic reiterated time and time again in Microsoft literature is TCO, or total cost of ownership. TCO represents the feasibility of upgrading your company’s technology to stay current in our ever-evolving field. In larger organizations, TCO can escalate at an astounding rate, and it includes the significant expense (time and money) of the system administrators who actually upgrade the systems. Microsoft designed RIS to address these TCO concerns. The service offers a flexible, cost-effective way to implement and maintain Windows 2000 technology in your organization.
What you need
Now that you know why RIS has been included with the Windows 2000 server platform, let's set up a server of our own and actually perform a remote installation. The scope of this article assumes you have the following implemented on your network:
  • DHCP server
  • DNS server
  • Windows 2000 with Active Directory correctly configured
  • A partition on the server that is not a system drive
  • Windows 2000 Professional CD or installation file source

The DHCP server is necessary, as it allows client computers to receive TCP/IP settings native to the network. DNS is the means by which the client locates the Active Directory/RIS server implemented on your network. And Active Directory itself is imperative because it stores the RIS configuration, which in turn provides the workstation with the information necessary to boot. A properly configured, adequately powered Windows 2000 server should be able to support the RIS, DNS, DHCP, and Active Directory. This is the current implementation being used in my organization, and it shows no sign of overload.

Preliminary setup is fairly straightforward, but there is one step that can easily be overlooked. When you configure the DHCP server and its scopes with the setting for your network, don’t forget to authorize the server itself. This basically embeds the DHCP server into the active directory and is a precaution to keep rogue DHCP servers from “popping up” on your LAN. Regardless, if you do not authorize the server, it will not service the client, and in turn, the boot process will fail.

A good practice is to plan for the partition that will hold the RIS files prior to installing the service. This is because the configuration portion can’t be completed until an NTFS drive not used by the system is specified. It is generally good housekeeping to keep these files off of the system partition, as the TFTP program transfers hundreds of Megs to each client. In this instance, however, there is no other option available.

RIS installation
With the network and servers properly configured, we can now take steps to implement our RIS server. As with any component you want to add in Windows, simply go to Start | Settings | Control Panel | Add/Remove Programs | Add/Remove Windows Components. Or if you want to get into the Windows 2000 swing of things, Start | Programs | Administrative Tools | Configure Your Server | Advanced | Optional Components will take you to the same place, which is shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Windows Components Wizard with the RIS check box selected


From here, you can scroll about halfway down the list of available items to the Remote Installation Services option. The size of the service installation is only a couple of megabytes, so space on your hard drive should not be an issue. Select the Remote Installation Services check box, click Next, and proceed through the wizard’s screens to add the service. Note that although Microsoft deserves a tip of the hat for its elimination of many reboots in its Windows 2000 platform, the RIS installation is one system alteration that still requires a reboot.

RIS configuration
After your system is back online, it’s time to properly configure RIS. Although not a daunting task, it is crucial so that client nodes will have no trouble connecting to the service and receive the correct information.

You can do the preliminary configuration with Start | Settings | Control Panel | Add/Remove Programs | Add/Remove Windows Components. Click on Configure Remote Installation Services to start the Remote Installation Services Setup Wizard. The initial screen warns that aside from having your server set up and configured correctly, clients must have a network card equipped with PXE boot or an adapter that is supported by the RIS boot diskette. Otherwise, your server will be stale, as no clients will be able to access it.

The next wizard screen asks for a location to store the Windows 2000 professional setup files. This location must meet three criteria:
  1. It cannot be the system drive.
  2. It must be large enough to store all installation files.
  3. The drive must be formatted in NTFS v.5 or later.

After you specify a drive, you can allow the server to respond to client requests. This is a good thing; otherwise, there would not be a service available for requesting workstations. When installations are complete, instead of uninstalling the entire service, checking this box will take our RIS offline. The Do Not Respond To Unknown Client Computers check box pertains to servicing specific global unique identifiers (GUIDs). At a minimum, select the Respond To Requests check box.

Specifying the installation source file path is the next course of action. Simply browse to the location of your Windows 2000 Professional files, as we’ve done in Figure B. A shared path or 2000 Pro CD-ROM will work just fine. It is important to note that at this time that no other operating system will work. There are rumors, however, that Windows 2000 Server will be RIS-compatible in the not-too-distant future.

Figure B
Specifying the installation source file path


The next screen lets you name the folder for the Windows 2000 Professional Image (default is win2000.pro). You then advance to the Friendly Description And Help Text screen shown in Figure C. Here, simply enter a description and help text for this installation image. This step is important because you can hold more than one image per server, which ensures that clients receive an installation relevant to their department, system, and so on.

Figure C
Friendly Description And Help Text screen


The final screen, shown in Figure D, displays a summary of your RIS configuration. Click Finish to complete your server setup. Your machine will copy the necessary source files and execute the configurations you specified. Each step is verified by a check mark. Assuming each step completes correctly, you have now successfully completed the initial RIS configuration.

Figure D
Summary of RIS configuration


In a follow-up to this article, we’ll fine-tune our RIS configuration, set client computer name variables, and make custom images. After the service is completely customized, an actual client installation will prove our time and energy well spent.
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