Optimizing Remote Installation Services

Windows 2000 Remote Installation Services (RIS) enables you to pull down complete, customized computer installations from your network server. Trent Cook offers some pointers for fine-tuning RIS and then demonstrates the installation process.

In part one of our series on Remote Installation Services (RIS), we introduced the benefits of this new Windows 2000 Server component, and we explained the installation process and basic configurations required to set up a functional RIS server. Our focus in this follow-up article will be on performing a few advanced configurations. We’ll then walk through an actual installation from the RIS we have set up.
Our starting point for this project assumes that so far, you’ve performed these steps:
  1. You’ve implemented the following 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
  1. You’ve run the Windows Component Wizard to add the RIS component.
  2. You’ve used the Remote Installation Services Setup Wizard for initial configuration.

Fine-tuning the installation
Now that our server is “off the ground,” let’s do a little housekeeping. This all takes place in Start | Programs | Active Directory Users And Computers. Browsing to the Organizational Unit (OU) containing the RIS server, right-click on the server and choose Properties. Next, select the Remote Install tab, shown in Figure A, and click on Verify Server. This simply runs a few tests to ensure that our installation and configuration was successful.

Figure A
Remote Install tab of server properties

Trusting the verification went well, we’ll move along. Clicking Show Clients will allow us to view the computers this RIS server has serviced before, and it can search the Active Directory for clients as well. But to access the options for fine-tuning RIS, click the Advanced Settings button to open the Remote Installation Services Properties dialog box. The first option is to change the naming variables for client computers. The default is the username followed by an incremental number. This method may suffice. If users don’t stay at a particular station, however, naming the clients according to location might be a better solution. For example, use Accounting%# when upgrading the accounting department, followed by an incremental number, as shown in Figure B. Then, when remotely installing another department, simply change this name to accommodate.

Figure B
Using departments for custom naming on the Computer Account Generation screen

If you click the Images tab in the Remote Installation Services Properties dialog box, as shown in Figure C, you can add different Windows 2000 Professional installation packages you may want to distribute. For example, you might add accounting software to one distribution and Office to another. When performing the installation, simply pick the appropriate image, and your computer will not only have Windows installed but all the applications you will need as well.

Figure C
Images tab of Remote Installation Services Properties dialog box

To implement this functionality, set up a Windows 2000 Professional system from the RIS server. Install any applications and color schemes that will be part of the image. Next, while at the remote client, run Riprep.exe from the \\RIS server\RemoteInstall\Admin\I386 folder.
It’s a good idea to shut down all apps and services prior to running Riprep.exe, as it nullifies the system-specific settings.
The Riprep.exe wizard will prompt you for the RIS server where you would like the image to be stored. (This is only relevant if you happen to have multiple servers running.) The finishing touch is to give your new system image a friendly description so users will know that the installation is tailored to their needs.
RIS and Riprep installations are not hardware specific, as the setup uses the Windows 2000 PnP subsystem.
This is sufficient for our fine-tuning, but you can also add a third-party maintenance tool (such as a BIOS upgrade for your clients). You’ll find all the options for this process in the Advanced section of the Tools tab in the Remote Installation Services Properties dialog box.

Putting RIS to the test
Finally, the moment of truth has arrived. It’s time to actually go to a client, boot up, and put this service to work. If the client’s network card doesn’t contain a PXE boot ROM, or if you’re not sure, simply make an RIS installation boot diskette. To do so, insert a 1.44-MB floppy into the drive, browse to the \\RIS\server\RemoteInstall\Admin\i386 folder, and run the Rbfg.exe program. This will prepare the boot disk for you; however, you should still look for your card in the adapter list to verify that it’s supported. If it isn’t, the boot process will fail.

The only thing left to do now is to boot up our client computer via the network adapter’s boot ROM or the RIS boot diskette. If this stage fails, make sure your DHCP/RIS server is authorized and active and that the scope is set up correctly. After the system acquires its network settings, press [F12] to continue booting from the network; this prompt is only available for a few seconds, so make sure you have your finger on the key.

By now, you should be at the blue installation screen. The remainder of the process is very straightforward. You’ll first be asked to supply a valid username and password existing in the domain that this computer will be joining. As long as the computer is already a member of the domain, you can use any account; however, if the system will become a member of the Active Directory during this installation, you must supply one with the appropriate permissions.

The most difficult part of the entire procedure is deciding between Setup, Custom Setup, Restart A Previous Setup Attempt, and Maintenance And Troubleshooting Tools. For our purposes here, we’ll choose Setup. Custom Setup simply allows the user to manually specify a name for the system and its location in the Active Directory. For the security conscious, group policies can restrict this option so you don’t have to worry about a user messing up your directory structure. The Restart A Previous Setup Attempt and Maintenance And Troubleshooting Tools options are self-explanatory.

The next screen allows us to choose the appropriate image to install from. Then, voilà: The “crunching” begins. With files now being copied and installed, other than possibly specifying the CD-KEY (according to your answer file), everything is pretty much automated. Even the network settings will be configured, as the DHCP server will provide the required information.

Congratulations—you now have a means to pull down complete computer installations from your network server. With the ability to customize images and add applications, the primary drawback to RIS is that Windows 2000 Professional is the only operating system supported. But it’s rumored that support for Windows 2000 server will be available in the not-too-distant future. You can now consider the total cost of ownership of a Windows 2000 Professional network significantly lower. Happy imaging.
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