One of the most common methods for deploying the Windows operating system to network workstations involves disk imaging. The basic idea behind imaging is that you can configure a PC to match your standard desktop deployment, and then create an image of the PC. That image can then be copied to any additional desktops that you need to deploy.
There are dozens of disk imaging solutions on the market, and each of them has their own unique advantages and disadvantages. The disk imaging solution currently recommended by Microsoft is the Deployment Workbench. The Deployment Workbench is a free solution included in Microsoft's Business Desktop Deployment 2007 (BDD 2007) which you can download directly from Microsoft's Web site. In this article, I'll show you how to make it work.
Before I begin
Before I get started, I want to quickly point out that there are countless methods for creating distribution images using the Deployment Workbench. Since it is impossible for me to talk about all of these methods within the confines of an article (or even several articles), I am going to limit my discussion to one particular technique. If my technique does not meet your needs, then another technique will probably work for you. You can find instructions for other imaging techniques in the Deployment Workbench instructions.
Why use the Deployment Workbench?
As I mentioned earlier, there are dozens of tools capable of imaging a Windows workstation, so you might be wondering why you should use the Deployment Workbench rather than another solution? There are lots of good reasons: it is available for free, and it is a Microsoft solution for distributing Microsoft OSs.
I tend to think the best reason for using the Deployment Workbench for imaging workstations, however, is that it gives you flexibility. In many of the competing solutions, building an image involves setting up a workstation with an OS, a set of drivers, and your standard set of applications. You would then create an image file and deploy that image to any new workstations that you need to set up.
That sounds simple enough, but what happens when your company adopts a new application or a new version of an existing application? If you are using this type of imaging solution, you would have to create a brand new image from scratch. The Deployment Workbench is different; rather than requiring you to create a static image, the Deployment Workbench allows you to add and remove applications and other components to and from the image on an as-needed basis. This will be covered in the section on adding applications to an image.
Installing the Windows Automated Installation Kit
Before you can get started, ensure that the necessary Deployment Workbench components have been downloaded. To do so, open the Deployment Workbench and navigate to Information Center | Components. Upon selecting the Components container, you will see a list of the components available for download. Select each available component -- one at a time -- and press the Download button. When you do, Windows will queue each component for download, as shown in Figure A.
After a component has been downloaded, the Status column shown in Figure A will switch from Downloading to Copying. Due to a glitch in the software, the Copying status is displayed indefinitely (on my system). If the Copying status doesn't go away after a reasonable amount of time, press the Install button found in the lower right portion of the screen to begin the installation process.
Creating a Windows image
There are countless deployment scenarios that you could work through using the Deployment Workbench. For the purposes of this article, the only component that we will concern ourselves with installing is the Windows Automated Installation Kit.
When you press the Install button, Windows will launch the Windows Automated Installation Kit Setup Wizard. Press Next to bypass the wizard's Welcome screen and the wizard will display the End User License Agreement. Accept the license agreement and press Next. The wizard will now prompt you for an installation path. Just accept the defaults and press Next. The Wizard is now ready to install the Windows Automated Installation Kit. Press Next to begin the file copy process. When the file copy process completes, press the Close button to close the wizard. The Deployment Workbench should now list the Windows Automated Installation Kit among the installed components, as shown in Figure B.
Since the necessary components have been downloaded and installed, it's time to begin building an image file. To do so, navigate to Distribution Share | Operating Systems. Now, right-click on the Operating Systems container and select the New command from the resulting shortcut menu. You will now see the dialog box shown in Figure C, which asks for the type of OS you want to add.
As you can see in the figure, the New OS Wizard gives you three different choices: you can create an image based on a set of source files, supply a pre-existing image in the form of a WIM file, or specify an image located on a Windows Deployment Services server. Since we are starting from scratch, choose the Full Set of Source Files option and press Next. The wizard will now prompt you for the OS's installation files. Insert your Windows Vista installation disk, and provide the path to the installation media.
Press Next and the wizard will prompt you to enter a name for the destination directory. Accept the default directory name of Windows Vista and press the Copy button to begin the file copy process. When the copy process completes, the details pane will be updated to list the various editions of Windows Vista that were included on your installation media, as shown in Figure D.
Adding applications to the image
In most companies, a standard set of applications gets loaded onto each desktop machine. Some users with specialized jobs might receive additional applications, but there are usually some applications, such as Microsoft Office, that everybody uses. Therefore, it makes sense to include these standard applications in your deployment image.
Looking at the previous screen capture, you will notice that there is an Applications container just below the Operating Systems container. If you want to include an application in the image you're creating, you can do so by placing the application into the Applications container.
The technique for associating applications with an image is similar to the technique that you used to create the image of the OS. Simply right-click on the Applications folder and select the New command from the resulting shortcut menu. When you do, Windows will launch the New Application Wizard, shown in Figure E.
As shown in Figure M, Windows gives you the choice of including applications with or without source files. The Applications with Source Files option is fairly self-explanatory. You would use this option if you had an installation CD for a particular application that you wanted to include in the image that you are creating.
The Applications Without Source Files option is used primarily for less sophisticated applications. For example, I use a desktop search tool that is composed of a single executable file. The tool doesn't have to be installed in the traditional sense, since there is no setup file. If I wanted to include this tool in my distribution image, I would use the Applications Without Source Files option.
The Application Without Source Files option is also appropriate for use in situations in which the source files change frequently. If you choose the Application With Source Files option, the Deployment Workbench will ask you for the source file location, and will then copy those source files to your distribution share on the machine running the Deployment Workbench.
If you choose the Application Without Source Files option, you will still be prompted to enter the location of the source files, but the source files will not actually be copied to the distribution share. This means you can update the source files as often as necessary; as long as the location remains the same, the Deployment Workbench will always include the most up-to-date version of the source files in the image.
To see how application distribution works, let's add Microsoft Office 2007 to the distribution point. To do so, select the Application with Source Files option and press Next. At this point, you will see the screen shown in Figure F. As you can see in that figure, you are required to enter some basic information about the application that you are including in the image.
Press Next and you'll be prompted to supply the source directory for the application you want to include in the image. Press Next and to enter the name of the directory that should be created. The default directory name will be based on the information that you entered about the application earlier; so as long as you entered good information, you probably won't have to change the directory name.
Press Next and enter the command line used to install the application, as shown in Figure G. Typically, the command will be setup.exe, but it may vary from application to application.
Press the Add button and the Deployment Workbench will begin copying the application's source files to the distribution point. When the file copy process completes, the new application will be listed in the Details pane when the Applications container is selected, as shown in Figure H.
As you have probably already figured out, the Deployment Workbench will deploy Office by running Setup.exe. As you are no doubt aware though, Setup requires you to enter a product key. Other applications may ask for similar types of information or require a reboot after installation. These types of issues can be addressed by right clicking on the application and selecting the Properties command from the resulting shortcut menu. Upon doing so, you will see the application's properties sheet, shown in Figure I.
The properties sheet's various tabs provide some handy tools for automating the installation process. For example, the General tab allows you to force a reboot after the application is installed. The Dependencies tab, shown in Figure J, allows you to require applications to be installed in a specific order.
The Office Products tab, shown in Figure K, is unique to Microsoft Office; other applications sometimes have similar tabs. This tab allows you to select a language, specify a product key, and automatically enter a user name and automatically accept the end user license agreement (EULA).
A good beginning
In this article, I have shown you how to add an OS and a set of applications to a distribution image. In upcoming articles, I will continue the discussion by showing you how to add OS packages and drivers to the image.