Deploying applications, managing user data and settings, and applying change control through group policies and other IntelliMirror features are great solutions for Windows 2000-based networks and systems. It’s a good bet, however, that your network is not populated solely with Windows 2000 systems. It probably includes a mix of Windows 9x, Windows NT, and Windows Me systems. None of these systems can take advantage of IntelliMirror’s features because they don’t support group policies. However, there are a couple of options you can use to achieve much the same results for these systems and users as you would with IntelliMirror and Windows 2000.

Remote Installation Service
The Remote Installation Service (RIS) is an optional component for Windows 2000 Server that allows an administrator to use a remote-boot-enabled computer to log on to a Windows 2000 domain and install a copy of Windows 2000 across the network. The user would then connect the computer to the network, boot it, log on to the domain, and begin the OS installation process. The computer doesn’t need to have an operating system on it, or it might be running an existing non-Windows 2000 OS. This process allows you to distribute the Windows 2000 Professional OS itself, as you would do with other applications when using IntelliMirror.

RIS integrates with group policy and Active Directory (AD) to define the types of installation actions a user can perform. After logon, RIS checks for applicable group policies for the user in the AD. If the account has been assigned a preconfigured installation, it automatically begins that installation. If no such policy applies, RIS presents a list of install options from which the user can choose a desired installation configuration.

RIS can decrease your administrative overhead by reducing the amount of time required to install computers for new employees. You only need to provide the new user with a computer and network connection and a PXE-compliant NIC or PXE emulator disk, and RIS will do the rest. The user boots the computer and logs on with the user account you’ve assigned, and RIS installs the OS on the user’s computer. When you couple RIS with automated application deployment and user data and settings management through IntelliMirror, you complete the automated system setup infrastructure. Not only will the user’s computer receive an OS automatically, but it will also receive all the required applications, application settings, folder redirection, and environment settings.

Beyond the initial configuration steps I’ve discussed, your primary task is to create the user account and place it in an OU that already has the appropriate GPOs linked to it. Where previously it could have taken several hours to bring that new employee’s computer online, you’ll spend only minutes to achieve the same result.

When properly planned and implemented, RIS, along with other IntelliMirror capabilities, can provide the same quick uptime and installation for disaster recovery that was afforded when setting up computers for new employees. If a user’s system fails, you simply provide a new system and in less than an hour, the user can be back up and working again.

If you support a relatively large number of users, RIS can save a significant amount of time and money for your organization. In upcoming Daily Drill Downs, I’ll cover remote OS installation through RIS. After you become familiar with the requirements and process, determine the amount of time you’ll need to spend to implement RIS and factor in any required server changes, replacement of NICs with PXE-compliant ones (if desired), and other costs associated with laying out the RIS infrastructure. Then, use projected savings or historical data to determine how much your company will save in reduced downtime and reduced support time through automated OS deployment and recovery and compare that savings against the cost to implement to determine the ROI for RIS.

System management through SMS
Systems Management Server (SMS) is a stand-alone Microsoft product that provides centralized management of systems running Windows 9x/Me and NT/2000. In effect, SMS lets you perform many of the same tasks for non-Windows 2000 systems that you can perform for Windows 2000 systems through IntelliMirror. With SMS, you can accomplish the following for all Windows platforms:

  • Deploy applications
  • Deploy OS updates
  • Perform hardware and software inventory
  • Use remote control and diagnostic tools
  • Meter software
  • Perform network analysis and diagnosis
  • Monitor system performance and health

When you compare IntelliMirror and SMS, the only real area of overlap is centralized application deployment. So, once you evaluate and understand the differences between IntelliMirror and SMS for application deployment, you should choose the one that best suits your needs. Although you could use both IntelliMirror and SMS to deploy applications in the enterprise, you should generally select one method and stick with it—there are no real benefits to using both that outweigh the costs and administrative overhead required to support both. The other features offered by SMS complement rather than replace those of IntelliMirror.

One point bears some clarification, however. From the bulleted list above, you’ll note that SMS allows you to deploy OS updates. Unlike IntelliMirror, however, you can’t deploy new OS installations through SMS. So you might use IntelliMirror to deploy Windows 2000 and then use SMS to provide updates.

If you already have SMS in place, you should be able to easily determine the cost benefits of integrating SMS and IntelliMirror. If you are not familiar with SMS, get up to speed on its capabilities, requirements, and costs for implementation. Then, evaluate the benefits you’ll gain by integrating the two to determine your cost savings. For more information about SMS, see the Daily Drill Down “Distributing software with SMS 2.0.”

IntelliMirror is a powerful set of tools, but it can’t do everything. For non-Windows 2000 client workstations, IntelliMirror is useless. However, you can use other software and tools, such as SMS, to distribute applications and control settings on your users’ workstations if they’re running nonsupported client software. Alternatively, you can use RIS to upgrade your users to Windows 2000 Professional and then implement IntelliMirror directly.