Cloning a master image from a properly configured computer is, without a doubt, one of the best ways to optimize any deployment process, while simultaneously ensuring that a complete, working configuration will be copied to each node in the deployment chain.

Many applications exist that perform such functions–some are free, some are not–but they all have a basic set of operations programmed to capture and deploy a viable image of a working computer to dozens or hundreds (even thousands) of computers on a network with just a few keystrokes… and a lot of careful planning.

Both NetBoot and NetInstall, Apple’s remote boot and installation protocols that work in conjunction with OS X Server’s NetInstall service, have a seldom used and often overlooked third option without the need for a 3rd-party product.

NetRestore provides native support for creating an OS X Server-ready, deployable image that encompasses all the software, files, and settings required for the computers in use at your organization to be setup correctly each time. Not to mention that when used with NetInstall and Apple Remote Desktop (ARD), all deployments may be executed over the LAN without the need for booting to external media or manual intervention whatsoever.

Before going into the step-by-step process, there are a few requirements. Let’s take a moment to review those:

  • Apple master computer running OS X 10.7+ (with all necessary software, updates, files, and settings preconfigured. However, do not configure directory bindings, because that should not be done until after the image is deployed)
  • Apple technician computer running OS X 10.7+ (with enough free storage space to save completed image from master computer)
  • External USB HDD (Optional; only required if connecting master computer’s HDD externally to technician’s computer for image creation)
  • FireWire 400/800 or Thunderbolt cable (Optional; only required if targeting from technician to master station for image creation)
  • Apple computer running OS X Server 10.7+ (Optional; required if deploying NetRestore image via NetInstall service)

With these requirements out of the way, let’s proceed to the step-by-step creation process.

Note: If the computer designated as the master node is not yet configured, do not proceed any further until the master station is configured exactly as it needs to be prior to capturing a deployment image. This is imperative, as anything that is not configured pre-capture will require manual correction post-deployment.

  1. Depending on the method chosen–targeting or external USB HDD–the objective will be to connect the master station hard drive to the technician’s computer as an external device. Once this is done, the drive on the master station should appear as an external device on the technician station.
  2. Launch System Image by going to /System/Library/CoreServices/Applications (Figure A).
    Figure A
  3. Select the disk that will serve as the source of the NetRestore image from the drop-down menu. It needs be the externally connected drive from the master computer (Figure B).
    Figure B
  4. Select the radio button next to NetRestore Image, since that is the image type being created, and then click the Continue button (Figure C).
    Figure C
  5. On the next page, enter in the details for the Image Settings so that it’s identifiable to IT. While optional, it is a good practice to specify certain details, such as creation date, application or department use, etc. Once completed, click the Create button (Figure D).
    Figure D
  6. Click the button to Agree to Apple’s EULA and proceed with the creation process (Figure E).
    Figure E
  7. Next, select a destination for the image to be saved. By default, OS X Server requires the NetBootSP0 directory located at: /Library/NetBoot. However, if not using OS X Server, than any location is suitable. Click the Save button (Figure F).
    Figure F
  8. If prompted, enter admin credentials to start the image creation process (Figure G).
    Figure G
  9. The creation process will vary in completion time depending on several factors (Figure H), including speed of the computer, bandwidth between the master HDD and technician’s computer, and how large the image is that’s to be created. The larger the image, the longer the process will be. Once it’s completed, click Done, and you’ll have a clean, deployable image to copy via NetInstall (one-to-many) or manually (one-to-one).
    Figure H

As any system administrator will tell you, the more computers, laptops, and mobile computing devices get added to the network, the leaner their resources become and, consequently, the less time sysadmins have to perform maintenance tasks. This means “working smarter, not harder” and leveraging the network and a few lightweight, yet powerful apps to turn a two-week project into a two-day job, while still leaving wiggle room for unexpected occurrences to be addressed and mitigated.