SolutionBase: Ease Vista deployments with the Business Desktop Deployment Workbench

Rolling out a new operating system like Windows Vista across an organization presents all sorts of challenges. To help ease the pain, Microsoft has developed the Business Desktop Deployment Workbench. Here's how it works.

In medium to large organizations, deploying new workstations or upgrading the operating system on existing workstations has always been tedious at best and problematic at worst. Several different methods are commonly used to deploy OSs onto new PCs or to upgrade an existing workstation's OS, but each of these methods has its drawbacks.

The introduction of Windows Vista adds a whole new layer of complexity to these tasks. Microsoft has tried to make it easier by creating the Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) Workbench. In this article, we'll see how BDD can help speed desktop deployments.

What's wrong with the old ways?

A common technique for provisioning new workstations involves manually configuring one workstation and then creating a disk image based on that workstation. This image can then be used to provision any additional PCs that need to be set up.

Although imaging sounds like a quick and easy method for setting up new workstations, there are two major drawbacks to using this technique. The first drawback is that using an exact image of a PC to provision other PCs can lead to complications with Window's Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL). Unless the computers that are being set up using the image have identical hardware to the machine that the image was originally made on, using the image could result in problems resulting from missing or incompatible drivers. In situations where the machine the image is made on has very different hardware from the machine that is being setup using the image, the new workstation could be rendered unbootable.

The other problem with using an image to provision new PCs is that every PC that is created from the image will have exactly the same SID as the machine that was used to create the image. Since Windows requires each PC on the network to have a unique SID, this presents a bit of a problem to say the least. It is possible to get around this problem by running a SID randomizer on the new PC prior to connecting it to the network.

To help companies deal with these types of problems, Microsoft has traditionally offered two primary solutions for setting up new PCs. One solution involves using System Management Server (SMS), while the other solution involves using the Remote Installation Services (RIS).

Larger companies tend to use SMS Server since it allows for hands free deployments, and offers other capabilities such as the ability to inventory network workstations. Smaller companies often try to avoid the expense and complexity of SMS by using RIS instead. Like SMS, RIS can be complicated to configure, but since it is included with Windows Server 2003, the price is right.

RIS gets around some of the problems associated with traditional imaging solutions because RIS ensures that each workstation receives a unique computer name and a unique SID. The biggest disadvantage to using RIS is that it requires workstations to connect to a RIS server by either using a BOOTP enabled network card or a boot floppy. This is a problem is because there are very few network adapters that are natively supported by RIS. The Microsoft Knowledgebase contains articles explaining how to configure RIS to work with additional types of network cards, but my experience has been that many common types of network adapters simply won't work with RIS. Even if you are able to get your network cards to work with RIS, you may find yourself constantly having to tweak RIS each time your company buys a PC with a new type of network card.

New options in Vista

Regardless of which method you use to provision new PCs or to upgrade workstations, the process can be a real pain for the administrator. Microsoft has addressed this problem in Windows Vista, and has taken several steps in an effort to make Vista easier to deploy than previous versions of Windows.

The most significant thing Microsoft has done to make Windows Vista deployments easier than deploying earlier versions of Windows was to separate the OS from the HAL. This means you will no longer need to maintain multiple Windows deployment images just to compensate for differences in hardware. Instead, you can use a single image file; and Vista is smart enough to figure out which HAL it needs to use.

There is one major exception to this rule, however. You cannot use a single image file for both 32-bit and 64-bit Vista deployments. If you plan on deploying both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista, you will need two different image files.

To make it easier to deploy, Microsoft has also made Vista language neutral. This language neutralization essentially means that you are not going to have to maintain separate deployment images for various localizations.

As you can imagine, the fact that Microsoft has made Vista language neutral and has modularized the HAL does a lot to make Vista easier to deploy than other versions of Windows. However, the best thing Microsoft has done to make deploying Vista easier is to create a tool named Business Desktop Deployment 2007 (BDD 2007).

If you have worked with Windows networks for a while, then you probably know that in addition to major deployment tools such as SMS Server and RIS, Microsoft has created a multitude of small, single purpose, deployment tools. BDD 2007 is essentially a collection of these smaller deployment tools, but organized in a manner that allows them to be used effectively in large scale deployment scenarios. BDD 2007 can be used by itself to provide "light touch" desktop deployments. This essentially means that there is a negligible amount of activity that needs to occur at the PC in order to facilitate the deployment. BDD 2007 can also be used in conjunction with SMS Server 2003 to provide "zero touch" Windows deployments.

System requirements

Microsoft doesn't specify any firm hardware requirements for running BDD 2007. They do, however, specify the some minimum software requirements.

BDD 2007 can run on Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, or on Windows Vista. Keep in mind, though, that BDD 2007 was designed primarily for the purposes of deploying Windows Vista. It is possible to use BDD 2007 to deploy Windows XP, but don't expect Windows XP deployments to be quite as easy as Vista deployments.

The software also requires the use of a server running Windows Server 2003 (with Service Pack 1 or higher). This server must be running the Windows Deployment Services (Windows DS) and must also have access to Active Directory.

BDD 2007 depends on MMC 3.0, which is not included with Windows XP or with earlier versions of Windows Server 2003. Therefore, unless you are running BDD 2007 on Windows Vista or on Windows Server 2003 R2, you will have to download and install MMC 3.0 prior to installing BDD 2007. You can download MMC 3.0 from Microsoft's Web site.

Depending on the configuration of the computer you're running the Business Desktop Deployment Workbench on, you may also need to install Windows Script Host version 5.6. Again, this update is not required if you are running BDD 2007 on Windows Vista. You can download this version from the Microsoft Web site as well.

One last component you need before getting started is the .NET Framework version 2.0. Once again, this update is not needed if you are running BDD 2007 on Windows Vista.

There are several other required components, but they can be downloaded automatically through BDD 2007. I will address these additional requirements later on.

Installing BDD 2007

Begin the installation process by downloading Business Desktop Deployment 2007. The download consists of a 27.7 MB, MSI file.

Once the download is complete, double-click the downloaded file and Windows will launch the BDD 2007 Setup wizard, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Double-clicking the downloaded file launches the Setup wizard.

Press Next to bypass the wizard's Welcome screen, and you will see a screen asking you to accept the End User License Agreement (EULA), as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

You must accept the End User License Agreement prior to installing BDD 2007.

After accepting the EULA, you will see a screen asking you to choose which features will be installed, as shown in Figure C. By default, all of the BDD 2007 features will be installed to your local hard drive. Since the entire installation consumes a mere 55 MB, go ahead and accept the default installation choices.

Figure C

Press Next to accept the default installation choices.

You will then see a screen that gives you a last chance to review your installation choices, as shown in Figure D. Press the Install button to complete the installation process.

Figure D

Press the Install button to begin copying the necessary files.

The installation process should complete fairly quickly. Once Setup finishes, you can launch BDD 2007 by selecting the Deployment Workbench command from the Windows Start menu. When BDD 2007 starts, you will be taken to the screen shown in Figure E.

Figure E

This is the initial BDD 2007 screen.

As you can see in the figure, BDD 2007 consists of a number of different components. I will be writing separate articles for each of these individual components. For now, though, I want to give you a brief description of each of the areas that I will be discussing.

  • Application Compatibility: One of the biggest problems with Windows Vista is that its new security mechanisms cause some applications not to run. The Application Compatibility components allow you to research your application's Vista compatibility prior to actually deploying Vista on a large scale.
  • Infrastructure Remediation: The basic idea behind infrastructure remediation is that in order to effectively manage your network, you need to understand what infrastructure is actually in place. Part of that process involves creating network documentation that can be adapted as changes to the network infrastructure occur.
  • Computer Imaging System: I have already talked about how imaging can be used for desktop deployment. The Computer Imaging System component allows you to create modular images that easily adapt to your organization's changing needs.
  • Application Management: The Application Management components are designed to help you deploy applications to the desktops in a consistent manner. Applications not installed in a consistent manner often cause usability and other support issues.
  • Office Deployment: Deploying Microsoft Office could easily be considered to be application management. Even so, Microsoft Office is considered to be a core application is many organizations. Since Microsoft Office is a Microsoft product, they have created some special provisions for making the installation of Office 2007 easier.
  • Securing the Desktop: Any time you're planning for a mass upgrade or deployment of an OS, security becomes a paramount concern. The security settings that you implement during the deployment are often in effect for some time to come. It is therefore important to choose those settings wisely.
  • The Deployment Process: One of the articles in this series will focus solely on the deployment process. This involves planning for things such as deployment server placement and capacity, deciding on a deployment method, and deciding on how you will handle activations when the deployment is complete.
  • User State Migration: In situations in which you are upgrading or migrating existing desktops, you will often find that users have at least some customization in place. They might have selected personalized wallpaper or have implemented a preferred layout for Microsoft Outlook, for example. In these cases, it is often desirable to move user's files and settings as a part of the migration. User state migration involves migrating anything on a desktop that a user might have personalized.

Downloading additional components

Earlier, I mentioned BDD 2007 required additional components that didn't have to be installed until after BDD 2007 was installed. Technically, you may not actually need all of these additional components. The components you need depend on the BDD 2007 features you're going to be using. For the sake of simplicity, I recommend downloading any available components.

To do so, select the Components container. As you can see in Figure F, BDD 2007 will display a list of components that are available for download. To download a component, simply select it and then press the Download button, found near the bottom of the screen.

Figure F

There are a number of additional components that you can download.

BDD helps speed Vista deployments

One of Microsoft's goals in creating Windows Vista was to make deployment easier than that of previous Windows versions. To help accomplish this goal, Microsoft has provided the Business Desktop Deployment 2007 tool. In this article, I have explained how to download and install this tool, and have briefly discussed the tool's features. Other articles in this article series will discuss each of the tool's features in detail.