Windows' Group Policy and Active Directory (AD) have many time-saving administrative options to assist in setting logon hours and separating users and computers by location or even department. Group Policy can also help with software installations. This method is common practice in many Windows Server 2003 AD environments, but easing the management of this process could simplify deployments even further.
AD uses network shares — referred to as Software Distribution Points (SDPs) — to host the packages for deployment in an environment. When deploying an application, place the Windows Installer (MSI) packages in the default SDP to allow easy access during the deployment process.
When creating a package within a Group Policy Object (GPO), you can specify the default SDP for that package; the default SDP speeds up updates and any deployment-related activities in the environment. The GPO will have a reference point to the original package for updates or maintenance being performed.
To configure a default SDP for a GPO, follow these steps:
- Create a Group Policy Object for the deployment.
- Right-click the Software Installation node for either Computer Settings or User Settings and choose Properties.
- On the General tab of the Properties window, specify the Universal Naming Convention (UNC) path for the Windows installer package of the application you are installing in the Default Package Location text box on the Software Installation Properties dialog box. Then click OK.
When specifying default package locations for Group Policy deployments, you can provide a different default SDP for each package you are deploying. You can also provide a single SDP location as a starting point for all deployed applications within your environment.
This method is very efficient when applications need updates. For instance, when Microsoft Excel needs another patch, the patch installer will have a reference point for the original software. This eliminates the need to enter the path to an MSI package installation source or, worse, run around the office with the application CD-ROM to accomplish the update.
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Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.