Windows Deployment Services - A Great Tool for I.T. Pros

Greetings, Experts!

First let me state that this website is top notch. I thoroughly enjoy the community that is shared here; those seeking help and those willing to sacrifice their time to help. It is fantastic.

I am writing this article at the suggestion of a fellow Expert (yobri) after a couple of threads regarding imaging of new machines in a domain (Windows 2K3 or 2K8) environment.

I am sure that all of us sysadmins have experienced the moment of realization: you have to reinstall. And if you haven't prepared for the situation, you know what you have in store:

Finding the stupid disk.
Installing Windows.
Registering Windows.
Rejoining the domain.
Installing all your software.
Dying of boredom.
Did I mention waiting?

No. Thank. You.

Let me take you back to last summer. The school I work at hadn't reinstalled for years. The old admin was gone, it was my job to get the computers running in tip top shape. But I did NOT want to go through all of that 100 times over.

That was the point that Windows Deployment Services entered into my universe.

Windows Deployment Services is a MMC plugin for Windows Server (2K3 or 2K8) that allows you to capture images from completed machines and deploy those images, over the network, via PXE boot. The process is a little invasive and not for the faint of heart. But imagine this:

Your realize the machine needs to be re-imaged. You don't unplug it. You don't move it. You don't do anything except restart it, load the boot menu, choose PXE, hit a couple of buttons and Windows is reinstalling on a reformatted drive OVER THE NETWORK. Your machine never has to leave its place.

Best of all, all updates are there. All software is there. You can join the domain before the process is done. It is not a fairytale my friends. It can be your reality.

Once WDS is installed and configured, here is how it works:

Step One: Get your computer just the way you want it. Update Windows, install all necessary software, update all drivers.

Step Two: Sysprep the machine.

Step Three:
Reboot the sysprepped computer and boot PXE, selecting F12 for a network boot and then selecting your Capture boot image. Walk through the steps; it will let you name the boot image you are capturing. WDS then captures the boot image and stores it on the WDS server (or wherever you have designated on the network you want the image stored).

Step Four: Boot your piece of hardware (that you want to image with a captured image) PXE. Hit F12 for network boot and select your Install boot image. From here you will be taken through a Windows PE install environment where you can format, partition and select your install drive. You then choose your install image. Windows will do the rest.

A couple of details about WDS.

1. It is a LOT simpler to set up on your DHCP server. You are able to set it up apart from a DHCP server, and you can even set it up on a server outside of the subnet of the DHCP server, however that is slightly more complex.

2. You will need a Windows Vista or Windows 7 disk to use the Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) to capture boot images and install boot images. This process is all done through WDS.

3. It is very easy to organize different images. If your company has 6 or 7 different hardware configurations, you can create 6 or 7 (or 60 or 70) boot images and store them in folders so it is easy to choose the correct boot image when installing.

4. It does take some time to set up. Don't start the tutorial unless you are determined to finish it. But when you get it working, you will be STOKED.

For the sake of longevity, I can't get into an entire installation tutorial here, nor should I, as Technet does a great job at this. My goal here is simple: If you are on a Windows domain and you want a SIMPLE way to deploy images that is TOTALLY FREE, consider WDS. You won't be disappointed.

There are some differences between using WDS in a 2K3 environment and a 2K8 environment. I have included links for tutorials using either one.

For 2003, click HERE.

For 2008, click HERE.


Comments (1)

Top Expert 2011

Very nice and thorough write-up! Thanks jonahzona!

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