Best Software / OS Deployment Method?


We currently use RIS images as our primary deployment method, currently around 6 different images for different categories of machines. We also use GPO to deploy certain software packages.

We're looking into getting rid of this method for hopefully something for more efficient and was wondering whether you guys use or have experience in using a good method.

RIS isn't bad but when it comes to Software updates they can be a pain. Also with different hardware sets means more images. GPOs also only work with .msi packages which can be restricting. I know there are conversions out there but how good are these?

We currently have over 500 machines in sets of 20, so potentially each set requiring different software and having different hardware. Any ideas what would be the best way to manage this?
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I used to use Ghost console to manage multiple images for a call center environment.  I just kept an machine handy to sysprep whenever I need to tweak an image.  450 machines, organized in 25 - 30 machine groups per image (each client business client used different tools).  The only problem I had was with VLANs, otherwise keeping everything up to date was simple.
ThinkPaperIT ConsultantCommented:
You say you use RIS -- any reason you haven't upgraded to WDS (windows deployment services)? (I Windows 2003 SP2 should automatically update it). You should be able to upgrade and set it in mixed mode so you can continue to run both RIS as well as WDS. This would work in a similar method to Ghost (except it's an MS 'product').
You can then prep a computer, install software, patches etc, sysprep, capture the image and use that to deploy on your workstations. It's a bit of a hassle to get it configured properly, but if you work out the kinks you should be able to use it just like Ghost and it should be easier to manage updates for your baselines.

Bladey001Author Commented:
Theres no particular reason we haven't upgraded, its only now we've really had an opportunity to take a good look into it.

As WDS is the successor of RIS wont that mean we'll still have to manage multiple images or has it changed?
How are software updates more easily managed?
Would you recommend using WDS instead of say SMS?
ThinkPaperIT ConsultantCommented:
If you're deploying Vista images, I'd say that WDS is more valuable. If you're still using XP, it's not as "rich" as it would be so SMS may be a better solution. The reason I say this is because Vista and XP were built differently so the options available on WDS will not exactly be available for XP images. But WDS does it job - capture/deploy an image, and it's a lot quicker than RIS (for me it takes roughly 30 minutes to finish deploying an image). It is slightly a hassle to maintain them though but then again so is RIS. The only thing I can recommend - if you use WDS - is to have a 'base' image on which you can use to create upgraded images from. You can slipstream a few things into it, but for the most part you'd need to redeploy the image on a machine, upgrade software/etc and then recapture it again. If you have all the same/similar machine models, it may be possible to use the same image for all the workstations.
In the end, I'd rather use a mix of both scripts and WDS - WDS to push the bulk of the stuff, core software, MS updates --  and scripts to deploy the most frequently changing software like JavaScript, Flash, Adobe Reader, etc. But then again... I dont have SMS available to me..

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