What is The Most Current & Best Method For Deploying Software Over Network On A Windows Domain?

Good Morning -

The company that I work for supports a few different domains with many remote locations.  The software used by our clients often has updates that must be applied.  I'm trying to find the best method for deploying new or updating these applications.  What I'm trying to prevent is connecting via RDP to each of the 100+ workstations and manually installing the executable to install / upgrade the application.

Specs:
Our servers are all either Windows 2003 or 2008
99& of workstations are Windows XP x86

What I've tried so far:
- Created an MSI with EMCO MSI Creator (Emco.is) and pushed it out through GPO.  Haven't had 100% luck so have had to email link to MSI to some users.
- Used EMCO Remote Deployment to create repository package and push it out to network with the same program.
- Connected to each workstation remotely and manually installed

I know that in the past, Microsoft had SMS or something similar to perform this, but I'm trying to find the most widely used technology that will be around now and in the future.  Whatever I choose, I plan to study so that I know it backwards and forwards.

Finally, if it makes any difference, I also plan to deploy images via the network in the future.  I have already tested this by setting up a PXE boot to Acronis, then restoring the image from a NAS.  If deploying these images is an option of any software or method that you have in mind, then please let me know.

Thanks!
BzowKAsked:
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Paul MacDonaldDirector, Information SystemsCommented:
You can look into web deploying software.  I think you're always going to run into a problem getting the initial install on 100% of your systems though.
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dexITCommented:
I've had great experience with:
Kaseya, Zenith, Zen works, and Altiris.

A newer version of Symantec Ghost also includes deployable agents.
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Mauzinh0Commented:
You can use Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS).
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merowingerCommented:
System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) is the new version of Microsoft SMS.

What it provides:
- Software Deployment
- Automated OS Deployment (can handle the new Windows WIM format)
- Software and Hardware Inventory
- Update Deployment (integrates with WSUS)
- Desired Configuration Management (makes sure that your clients and servers are compliant to your policies)
...

I just work with SCCM and have enought projects on my customers.
At the end it's surly your decision!
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
SMS doesn't go by the name Systems Management Server anymore.  The newer versions of the product are System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). It does software and OS deployment.  For OS deployment SCCM is very good from all I've heard (I've not used it yet, though I'm hoping to change that soon).  

Active Directory is pretty good at pushing out software.  In a multisite environment, I'd use a DFS to ensure users aren't waiting for the apps to copy off the network over a WAN link.  If you had problems with deployment using this method, I would ask, why not solve those problems?  There's probably another underlying issue that needs to be addressed - instead of simply going ahead and manually applying the MSI.

For OS deployment, if you don't want to spend the money on SCCM, there are MANY tools available from Microsoft that can seriously simplify deployment and that are FREE (unlike Kaseya, Zenith, Zen, Altiris, or Ghost).  The commercial products may offer a perk or two... but frankly, there's little to complain about if you use the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit or Windows Deployment Services (WDS; RIS replacement).  It's a lot of fun to see 7 Windows XP systems deployed in about 10 minutes from a WDS server via multicast.  And I could have done more.
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BzowKAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the comments so far guys.  I actually have a TechNet subscription so think I'm going to download SCCM and give it a try.  As for "Kaseya, Zenith, Zen, Altiris,"  I'll take a look into them too.  i just want something that's solid and works.  

Our company is starting to convert all of these branches to Citrix and have 3 XenApp servers up already so hopefully it won't be as much of an issue in the future.  

Leew (or anyone else) - Besides Microsoft, are there any forums or other resources that would be helpful with SCCM or similar? - Thanks
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merowingerCommented:
EE :)
Technet Forum
deploymentforum.org
and SystemCenterCentral.com
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conradjonesCommented:
App-v,

You package the application, then assign it to a users. It runs sand boxed and doesn't need installing on the client machine.

It even handles installing shortcuts in the startmenu.

The only thing that needs installing on the client is the app-v client.

And it works with citrix, so you could app-v your software for your traditional desktops, and continue to use it when you go citrix.

It is part of the MDOP (Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack)
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BzowKAuthor Commented:
I do appreciate the suggestion of App-V, but after briefly reading about it, it looks like that application deployment would require an huge setup as well as many prerequisites to be configured and put into place.  All I'm trying to do is deploy an installation of a single executable (most of the time) to 100 machines a couple times a month. - Please let me know if I am wrong in saying that.

Thanks
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conradjonesCommented:
I use app-v for that exact purpose alot of the time.

I was put off it initially after reading the microsoft site on it. their visio diagrams make it seem a lot more complicated than it actually is. it is actually a piece of cake to setup.

once the server is in place all the PC's need is the app-v client, which can be installed be installed via MSI/ group policy.

the other alternative is to download advanced installer and make MSI's

i think SMS is more overkill than app-v for what your describing
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
I would suggest when looking at Microsoft Technologies, the best thing to do is evaluate them, especially since you have technet.  When I first looked at WDS, I thought it was a MONSTER to install.  After I was done (took the weekend), I reviewed my notes and realized that the actual install and configuration time was about 30 minutes.  Basically, it looked overly complicated, but turned out to be very simple once you do it one time.
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vivigattCommented:
You can also try OS streaming.
It removes the need for HDD in your machines (yet they actually do the "computing" themselves, not like thin clients) and also removes the need for deployment since there is a single "disk image" used simultaneously by several clients .

HP Image Manager is owned, marketed and sold by the #1 company in the IT industry...
You can download it for free (90 days, 25 clients):
https://h20392.www2.hp.com/portal/swdepot/displayProductInfo.do?productNumber=IMTRIAL

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