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If you need to install Microsoft Windows on more than a handful of computers, roaming the office with a DVD in hand isn’t the most efficient way to spend your time. Most modern PCs have PXE-enabled (Preboot Execution Environment) network cards, which allow them to be booted not just from a locally attached disk, but also from an image stored on a network server.
Remote Installation Services (RIS) first appeared in Windows 2000 Server, and in conjunction with DHCP, DNS and Active Directory (AD), enabled PCs to boot from an image stored on a RIS server and load Windows on bare-metal hardware.
Although a welcome addition to Windows 2000, RIS was difficult to get working and fell short on features compared with more advanced third-party tools. Many PCs lacked a PXE-enabled network card, limiting RIS use to high-end business PCs.
Move forward to Windows Server 2003 SP2, in which Windows Deployment Services (WDS) replaced RIS. Included natively in Windows Server 2008, WDS makes it easy to quickly deploy Vista images over a network, either using the Vista install media or a custom image created with the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK). WDS also includes the ability to multicast images over the network to multiple computers simultaneously, without saturating network bandwidth.
While it’s likely you’ll to want to deploy your own custom images, consider the basics of getting WDS installed and deploy the standard image included on the Vista DVD. WDS has very few prerequisites, but must be installed on a server that is a member of an Active Directory domain, have access to an NTFS partition for storing images and be part of an infrastructure that includes DHCP and DNS. In this tutorial, we have a Windows Server 2008 domain with DHCP and DNS services running on a domain controller, and we’ll install WDS on a dedicated Windows 2008 member server.
The NTFS partition required by WDS can be the server’s system disk, but Microsoft recommends at the very least a separate partition, and preferably a dedicated physical disk. PCs that will receive images from WDS must have a PXE-enabled BIOS, which is included by default in almost all devices manufactured during the past few years. Log on to your member server as domain administrator:
Before you continue, you’ll need to have your Vista install media available.
Though WDS can be configured to respond to unknown clients, pre-staging affords extra security by preventing unknown devices from connecting to WDS. It also eases deployment when you want to assign the same computer name to a piece of hardware each time an image is installed.
Before pre-staging the computer account in Active Directory, we need to determine the client computer’s globally unique identifier (GUID). This can be found in the BIOS or on the PXE network boot screen (Figure 3). Log on to your domain controller, or a machine that has the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) installed, as a domain administrator:
You might notice that the GUID on the New Object – Computer screen (Figure 5) doesn’t match what you typed in step 4. This is a bug in Windows Server 2008 and will prevent the client from receiving an IP address during PXE boot. To correct the GUID:
Now for the moment of truth — can we install Vista on bare metal across the network?
If you need to deploy an image to hundreds of clients simultaneously, to avoid saturating your network bandwidth you can create a multicast transmission so that the image is only sent over the network once.
Make sure that any routers on your network support multicast and that all clients have enough disk space to store the Vista image locally. In addition, the boot image installed on WDS must be that from the Windows Server 2008 install media, Vista SP1 or Windows 7. Multicast transmissions can also be throttled to limit bandwidth usage on particularly sensitive networks.
WDS is a clean, simple solution for distributing images over a network, and with the ability to customize those images using WAIK, it can save IT departments considerable time and effort when upgrading or refreshing desktops en masse.
The closest competitor to WDS is Symantec’s Ghost Solution Suite, which provides a single management console for deploying and migrating to Vista, with features such as preserving users’ files and folders while deploying an image and support for Linux. The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) and Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT), which can be used in conjunction with WDS, provide many of the features that are integrated into Ghost Solution Suite, but are less streamlined. Ghost Solution Suite is a better choice if inexperienced sysadmins are required to create and deploy images on a regular basis.