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In my company we have 8 laptops that we use to deploy on the field. These machines get assigned to a user for a certain time and run Windows Vista. All the machines are the same model.

After the machine is returned, it is company policy to completely format the machine and go back to a predetermined configuration. Right now, what we do is we use the recovery utility in the laptop (we are a small shop so we use the OEM Windows license that the laptops come with) and manually uninstall and change the configuration in order to bring it to our baseline config.

I know that there are ways to create an image that gets copied to the hard drive with a specific configuration and with specific software installed (that's what OEMs do right?).

I'm looking for a tool or a tutorial or something that explains as simply as possible how to create such an image.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Take a look at Windows Deployment Services. It allows you to install one image over the network onto multiple computers that are PXE boot capable (most today are), this is one of the fastest approaches. You will need a Windows CD.

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please email us at team@superuser.com immediately, thank you –  Jeff Atwood Sep 24 '09 at 4:32
    
Ghost (the real suite) can both multicast an image to multiple computers simultaneously and of course image separate machines in parallel. WDS and the various add-ons and solution accelerators is still the way to go though... try serverfault.com for more info –  Oskar Duveborn Sep 24 '09 at 17:38
    
You can combine WDS + WAIK to get what you need - WDS boots the images that you create in WAIK to install exactly the configuration you want. You can also look at Microsoft Deployment Tool Kit (MDT) which combines these two tools and adds a simplified post-boot task runner for custom configurations. –  Christopher_G_Lewis Sep 25 '09 at 14:25

I like Clonezilla for imaging and multicasting. Free & easy to use. As far as a tutorial, you essentially have one system loaded how you want it. Load the imaging tool (boot from cd or flash drive in clonezilla's case) and it will save the image to a location you specify. The software can then be used from a server to send out the image to multiple systems through multicasting, or can be loaded on an individual basis. Very simple once you get the hang of it!

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You should be looking at the Windows Automated Installation Kit. This most liklely how the OEM deployed your image to the laptop in the first place, and will be exactly what you need.

What I would look at is creating a WAIK XML file with your base configuration (Networking, machine name, etc) and then use the SynchronousCommand section for your post-build installs.

Create a WinPE boot disk that runs the setup, deploy the image and you're good to go. Since each OEM laptop will have a separate key, you'll need to leave it blank in the xml file, but windows will prompt for it at first boot.

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My favourite way is a mix of techniques.

If you are trying to deploy 1000 desktops, the John T's solution is brilliant, however I think it can get quite annoying, quite quickly.

I build 15-25 computers a day on average, at different times and my favourite (and I think the fastest) method of deploying Windows Vista is simply to copy the root of the DVD drive to a USB Flash Drive - a 4GB one costs around £7.

I then download the WAIK (Windows Automated Installation Kit) (as Christopher_G_Lewis recommends) and generate the unattended XML file.

I have about 10 other Flash Drives (mainly ones I got for free, or just low capacity old ones) and have a mixture of XML files on each depending on what is needed - I label them with a sticky note.

Next, I just put in both the Windows USB stick, and the correct configuration USB Stick, and Windows will be installed in around 15 minutes.

I love this method and would recommend it to anyone!

FYI, I leave the KEY section blank or use one of the "default" product keys - not sure if they are public knowledge so I will not give them out, the last stage of the unattended is a generalisation / lock so the end user gets the OOBE (out of box experience)

The WAIK is generally meant for big companies deploying to their own servers. If you create an OEM partner account with Microsoft, you can download the OEM deployment tools, they are basically the same but the help files are much more targeted towards OEM deployment and customisation.

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I use Acronis True Image and it runs with Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7. Costs $49.99 per machine but you get a discount if you get a license for 3 PC's or more. A special trial serial key valid for 30 days product evaluation is available for Acronis True Image Home 2012. Its listed as number one among the Top 10 Best Disk Imaging Software by www.toptenreviews.com. For Windows software deployment an appliance based solution is a possibility.

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The proper way of building images these days involves using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit or MDT for short. The latest version MDT 2013 came out last fall and is simply second to none. MDT builds, captures and deploys images for you. If you've built your images in a VM, MDT can also install the drivers for you in a Make \ Model Hirearchy that will allow you to build one 32-bit and one 64-bit image and simply install drivers, applications, and windows updates dynamically at deploy time. Windows Deployment Services will allow you to PXE boot and multicast the images, but WDS in and of itself it is not a true deployment solution.

Clonezilla is a joke, avoid it like the plague. It lacks offline servicing, driver injection, dynamic software provisioning, and a list of other features.

MDT is configured and controlled through a MMC snap-in called the Deployment Workbench. It’s here you will modify a series of files and folders called Deployment Shares to automate Windows and Office deployments. Ideally if you’re an IT Pro, you should have three shares, one just for building images, one for live production, and a third for testing. If you’re just getting started, just play with a basic share until you’re ready to start building any of those. You want to get comfortable pushing just the generic, stock, vanilla image from the CD and a few apps at deploy time before you even think about going into production. Learn to walk before you run. Prelim: Install MDT 2013 & ADK

Install MDT 2012, and then install the Win ADK. ADK will install Win7 both and Win8 with no problems

Download & Install MDT 2013 Update 1

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=25175

Download Win7SP1 ISOs

Windows 7 Professional SP1-U English x86: http://msft.digitalrivercontent.net/win/X17-59183.iso Windows 7 Professional SP1-U English x64: http://msft.digitalrivercontent.net/win/X17-59186.iso

SP1 Update roll-ups

http://catalog.update.microsoft.com/v7/site/Search.aspx?q=2775511

STEP 1: Create a Share

The first time you get into MDT, it’s a bit underwhelming, just create a new share, and start feeding it.

Name the share

  • Choose a generic name

Locate the share

  • Make sure it’s gonna have room

Configure answer file

  • The five check boxes will build your first customsettings.ini file.

STEP 2: Feed The Beast

Add Applications

  • Start first with easy stuff, Firefox, Flash, Office. Worry about those apps that 10% of your users use later.

Add Drivers

  • Worry about other makes and models later. When getting started, focus on one model, we’ll add other drivers later.

Import OS

  • Import the install.wim file for now

STEP 3: Build The Task Sequence

Use a standard client task sequence, and configure your answer file

STEP 4: Configure your Share

Bootstrap.ini

Configure this file with the IP of the server if you’re in a network without local DNS. You can also do set an autologin for winpe here.

CustomSettings.ini

This is the real magic file here, many steps of the wizard are either configured or skipped outright here.

Turn on/off what platforms you’ll support here, set your scratch space and enable monitoring here.

STEP 5: Update Share

Update the share and build the boot media. Once you have a boot media, you're in business, boot to the USB or CD, and you're imaging like a real IT Pro!

Something here is key – Always, Always, Always, build your reference images in a Virtual Machine. It doesn’t matter if you use VMware, Hyper-V, or even Oracle’s Free VirualBox. Building reference images in a virtual enviroment allows it to be truly hardware independent. The days of building a separate image for every single make and/or model you support will be long gone once you stop building reference images on physical hardware. Worst case scenario is you’ll be supporting an x86 image and a x64 image, but even that’s unlikely, as x86 is effectively headed the way of DOS.

Build a good hybrid image. This could include Office, OS updates, and some other core/universal business apps. I advise to go this route. Keep firefox, adobe and flash out of your image, these update almost monthly, if not weekly and are very easy to install at deploy time. Just get the command line syntax needed to install apps silently at deploy time. The more you keep out of your image, the easier it is to maintain.

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