When it comes to deploying an operating system to a computer, speed and accuracy are the name of the game. If you’re installing applications that are common across your organization as tasks in your OS deploy or installing the latest Windows updates after the deploy finishes, you can save tons of time by using a reference image.
So what is a reference image? A reference image is a custom install of Windows that typically includes the latest Windows updates, common applications like Office, and any other customizations that are specific to computers in your environment that has been Sysprep’ed for redeployment to other computers. Sounds easy so far, right?
If you were going to do this manually (anyone remember doing this in Norton Ghost?), here’s how it would work:
- Boot off the install media and install the OS
- Install all your OS updates [reboot]
- Install Office and misc applications [probably reboot]
- Install Office updates [probably reboot… again]
- Make customizations [reboot for good measure]
- Sysprep [shutdown]
- Capture an image
So, what we want to do is get as much of that (if not all of it) automated in MDT as possible so we don’t have to do this manually. Before we get started on doing this in Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT), there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind:
- Automate Everything (If You Can) – Creating reference images is boring. Period. It’s borderline cruel and unusual punishment. The goal here is to not have to touch the process any more than necessary. If you’ve got application installs (or customizations) that simply can’t be scripted/automated, I’ll cover how you can handle those in later post.
- Create the Reference Image in a VM – Virtual Machines contain fairly generic hardware and will cause you the fewest problems in the long run with your reference images. VM’s also give you the ability to take snapshots during your build process.
- Only Install What Everyone Needs – The goal here is to create an image that can be installed to most (if not all) of your computers. If there are applications that only a small subset of your users get, you probably don’t want them in your reference image. It is much easier to install the necessary apps during OS deployment than it is to remove them.
- Avoid Constantly Updated 3rd Party Software – Just say no to applications like Flash and Java that are receive constant updates. It is much easier (and more secure for your systems) to install those applications as a task during the deployment process.
- Sysprep! – After your reference image is created, it will need to be Sysprep’ed. This will be included as part of the process in MDT.
Next, you’ll need the following software:
- Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2012 Update 1
- Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) for Windows 8
- Windows OS capable of running Hyper-V (Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, or Windows 8)
- Windows Media
But I already have MDT up and running? Should I keep my existing install or should I set up a separate system for creating reference images? Personally, I like to capture reference images on a dedicated system. First off, I don’t want to tax my MDT server unnecessarily, especially if I or any of my colleagues are deploying systems. Second, I like to keep my Production environment and Test/Lab environment completely separate whenever I can so that I don’t blow up Production when I’m tinkering. Third, by running MDT on the same physical box as you’re running your Hyper-V will keep all the network traffic local and significantly speed up the capture process.
Once you’ve got everything downloaded, enable Hyper-V on your host system and perform the required reboot. Afterward, install MDT 2012 Update 1 on the host system (not a VM!) and then Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit also. MDT is a fairly straightforward install that won’t require answering any questions (just click Next a lot). The ADK will ask you to select which features you want to install. You’ll want to make sure that Deployment Tools, Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE), and User State Migration Tool (USMT) are installed.
At this point, you should have the Microsoft Deployment toolkit and ADK installed. You should also have your OS media together so that you can import it into MDT. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll discuss setting up MDT, importing the operating system, and creating a task.
Kyle is also the Vice President of the Atlanta Windows Infrastructure and Virtualization User Group (WINVUG).You can find additional articles he's written on 4sysops.com.
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