Installation of Windows over a network

In this document I will go over the the basic reasons and evaluate the different methods and some of the different technology that's available for network based deployment of Windows based operating systems. We will be focusing primarily on Windows server 2003 in this document and the tools and technology we here at Anchor use.

Here at Anchor we do alot of server builds, using automation is important so that we have

  • Consistency of server builds.
  • Rapid deployment for fast turn around.
  • Rapid recovery of from failure with quick reinstalls.

and so we don't go crazy from the repeated installs of windows.

Technology

There is a wide selection of available methods and tools that can be used for network based install of Windows. I'm going to explain the reason why we use what we do and the basis's of how we go about it.

SysPrep

Sysprep is a Microsoft tool for preparing the operating system for imaging, cloning or distribution to the end customer. Sysprep reseal strips all the settings of the operating system back to their base install by removing.

  • The serial number used to install windows.
  • The ownership info.
  • Regenerating the operating system security ID's (SID)
  • Existing hardware information and network settings.

The other handy features of Sysprep are

  • Detection of Plug and Play hardware on the operating systems first boot.

  • Unattended re-setup of the system once the Sysprep reseal has taken place.
  • The ability to use one image for hundreds of different computers.

Ghost

Ghost is a drive cloning technology that can be either used on a local machine or via a network. The version of ghost we chose to use is Ghost for Linux (G4L) The main reasons we use G4L over the commercial products from Symantec, Ancronis and other vendors are.

  • It's free and open source.
  • Supports various operating systems and File Systems.

  • Integrates into existing Linux orientated infrastructure.
  • Supports FTP and Rsynch for transferring systems images from client to server or server to server.
  • Does not use propitiatory protocols to transfer images.
  • A dedicated server in not required unlike the commercial Ghost versions.
  • Can be modified to be run off a USB memory stick.

Templates

With our network based installs of Windows we use build templates, build templates are very useful because we can have pre-installed systems built to standardised configurations based on the majority of customer requirements based on.

  • Architecture of the Operating system either 64bit or 32bit versions of Windows.
  • The version of Windows be Web Server Edition, Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition or Datacentre Edition.

We keep the build templates up-to date with the latest Microsoft Patches and vendor updates to our pre-installed software on a very regular basis. Once we have created our build template we

  • Run the Microsoft Sysprep tool over the system and reseal it.
  • Clone the image up to one of our server for distribution to new client servers.

The Approach we take to system imaging and the reasons behind it

  1. We select the template we are going to use based on the customer requirements, if the request cannot be filled by one of our standard build templates we will select one of our base install templates and build the system from there.
  2. This still saves us a great amount of time as Windows is slow to install on even the highest of specification machines.
  3. Load G4L either via network with PXE or via CD-ROM and select the image for installation and let it run.

  4. After cloning depending on how you configured your system images very little modification should be required to get the system on line and functioning.
  5. In our case this normally means allocating IP Address's, setting passwords and changing the Microsoft product key to the one belonging to the freshly installed system.