Automating Windows 7 Installations [4]

Today we moved along to our first major deployment project using Windows 7 and MDT. We have several new laptops and have decided that they should be upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7. In practice this means a clean installation of Windows 7 plus applications. Right here it is best to have a look at two methods that have always existed for setting up a PC. One of those is cloning, in which a reference PC is set up with all software and applications. A complete image is then taken of its hard disk, and this image is loaded onto other computers. This is called a monolithic installation. If you only have a few different hardware or software specs then it is relatively quick and simple to use. Symantec Ghost is one of the well known software applications used to generate monolithic installations and because of this, cloning is also known as “ghosting”.

The second method which is more commonly used when there are a number of different hardware and software specs to be considered is a componentised system. This one works by automating the installation of the base operating system, drivers and software applications onto a computer. Although it takes more work to set up such a deployment, it is much easier to maintain, since you don’t have to reload or rebuild a monolithic image to make changes to it when something changes in the hardware or software; all you have to do is make changes in what is installed onto a target machine in the automated setup sequence. The result is that at all times you only have one copy of the component files – the operating system, drivers and applications – and changing these is as simple as a few clicks in the deployment management software that you are using.

MDT is set up to handle both tasks; Ghost can only really handle monolithic installs. MDT builds on all of the technology that has existed in previous versions of Windows; it has been possible before now to build customised installations of the componentised type; now MDT tidies all of it up. As I may have noted in previous articles we experienced problems trying to perform a monolithic image capture so work today has gone into putting together some sort of componentised install. This, of course, as a base learning curve, is rather a lot of work and involves trying out various steps. The monolithic install has had lots of problems and for now I have had to ditch this idea. In the process I have had to set up my deployment share again from scratch in order to be using a stable production edition of MDT rather than an update beta. Basically, today I am putting together a ground up process of deploying a base OS onto a laptop with its drivers and working from there to get applications to go out as well, because that is what works in the current release of MDT2010.

Anyway, what worked today and what didn’t:

  • The monolithic capture of a full PC didn’t work in MDT 2010 Update 1 (some yucky Sysprep error)
  • Update 1 trashed the deployment ISO images after I put in the drivers for the 6730b (it injects them into the boot images. In the process of doing this it somehow threw a wobbly and screwed up the next time I tried to run the deployment wizard from a laptop). So I had to set up a new deployment share running original release MDT 2010.
  • As I think I may have said in a previous conversation we can’t do a capture except with Update 1 but being a pre release it has issues anyway.
  • So I went back to the original release of MDT 2010 and used that to deploy the base OS with drivers, which did work. In addition to the standard Windows driver injection, an additional stage of injecting HP specific drivers is included, and it works well. Except for one or two little things…
  • I also booted to Windows PE on that fully installed laptop (the one that was going to be the source of the monolithic image) and captured it with ImageX so at lease if everything else turns to custard I can apply that to a laptop and then generalise it with a sysprep.

So my next step will be to add to my initial effort at a componentised install and figure out how to deploy applications either as part of that install or a separate task sequence. That will mean I can give away doing captures at the moment (the part of MDT that doesn’t work) and yet still have a fully automated install. I think four parts of this series is enough, though.