Backup imaging, VHD native boot, network management & remote desktop management

A while back I wrote about my experiments in using MDT to back up laptops. Some of my MDT shares got moved to a new server recently and the backup share had to be set up again from scratch, which for some reason proved exceptionally difficult but it has happened eventually. However while I was working on that I realised there is another option to imaging a laptop and that is the Disk2VHD tool from Mark Russinovich. This uses Volume Shadow Services to image a live disk (you run it on the computer while Windows is running) and turns it into a VHD file. The great thing about a VHD file is that you can simply hook it onto Virtual PC, or in this case, a new virtual machine that I created in Hyper-V, and in this case the virtual disk worked when I booted the VM from it so that particular laptop can be brought up in a virtual machine with all of the software and files on it that the user had. Although in most cases I find that the user does not need to have further access to their old data (we always transfer everything across when they change laptops) this is another option in special cases where they may have an old application and there is even the possibility that the VHD could be put onto their new laptop with Windows Virtual PC. Take note that there is a setting in Disk2VHD that is required when you create a VHD for Virtual PC because otherwise the VHD won’t boot even in Windows 7 VPC. Next idea may be to add VPC to our standard laptop image.

I’ve noticed that there is a capability in Windows 7 for a VHD based boot of the operating system, which can be deployed simply by copying the VHD file to the hard disk of the target computer. This would appear to be worthy of further investigation, since it removes the need to use, say, WDS for a mass deployment of an image to multiple computers. If you can install an OS simply by copying the VHD file which contains an image you have built on a virtual machine for MDT deployment then I can see that making upgrades to student PCs would be much simplified over the standard WDS type deployment scenario if you don’t want to install a WDS server. The scenario here is that you would build your reference image on a VHD using a virtual machine so that drivers for that platform are injected into the image as it is built, and presumably when the VHD gets deployed onto the target machine, the drivers for the platform are able to be installed when the hardware is detected on first boot. Native VHD boot requires Windows 7 Enterprise, which is part of Software Assurance in the MS Schools Agreement. I am planning to have a look at this scenario here, seeing if I can use one of my existing MDT deployment scenarios to deploy an OS to a new virtual machine and then capturing that using the MDT Capture and Sysprep task into a WIM file that can be turned into a VHD file as described in the walkthrough. Hopefully MDT will be updated to simplify the steps needed.

Network management takes many forms but one consideration is how to track the traffic moving through different physical branches and the SNMP protocols are designed for this. SNMP can be used for many things these days but part of its fundamental functionality is to enable monitoring of network hardware such as switches and logging the utilisation of the network through individual ports. SNMP is not a technology I have had knowledge of before now, however there are a number of software packages that can be used to collect data from SNMP and we are currently playing with the free edition of ManageEngine OpManager which allows 10 interfaces to be tracked, so I am using it to see what is happening on my wireless network and hopefully the two managed switches on the backbone of our network will be able to give me the information about the traffic through each port which will help us to determine where congestion might be occurring on our network.

If you have any number of desktops to manage or at least monitor to keep an eye on what is happening on them then it will be advantageous to you to have remote control software. In the educational environment there are a number of packages which exist of which the most common features include being able to control all remote computers, put an image of one computer onto all of them, lock the keyboards/mice and watch what users are doing on them. I have looked at these packages for years and while there are different capabilities and functional levels they are also valuable for IT administration to save having to visit every remote computer, or at least being able to perform useful functions like simultaneous logon and software installation. The cost also varies widely and for our number of computers there would seem to be little benefit in spending $100 per computer when there are packages that are flat licensed for a few hundred dollars for any number of clients.