In The Trenches: Win2k Remote Installation Boot Disk Doesn't Work
August 15, 2000
Win2k includes a cool new tool called the Remote Installation Service or RIS. The service allows you to install Win2k Professional network clients throughout your network via a single image or set of images placed on the RIS Server. RIS even allows you to customize those images using the RIPrep program. Using RIPrep, you can create images that include customized desktops, applications and local profiles.
Install even without an operating system
The most compelling aspect of RIS is that you can install these images on machines that have no operating system installed! In this way, the RIS client behaves like a diskless workstation. The diskless workstation uses BOOTP to request an OS image from a TFTP server. The RIS client behaves in the same way. The RIS client must have a PXE .9x or above boot ROM, or the NIC in the RIS client must be on the list of adapters supported by the Win2k Remote Boot Floppy Generator program (rbfg.exe).
The Remote installation service provides us tools that accomplish similar feats as third party products, such as Ghost and ImageCast have for years. The great thing about RIS is that is that its included "in the box" and therefore you don't have to buy any additional software to make it work.
Too good to be True?
As is typically the case, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. RIS only allows you to install images of Win2k Professional. You cannot install any version of Win2k Server, and you cannot install any version of Win 9x. Also, the images must be installed on the destination computer's C: drive, and the source computer that has been customized using RIPrep, will only have its C: drive included in the images.
The biggest problem is that the RIS boot disk often does not work. You may be one of the legions of admins that have tried the RIS boot floppy, only to receive the message:
Error: Can't resolve IP address <address> of the DHCP server. Press a key to reboot the system.
And, if you're like me, you probably tried a whole bunch of things and spent hours or days tweaking your DHCP and RIS Server in an attempt to make this work correctly.
The Fix Is IN
The problem is that the RIS boot disk always tries to communicate via the default gateway it receives from DHCP, even when the RIS Server is on the same subnet as the RIS client. This does not happen on machines that boot from their PXE boot ROM, it only happens when you use the RIS boot floppy.
Microsoft suggests that you remove the default gateway entry in your scope that serves the RIS client's network ID. There is a updated version of the rbfg.exe program with the version number 126.96.36.199. The version that comes with the original release of Win2k is 188.8.131.52, and the version available with Win2k SP1 is 184.108.40.206. Note the Service Pack 1 does not fix this problem! You will need to call Microsoft Product Support Services (MS PSS) for the file if you don't want or can't use the work-around they suggest.
The Win2k Whipping Boy
I have noted in the past that the Remote Installation Service may end up being the "whipping boy" of Win2k, because it promises a lot, but often fails to deliver. NICs with the proper PXE ROMs are expensive, and there's no way for you to add adapters to the list in the rbfg.exe program. Add those limitations to the problems regarding the default gateway, and you might feel like you're dealing with something like the Windows NT 4.0 Replicator Service!
Let's hope everything gets fixed, and that by the time Service Pack 2 comes out, RIS bugs will just be a bad memory.
For More Information
For more information on this problem, check the TechNet article ID Q255952