The previous article of this series“Deploying Windows XP, Using the Windows PE”, presented an alternative approach to traditional methods of unattended setup of Windows XP, based on Windows PE (Preinstallation Environment) technology. Although this approach offers numerous benefits, including reduced installation time, improved hardware support, and enhanced scripting capabilities, its main drawback is limited availability (and pricing), since the required software is provided exclusively to Microsoft Enterprise Agreement and Software Assurance Membership customers.
The Systems Management Server 2003 Operating System Deployment Feature Pack delivers the benefits of Windows PE — reduced installation time, improved hardware support, and scripting capabilities — without its inherent availability problems.
However, several other options are out there for organizations that want to take advantage of the same set of benefits inherent to 32-bit preinstallation environment. This article will focus on one of them: the Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 Operating System Deployment Feature Pack.
Microsoft’s Systems Management Server 2003, like its predecessors (SMS 1.2. and 2.0), delivers a variety of management features, such as, centralized software and hardware inventory, application deployment and licensing management, and help desk support (e.g., the ability to control, execute, reboot, chat, and transfer files while interacting with remote clients). The scope of its functionality has been continuously expanding and now includes, Active Directory integration, improved roaming capabilities, more efficient handling of low-bandwidth connections, and, with the introduction of the SMS 2003 Operating System Deployment Feature Pack released in November 2004, installation of operating system images. Although it is possible to upgrade Windows clients with earlier versions of SMS, the new add-on simplifies this, significantly reducing the impact of incompatibility issues caused by legacy software and operating system settings. SMS has streamlined the process with automated application installation and user state migration, as well as integration with standard SMS software deployment mechanisms and leveraging collected inventory information.
The SMS 2003 OS Deployment Feature Pack is available for download from the Microsoft Web site. It can be used free of charge but only as a component of Systems Management Server 2003. It must be installed on an SMS site server, and it does not operate as a stand-alone product. In addition, since the Feature Pack leverages Windows PE technology (in several stages of the process), it also covers its licensing requirements. SMS 2003 servers must have Service Pack 1 applied (and, potentially, the hotfix described in the Microsoft Knowledge base article 888311, if Active Directory Site Boundaries are used).
Since user state migration is part of the deployment process, we recommend using the most recent version of the User State Migration Tool (version 2.6.4 or later), which can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site. It is not, however, included with the Feature Pack. (For more information on its functionality, refer to previous articles in this series.) In addition, since during Windows PE portion of the installation client computers obtain their IP configuration dynamically, the environment must have an active DHCP server servicing subnets where they reside.
Since user state migration is part of the deployment process, we recommend using the most recent version of the User State Migration Tool (version 2.6.4 or later), which can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site.
The majority of tasks the Feature Pack handles take advantage of SMS’ capabilities. Hardware and software inventory provide a basis for selecting installation targets. Operating system images are represented in the SMS Management console as packages (under Image Packages node, they are created automatically when the OS Deployment Feature pack is installed on the site server), and they are delivered in the form of advertisements to collections functioning as containers for SMS clients. This approach follows the standard software deployment mechanism established since SMS 2.0, and every SMS administrator should be familiar with it.
The OS Deployment Feature Pack also supports Remote Installation Services and CD-based installation methods. It allows a “wipe and load” install on any system, regardless of whether SMS client software is present. Definitions of packages containing OS images are copied automatically across the entire SMS site hierarchy. Actual images, once selected for distribution, follow a bandwidth-optimized transfer algorithm between SMS sites and Distribution Points. Status monitoring includes image packages and advertisements, which simplifies troubleshooting and resolves any deployment issues.