The possibilities of computer installations for businesses

Verschiedene Installationsmedien für Windows

This article discusses the different methods of computer installations for businesses. In technical terminology also called rollouts or deployments. Typically, such a concept is created when a large number of computer installations are required. Here are a few examples where it can be useful to rethink the previous way of working:

  • Migrations of operating systems
  • Replacing old hardware
  • Expansion of the company
  • Optimization of IT processes

Licensing note

Depending type of purchased Windows licenses the right of “Reimaging” may be missing. This is necessary for most installations in this comparison. Please check if you are authorized to use these methods. I can’t do any license consulting at this point because this topic area is constantly changing. Microsoft has also published a “Licensing Brief” on this subject, which deals with the subject in more detail. If in doubt, ask your license dealer.

the conventional methods

The manual method

The classic installation by hand, here I do not need to explain much.

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advantages disadvantages
No prerequisites requiredManual work only
No additional software requiredInstallations are not always the same, even if there are written manuals.
No extensive preparations necessaryRequires a lot of staff time and has many small periods of waiting
Software, drivers and updates must be installed manually.

variations:

  • Manual installation with patched medium
  • Manual installation with extended medium (integrated software)
  • Partial manual installation with Unattendent.xml (answer file for the setup wizard of Windows, so no questions have to be answered.

Tool-assisted installation with the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT)

The MDT is a tool from Microsoft, it can be downloaded for free. It is also used in software management tools from other vendors that also support an operating system installation within their systems. The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit is part of the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (also called Windows ADK).

With the MDT it is possible to create a so-called golden image (an image that is current and has been enhanced with drivers and desired software). With some preparation to do without any manual steps. In my test lab need is to create a new golden image only change the boot order of a VM, start the VM and go shopping. If it was the weekly purchase at the grocery, the image is ready when I’m back. What am I doing in my test lab for? It saves me time during the installation because all updates for the OS and .Net 3.5 are already integrated. I also install some runtime libraries as well.

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But the image is not everything, I also use MDT in my test lab to install computers including software and drivers. In my test lab, I enter a computer name at the beginning of the installation, select the software and if I want to activate Bit Locker. These steps are intentionally manual and could be further automated.

A short overview of the possibilities of MDT:

  • Execution of customized task sequences
  • Dynamic adding of device-specific drivers during installation
  • Installing software
  • Installation of Microsoft Updates (Online or from WSUS)
  • Running scripts
  • Add to domain
  • Activation of Bit Locker
  • Updating Bios or Firmware (If supported by the manufacturer)

The possibilities are very extensive and once it runs it is fast and easy.

advantages disadvantages
ZeroTouch possibleRequires some preparation and testing
Can deploy softwareNo maintenance of the computer after installation
WDS use for installation via networkRequires Reimaging Rights
Distributed sites Possible
Ideal for small businesses

Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager

Some kind of big brother of the MDT, even if it goes far beyond that. The SCCM needs its own licenses. It can do everything the MDT can do, and much more. The installation options are even more detailed and the installation options go beyond the MDT. The biggest difference, however, is that the SCCM also manages the computers after the initial installation. This applies not only to the configuration of computers, but also to act as a CMDB. It also offers the possibility of subsequent software distribution and software maintenance after the initial installation. Thus it stands in direct comparison to software management products of other companies.

Since System Center is a suite, it may be worth taking a closer look at the solution when software distribution is needed.

A detailed overview would go beyond the scope of this article, but it is a solution to operate the complete IT and to automate it to a high degree. Also, non-Microsoft systems like Linux or VMware can be integrated. More information can be found on the Microsoft System Center website.

advantages disadvantages
Goes far beyond the possibilities of deploymentLicensing via System Center Suite & CALs
Very extensive automation possibilitiesHigh implementation effort
Use WDS for installation via networkRequires Reimaging Right
Distributed sites Possible

In my opinion something for large companies with a larger IT department and the need for automation.

Managed Deployment

Another option is the Managed Deployment. This means that I provide the supplier of the deployment with an image or a node of my deployment solution. They then install the image on the system before delivery to the customer. Depending on the manufacturer or service provider, and the size of the project, this solution ranges from static Sysprep-image to automatic individual installation by the customer’s extended systems. Most manufacturers charge a fee for these solutions, but if I can save myself the cost of unpacking, reimaging and shipping to the end-user, this could also be financially interesting. There are also manufacturers who can send a technician as a service to set up, migrate and disassemble the old unit.

Advantages and disadvantages of this solution depend on the exact situation and can not be generalized.

Third-party tools

There are also a number of third party vendors that allow an operating system installation. Some of them can also manage software distribution and maintenance. These days, most software distributions also have an option to install the operating system, but some of them will charge you for this feature. Some systems also need the WAIK or the MDT and just put their interface over it. this could be a possibility, it depends on what you need.

Modern Deployment

Some will have asked themselves, “Is there anything new?” The answer is yes. More and more new technologies are being used. With Microsoft Autopilot, there is a solution that can connect a device to a compatible MDM with the help of the Azure AD. If you’re interested, I’ve written a whole series of articles about it.

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Author: Fabian Niesen

Fabian Niesen has been working as an IT consultant for years. Here he writes privately and independently of his employer. Among others he is certified as MCSA Windows Server 2008 / 2012, MCSA Office 365, MCSA Windows 10, MCSE Messaging, MCT and Novell Certified Linux Administrator. Since 2016 he is also MCT Regional Lead for Germany. His hobbies are social media, blogging, medieval markets, historical songs and house building.

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