Get Efficient with WAIK – Windows Automated Installation Kit

The Windows Automated Installation Kit or WAIK or Windows AIK, is a series of tools and resources designed to help with automating the often time consuming process of installing Windows and its related software as well as additional programs.

The purpose of this set compendium is to help systems administrators deploy and upgrade systems in a manner that is more efficient than has been possible in the past.

The WAIK has been promoted primarily as a means of deploying Windows Vista, but when combined with Windows Server 2008 Deployment Server it can be very useful in deploying Windows Server 2008 itself, as well as both Vista and XP for upgrades and installation on bare metal systems.

Getting the Windows AIK

The WAIK can be downloaded for free from Microsoft’s website. The current version for Windows Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 is available here: Windows Automated Installation Kit

Microsoft has a habit of reorganizing its site and links so you can always find the Windows AIK through the download center at www.microsoft.com/downloads.

When you download the Windows AIK, you will notice that it is a DVD image (.ISO file). The WAIK is designed to be burned to a DVD but there are ways around that.

A tool like MagicISO will open up the iso file and allow you to extract all or part of it to your hard disk. So, just download the file and then pull out what you need. You can leave the rest of it compressed on a file server if you want.

However, it may be useful to send the DVD with every install technician into the field so that they are not caught without a needed tool.

Unfortunately, there is no way around downloading the entire 1375.9 MB regardless of how many or how few of the tools and resources you actually plan to use. So, plan ahead and download the WAIK now so that you aren’t waiting for it a 3:00 A.M. when a problem arises.

Inside the WAIK

Inside the Windows AIK are two types of help for system administrators:

  1. The Windows AIK has numerous tools, some of which are standalone tools, and some of which are much more useful in conjunction with other Microsoft tools or systems such as Windows Server 2008 Deployment Services, or SMS Server.
  2. The WAIK has a voluminous amount of documentation and more importantly samples that can be used as starting places for many tasks.

The tools included with the Windows AIK include Windows System Image Manager aka Windows SIM which is useful in creating and maintaining answer files for unattended installs.

This GUI based tool allows an administrator to not only create answer files without hacking through a text editor, but it also allows those files to be validated and checked without having to "just try it."

Another useful tool is ImageX which is a tool for capturing image files to be used in deployment. This is the tool that replaces Norton’s Ghost if you have been using that for your deployments.

Unlike other imaging tools, ImageX creates file based images which means two things:

  1. If an image needs to be updated, it is not necessary to re-image the entire system. The tool can be used to simply modify the existing image by adding, deleting, or replacing the files inside the image.
  2. If a file is duplicated on a system, that file is stored only once inside the image instead of being cloned in like in a sector based image. This produces much smaller images.

Package Manager is an interesting tool which allows for servicing Windows images from the command line. With Package Manager you can add and remove packages from images even if that package came from a different system image.

PEimg.exe is used to create Windows PE (Pre-Execution) images. Windows PE is a bare bones OS designed to get a system operating just far enough so that an image can be installed on it whether locally (CD/DVD) or over the network.

These images are better created with Windows Server 2008 Deployment Services instead if that will be the method of deployment.

Driver Package Installer or DPInst allows you to add drivers to deployed systems.

This tool is very useful for adding those drivers that are not necessary for system boot (scanners are a common one.) It is very easy to add to existing scripts and only requires an inf file as input.

Most important, is the Sysprep or System Preparation Tool.

Sysprep is used to strip out machine specific data such as the SID so that the images created from the machine do not propagate that data to all the other systems built from the image.

This tool is still very necessary in Windows Server 2008 Deployment Services. It is also available on Vista systems.

Windows AIK Documentation

While some of the documentation could be dug out somewhere else, it is nice to have it all in one handy spot. Some of it can only be found in the WAIK.

Of particular importance for deploying and upgrading systems are the ImageX Technical Reference, the Windows SIM Technical Reference, and the Sysprep Technical Reference.

Also of particular note is the Preinstallation Methods document inside The Windows Preinstallation Phases – Phase 1 section.

This one section will probably explain to a non-IT person exactly what the difference is between deployment options better than anything else probably could in half the time.

Also the Phase 4 Image Deployment section is an outstanding all-in-one resource to get a solid grasp on just what will be involved in using an image based rollout.

Keep in mind that the documentation was updated when Microsoft rolled out the WAIK update earlier this year so make sure you replace any docs you have lying around from the original version.

With this resource kit, some solid planning, and a little luck, you should be able to deploy a much easier rollout and upgrade program this time around.

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