How to Choose the Right Windows 7 Deployment Strategy

How to Choose the Right Windows 7 Deployment Strategy

Figuring out the best way to deploy Windows 7 in a large-scale environment (and of course, the deployment itself) can be a seemingly daunting task. However, with the proper preparation, the right tools, and a bit of know-how, it doesn’t have to be. Today we’ll go over the different methods of deploying Windows 7 to help you decide which method is right for you and your organization.

You have four Windows 7 deployment strategy options to choose from:

  • High-touch deployment with retail media
  • High-touch deployment with standard image
  • Lite-touch, high-volume deployment
  • Zero-touch, high-volume deployment

The strategy that you’ll ultimately choose will most likely be based on skill level and the amount of computers you plan to deploy to, ranging from just a few, to over 500 computer systems. Once you go through all of your options and decide which strategy is best for you, you can refer to this guide to figure out what tools you’ll need so you can properly prepare yourself for the task at hand.

Think about your current situation, how many computers are involved, and what kinds of tools you’re already comfortable using. I would recommend putting all of the information you know about the deployment (or hypothetical deployment) on paper or even a mind-mapping program to better analyze your situation. I find that I am usually a lot more productive during the planning stages if I can put what I know down on paper to clear my mind for the actual planning process.

Let’s take a look at the different Windows 7 deployment strategies, and go over what they entail.

The high-touch with retail media option is the most common deployment strategy and is aimed towards deployments with fewer than 100 computer systems. For smaller businesses and organizations, this method makes the most sense as the IT on board will have to do the least amount of prep work, and focus on each system individually to ensure compatibility and functionality.

This strategy will take advantage of:

  • Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK)
  • A flash drive
  • Retail Windows 7 media

While there are many different ways to perform a high-touch deployment, the easiest would be to use an “Unattend.xml” file or “answer file”. By creating and using an answer file, you eliminate the need for user input when manually installing/deploying Windows 7. You would still need to put the retail media in, but by using an answer file, the default settings (computer names, time zone, workgroup names, drivers, etc.) would automatically be inputted for you.

You should follow this path when using the high-touch with retail media deployment method:

  1. Create an “Unattend.xml” file for Windows 7 using Windows System Image Manager. Be sure to include any drivers you plan to deploy with the image.
  2. Copy the resulting file to your USB flash drive. Windows looks for this file in a variety of places, but storing it on a flash drive is the easiest to keep track of, update and transport.
  3. Inset the USB flash drive and retail media into the PC, and either refresh or upgrade as required.
  4. You can optionally use Windows Easy Transfer to restore the users’ documents and settings to the computer. This step is only necessary if you refreshed the computer with a new installation in the previous step. Upgrades will automatically keep all user settings and documents.
  5. Complete the deployment by installing applications and configuring the computer as required.
  6. Continue on to the next computer.

Learn more about this type of deployment on TechNet: High-Touch Deployment with retail media

High-Touch Windows 7 Deployment (with Standard Image)

The high-touch with standard image deployment strategy is most commonly used for deployments between 100 and 200 computer systems, but skilled IT staff can take advantage of this method for smaller deployments as well, to save time. The main benefit to this strategy is being able to include any applications and files within the image, so you don’t need to add them after each installation.

This strategy will take advantage of:

  • Retail or volume-licensed media
  • A Flash drive
  • Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK)
  • Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010
  • Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT)

As an added benefit to this strategy, once the image has been created, businesses and organizations can provide the image to their original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) so that when a new computer is purchased, it will be ready to set up and connect to the network.

Although this is a great strategy to use for most organizations, it doesn’t scale well. Using an image prevents the ability to use the upgrade feature and restoring user data is harder for larger organizations. Also, because this is a high-touch deployment, a technician and flash drive are required to deploy out to each computer system, something that would be costly to do for larger organizations. Larger organizations with multiple departments may also run into issues, since each department might need a different set of applications, creating a need for multiple images.

You should follow this path when using this deployment method:

  1. Optional, though recommended, you can use the Applications Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) to prioritize applications, determine any compatibility issues that you might face, and consolidate applications.
  2. Set up a client machine as the canvas for creating your first image. Install everything normally from the retail media or VL media. Microsoft recommends you “use an answer file (Unattend.xml) to install Windows on the reference computer to make this process consistent and reproducible.”
  3. Install any applications, drivers, settings, and updates that you would like to include in the final image.
  4. Run Sysprep to generalize the image for deployment.
  5. Boot into the computer using the Windows Pre-installation Environment (Windows PE) and capture the image using ImageX.
  6. Copy the image to flash drive, external hard drive, or network share.
  7. Next, we need to prepare the installation media; there are two ways to go about this. First, you can create an answer file (Unattend.xml) and point it to the image you copied to the drive or network share. Alternatively, you can create a new installation media by replacing the Install.wim file with the image file you captured previously.
  8. Optionally, you can use the Windows Easy Transfer wizard to save documents and settings from client computers.
  9. Start deploying onto each client computer, either by using the answer file (Unattend.xml) or using the setup media you created.
  10. If you completed Step 8, you can now use the Windows Easy Transfer wizard to restore users’ documents and settings.
  11. Finally, the machines must be activated online.

Learn more about this type of deployment on TechNet: High-Touch deployment with standard image

Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment

The lite-touch, high-volume deployment strategy is aimed at much larger organizations with a skilled IT professional with deployment experience. Generally, organizations with 200-500 computer systems should use this strategy. Using standardized images and network access using pull automation, limited interaction is required at the beginning of the installation.

This strategy will take advantage of:

  • A server configured with the Windows Deployment Services role
  • Volume-licensed (VL) media
  • Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK)
  • Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010
  • Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT)
  • Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAPT)
  • Windows Deployment Services (WDS)

The lite-touch strategy is great for organizations within the range mentioned above since it offers limited interaction, lowering the time and costs required for deployment. Configurations are consistent across all computer systems, so less problems are likely to occur. MDT 2010 handles all application, driver, and update installations on its own. Not to mention easier maintenance options for updating applications, drivers, and software updates.

This is the path you should follow when using this deployment method:

  1. Use the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit to determine compatibility issues with a new operating system.
  2. Use the Applications Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) to prioritize applications, determine any compatibility issues that you might face, and consolidate applications.
  3. Prepare the infrastructure for MDT 2010 by creating an answer file and optionally install the WDS role in Windows Server 2008 R2.
  4. Install MDT 2010 on the file server along with additional components as required, including the User State Migration Tool.
  5. Create a distribution share that contains operating systems, applications, drivers, and updates.
  6. In MDT 2010, create and customize a task sequence for each configuration you will be deploying. Once complete, create and update a deployment point.
  7. Create a device to start the Windows PE image by preparing a removable storage device with the images created by MDT 2010 when you update a deployment point. Optionally, you can add the Windows PE image to WDS to make starting the image a bit easier during deployment.
  8. Finally, start each client computer by using the Windows PE image you created, and follow the instructions to connect to the shared resource, choose a task sequence, and install Windows 7.

Learn more about this type of deployment on TechNet: Lite-Touch, High-Volume

Zero-Touch, High-Volume Deployment

The zero-touch, high-volume deployment strategy is fully automated and generally only meant for large organizations with over 500 computer systems, and an IT professional with deployment and Configuration Manager 2007 R2 expertise. Using standardized images with network access using push automation, the deployment becomes completely automated. No interaction with client computers is necessary during the installation process.

The zero-touch strategy takes advantage of:

  • A server configured with the Windows Deployment Services role
  • Volume-licensed (VL) media
  • Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK)
  • Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010
  • Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT)
  • Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAPT)
  • Windows Deployment Services (WDS)
  • Configuration Manager 2007 R2

You should follow this path when using this deployment method (Note: items in quotes are direct references to the Microsoft TechCenter guidelines):

  1. Review the Planning and Process guide for deploying Windows 7 using the zero-touch strategy.
  2. Use the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit to figure out if your organization is ready for Windows 7.
  3. Use the Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) to prioritize applications, determine any compatibility issues that you might face, and consolidate applications.
  4. Prepare your organizations infrastructure with MDT 2010, “including installing and configuring Configuration Manager 2007 R2 and its prerequisites, creating the required user and service accounts, and configuring Active Directory Domain Services.”
  5. “Install MDT 2010, and configure the Configuration Manager 2007 R2 integration. This process includes configuring how to define new computers in the site database and creating additional packages that Configuration Manager 2007 R2 requires during deployment (USMT package, Custom Settings package, and so on).”
  6. “Optionally, create a custom master image by using Configuration Manager 2007 R2 to deploy Windows 7 to a master computer, customize the configuration, and then capture the custom image.”

Learn more about this type of deployment on TechNet: Zero-Touch, High-Volume Deployment

Windows 7 Deployment Resources

Here’s a couple of handy resources that will help you learn more about Windows 7 deployment:

I hope this guide helped you to better understand the Windows 7 deployment process, and to figure out which deployment method is right for you and your organization. If you have any questions about the deployment process, feel free to leave a comment below. Be sure to keep an eye on more articles on Windows 7 deployment. Thanks for reading!

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