WDS Supporting Players at Server 2008 Install Summer Camp

As you know, at Windows Server 2008 Install Summer Camp, we strive to make the world a better place by deploying large numbers of systems in the shortest amount of time and with the least user interaction possible.

With all of us as the camp counselors for Hut 11, I have no doubt that this can be our most successful year ever. That being said, I propose that we stack the deck a little this year.

Windows Deployment Services (WDS) is coming to camp this year. If we surround him with the right campmates, we can’t lose!

Let’s Welcome Windows Deployment Services

Although Windows Deployment Services is brand new at Windows Server 2008 Install Summer Camp, the concepts behind it are nothing new. Our old friend Windows Server 2003 used another old friend called Remote Installation Services.

Both of them were built upon the concepts of building a reference system and then taking an image of that system in order to replicate it onto numerous other systems.

WDS is the rich kid dropped off at camp in the big black car by a guy who works for his dad. His name is Wellington Jenkins III.

Sure, he has the ultra-cool PXE to TFTP environment that allows us to create all the images we will need to handle our remote installations and upgrades. But, these images are only part of the story.

We’ll still need a few other campmates if we are going to win the big race at the end of camp. Basically, this means that while the shiny new WDS deployment razzle dazzles ‘em, we’ll still be using some tools from back in the day.

Wellington’s WDS system works by the Boot Image allowing us to create a Capture Boot Image, which then allows us to create an Install Image. The Install Image is actually the image created from capturing, or imaging, the reference system, and the image used to install new systems.

Meet Dexter aka Windows Server 2008 on DVD

Our next cabin mate has been coming to Install Summer Camp forever. He’s the DVD that Windows Server 2008 comes on. We’ll call him Dexter. Dexter’s dad, the legendary CD, came to camp for years when he was younger. Dexter’s grandfather, the stack of floppy disks with a rubber band around them, seems funny now, but he was the way to go back in the day.

But, this year, Dexter is sporting some new threads. For Windows Server 2008, all installation modes use the same image based setup whether they are part of WDS or automated, or not. Which means Dexter is outfitted with Windows Image files (.wim) on that good old DVD.

Dexter can install any edition of Microsoft Server 2008 from that one DVD because those image files are a single instance store (SIS). That means that each file is stored only once per image.

Anytime that file is needed again within that image, a placeholder just points to that single file instead of wasting space by copying the file again. It also means that managing custom images is much easier because the image can be unpackaged, the files within it added to, edited, or deleted and then repackaged back into a fully useable image.

Even better, Dexter’s suitcase of images are file system based. For those camp counselors familiar with some of the other imaging families, you might be more used to sector images which work by copying every bite on a disk without regards to its structure or purpose.

While this form of imaging ensures a total copy regardless of the status of any file, it suffers from both the issue of being hardware dependent (the disk geometry of the computer being installed must match the original computer disk the image was created from in order to get the sectors to line up) and also from having multiple copies of any file that is duplicated on the drive, which makes the images even bigger.

Worse, in order to get anything resembling an optimal image, the drive has to be defragmented first, adding even more time to the image creation process.

Now, it is true that those .wmi files Dexter has can’t be interchanged between 32-bit systems and 64-bit systems, but we’ll just have him save the 64-bit stuff for the end of summer dance with the girl’s camp across the lake.

Meet the Rest of the Team: WinPE, PXE, Sysprep & SIM

Not new to camp this year, is WinPE. While WinPE isn’t any bigger or stronger than before, he is starting to come into his own and showing up on the radar of more camp counselors.

For those of you not familiar with him, WinPE is a minimal version of Windows Server which can be run entirely from a CD for up to 72 hours. It runs in protected mode, but provides a system console independent of any hardware.

It also provides basic networking and can create, delete, and modify NTFS partitions. That means we can do all of the pre-install work without having to use DOS or any partial install. Best of all, WinPE supports PXE.

PXE isn’t new to summer camps, but he hasn’t been to ours before. PXE is the nickname for Pre-Execution Environment. Yes, the name is a mouthful (I hear his parents were hippies), but PXE has the power to get even a bare metal system online to the network.

If the light bulb isn’t on over your head yet, let me flip the switch. With PXE, you can use the WDS system to both build and install images from a server without carrying the images around with you, and without having to "pre-install" a system far enough to get it onto the network in a more traditional manner.

Once again, Windows Server 2008 Install Summer Camp welcomes back Sysprep. Sysprep is a scrawny kid from upstate somewhere, but what he lacks in physical stature, he made up with cleverness.

Sysprep has the unique ability to take any installed system and strip out all the uniquely identifying information on that system.

So, now when we make an image from a server named Condor635, we don’t have to worry about every system we install using that image having the name Condor635. We also don’t have to worry about network addresses, or most importantly the SID. Don’t worry, Sysprep can run in several modes, so we can get what we need out of him.

Last, but not least is our secret weapon … Windows System Image Manager or as his friends call him SIM, is coming to camp.

No longer will we toil into the wee hours of the night with Notepad blazing into the darkness after lights out to create and configure our unattend files. SIM provides a GUI for the process, and while that would be enough, it gets even better.

SIM allows us to validate our answer files against the actual image we are trying to use it for. So, if there is something missing, we’ll get a notification. If we are setting parameters that don’t exist in the image, we’ll be able to see that too.

If it’s 4:00AM and we just can’t keep thinking straight, SIM will help us by only showing the properties that exist for our image and the component we are working on. Properties that aren’t editable are visible, but grayed out so we don’t waste time tweaking the untweakable.

I think you’ll agree that with these campers there will be no stopping us. The number of systems we can deploy to the field will be higher than ever.

Now, get those donuts over to the Camp Manager before those guys over in Hut 3 beat us to it.

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