Who actually enjoys sitting around waiting for an installation to complete? Working with developers, one of the tasks I am constantly being asked for in IT is to provision test workstations and virtual machines. Often, I found deploying these stations was time consuming and distracting due to the amount of interaction the installations demanded
After a few weeks of re-imaging laptops and virtual machines, I was sick of staring at the progress bar. I sought out a way to automate this process not only to speed up the time it takes to install, but to also automate the entire process so I wouldn't be interrupted by constant prompts. The following are three actions I took to automate and speed up the entire deployment process.
- Familiarize yourself with the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK). This is a tool that Microsoft offers to assist with the installation, customization and deployment of the Windows family of operating systems. I used this tool to build answer files that I have integrated into install images that allow the entire installation to run unattended. This has allowed me to focus on other tasks without stopping to check on the install.
- Research the different functions of the sysprep command. This command is especially useful when used in conjunction with an answer file. Understanding the sysprep command has given me the ability to configure the entire out of box experience settings automatically, execute scripts to activate windows and purge the local profiles. All I have to do manually is set the PC name, set the administrator password and join it to the desired domain. (Bonus: I used a step-by-step guide to sysprep a Windows 7 machine by The IT Bros to familiarize myself with sysprep and WAIK.)
- Utilize Windows Deployment Services (WDS). With the Windows 2008 Server family, there is no longer a need to have your own PXE environment configured, as it is already included with WDS. WDS allows us to capture system builds and deploy them over the network. It utilizes all of the items mentioned above to fully automate the process. All I need to do for a deployment now is boot to the network and specify which build to use; WDS, sysprep and the answer files perform the rest of the work.
Utilizing the these three tools I was able to take an hour-long process of installing an OS, drivers, windows updates, appropriate applications, etc. and reduce it to 3-5 minutes of initial configuration. This has helped me tremendously when it comes to focusing on my other tasks since I no longer have to check the deployment to see if it needs to format, locate a file, or enter a CD key, etc.