Whitepaper: Using MDT 2010 To Deploy Windows 7

I’ve just published a guide on how to use the free Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 to deploy Windows 7.  Using this document you’ll be able to capture customised sysprepped images and “upgrade” existing computers, e.g. migrate XP machines to Windows 7 using a light touch client.

MDT is very powerful, allowing you to manage client and server operating systems using customised task sequences, a set of steps processed in order.  I was a doubter (sorry, Rhonda, I should have believed you!) at first but I’m a believer now.

By the way, I used Word 2010 CTP to write this document.  I’m used to Word 2007 so this was a breeze with there being no big changes for basic usage.  The only trouble I had with the CTP (it is pre-beta) was that the footers kept getting new lines for some unknown reason so I had to keep deleting them.

“I’ve been doing operating system deployment of one form of another since 1998 when I first started using Ghost to clone NT 4.0 workstations. I’ve used a variety of tools since then including a custom routine to deploy NT 4.0 using Novadigm EDM, Windows 2000/2003 Remote Installation Services (RIS), ImageX from Windows Automated Installation Kit and Windows Deployment Services (WDS). As time has gone by there have been some changes.

Operating System (OS) deployment had always been a form of IT black magic. I can’t be certain why. I know that documentation used to be non-existent or incomprehensible. If you downloaded Microsoft Business Desktop Deployment accelerator you installed it, ran it, tried to use it, scratched your head wondering what you were doing wrong, followed a rats nest of hyperlinks and quickly gave up. Microsoft just seemed to be unable to clearly communicate how to efficiently deploy operating systems. Most organisations only create a new standard operating system build once every few years. There are plenty of organisations that deployed XP back in 2002-2003 and have no plans to change their standard soon. That means their engineers never develop OS deployment skills. If a change is needed then consultants or contractors are brought in and they do the engineering, leaving a set of operations guides behind. There’s a set of people out there who either don’t have time to learn the skills (I can sympathise!). But worse, I think there’s also a set of people who really don’t care; they’ll do the sneaker-net thing quite “happily” or continue to (probably) illegally use Ghost to deploy operating systems – Hey! You actually need to buy a Ghost license for each machine built with Ghost and an auditor really can detect a fingerprint on the hard disk of “ghosted” workstations.

Microsoft did attempt to simplify things. Documentation has improved but it’s still not there yet as can be seen in the MDT documentation where there are gaps and misleading instructions. The tools have gotten better too. Adding drivers to the pre-installation phase of RIS was a nightmare to figure out. It got better with the “Panther” based installation tools that were released with Vista and Server 2008. That involved using Microsoft’s WAIK to build a Windows PE image (your boot up media) and add drivers into that using command line tools. The current generation of tools allow you to build libraries of drivers and add them via a GUI.

This document is going to focus on Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010. I’ll be looking at deploying Windows 7 seeing as that’s the new desktop operating system from Microsoft. Everything we look at here will be possible with Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2. They all share the same basic installation functionality. MDT is going to be the tool you’ll be most often recommended to use for deploying Windows 7. Why? There are a lot of reasons:

  • It’s 100% free.
  • It allows you to do light-touch clean installations of and upgrades to Windows 7.
  • It uses task sequences to perform the installs. These are a sequence of instructions that can include other tasks.
  • Using task sequences you can add drivers, patches and applications to you Windows 7 PC’s, enable BitLocker, etc.
  • The task sequences are 100% customisable. You can do anything that you can do from command line or from a script. Many of the default actions are VBS scripts.
  • You cannot upgrade from XP to Windows 7. That’ll be a problem for those who have data on their PC’s. Using task sequences and the User Migration Toolkit you can capture the user state of the PC, put a clean install of Windows 7 on the machine and restore the user state, effectively performing an upgrade.
  • It’s very lightweight, e.g. my labs have been machines with 512MB of RAM. MDT is really a glorified file share/set of file shares. Consultants/contractors could create a virtual machine and transport their VHD/VMDK to customer sites to do their work. The great thing about VHD/VMDK is that it can be copied. Over time you’ll build up a library of drivers and task sequences that you can reuse again and again.

Here’s what I’m going to try cover in this document. We’ll install MDT 2010. We’ll get to the point where we can deploy a standard installation of Windows 7, capture a customised template image and be able to deploy an “upgrade” from Windows XP using a user state capture/restore. I’ll add in a few tricks to make things easier. I’ll show you how to create a light touch installation requiring minimal interaction and how to dispense with the need to create bootable USB/DVD media to boot up machines for the deployment process. My lab will be running on VMware Workstation so you’ll see how I added drivers for it. The process is pretty similar on Hyper-V (which I have also done previously).

Disclaimer: I won’t claim to be a deployment guru. There’s other people out there who know this stuff better than I do. But I can show you how to get started with MDT and how to deploy Windows 7 with it.

I’m using the current (at the time of writing) release candidate (RC) of MDT 2010 so some things may change by the time you read this.”

The document continues

6 thoughts on “Whitepaper: Using MDT 2010 To Deploy Windows 7”

  1. What do you think about applications that are captured in an image and then deployed to a new machine, but do not keep the setting from the reference computer? For instance, I capture Win7+MatLab from my reference machine and then deployed it to the test machine, but when I try to use MatLab, it asks me to re-authorize (I say re-authorize because I was expecting this to have been copied) and it is annoying to think I will have to do this for every machine.

    1. That’s going to happen with some applications. Some are “activated” and bind to specific hardware. When they find themselves on another machine then they’ll require it to reactivate. That should be expected for tightly controlled licensing.

  2. Can MDT 2010 be used to upgrade Vista to Windows 7 without doing a fresh install? I basically want to mimic throwing in the Windows 7 DVD while Vista is running and select upgrade, instead of a fresh install and having to do USMT.

    1. I haven’t tried it but yeah, should be able to. Most won’t do that because MS really doesn’t recommend it. And many have found the upgrade process takes a LONG time. Remember you can’t upgrade from x86 to x64.

  3. Johan: Windows Intune is very cool, but Microsoft does not currently support any cloud to bare-metal system deployment. You have to generate a standalone media from MDT or ConfigMgr, and deploy the machines from that. It would be very cool to get PXE-based deployments from the cloud, but you would still require a local proxy because of how PXE works. Maybe they fix it, but I would not have that hope to high!

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