Deploying Microsoft Windows has come a long way over the years. I can still remember doing network installs from a boot floppy using an answer file, can you? Then along came Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) 2007, a Solution Accelerator (SA) from Microsoft that included tools and comprehensive best practices guidance for deploying Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system. BDD was later superseded by the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT), which has already gone through several versions. The latest version MDT 2012 Update 1 supports deployment of Windows 8, Windows 7, Office 2010 and 365, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Server 2008 R2 in addition to deployment of Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2003, and Windows XP and can be downloaded for free from here.
Of course, these aren't the only ways you can deploy Windows. Enterprise environments that have thousands or more client computers are better off using System Center Configuration Manager, a comprehensive platform for delivering effective IT services by enabling secure and scalable software deployment, compliance settings management, and comprehensive asset management of servers, desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. Microsoft itself was the first enterprise organization that used ConfigMgr for this purpose, and back in 2010 they published a whitepaper describing their experience using ConfigMgr 2007 to deploy Windows 7. You can download this whitepaper from here.
But even ConfigMgr itself has now gone through several more versions, and the latest version ConfigMgr 2012 R2 is now in preview release and is described here.
What tools should your own business use for deploying Windows? What are the biggest concerns about deployment that organizations have? What resources are available for learning how to perform deployments effectively? And where is Windows deployment headed in the future? We asked Johan Arwidmark, a well-know deployment expert and Chief Technical Architect with Knowledge Factory, to share some of his thoughts on these and other questions for this article.
Mitch: Johan, deploying Microsoft Windows has evolved quite a bit over the years. Where do you see it going in the next few years? What are the trends?
Johan: Indeed it has, the biggest change actually came with Windows Vista where Microsoft changed to a completely images based deployment. Not only by providing ready-made images, but also to provide offline servicing capabilities for drivers, language packs and feature in Windows. The imaging story will still be around in the next release of Windows (Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2) but already with Windows 8 you can see quicker deployment times, and support for alternate deployment solutions like Windows To Go, the ability to run the operating system from a fast USB stick.
[Editor's Note: For more information about Windows To Go, see http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh831833.aspx]
Mitch: What are the key tools that administrators should become familiar with if they want to perform deployments and migrations to the latest Windows client and server platforms?
Johan: Microsoft currently supports two solutions for deployment and migration of Windows. It's Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2012 Update 1, and ConfigMgr 2012 SP1. The free MDT 2012 Update 1 solution can be used as a standalone solution, and can also be integrated with ConfigMgr 2012 SP1 to add 280 (!) additional OS deployment features. Both of these solutions are using Windows Deployment Services (WDS) and Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) in the background, but WDS and ADK are not to be viewed as a solution on their own, they are only plumbing/foundation tools. Later this year there will updates to all this, MDT 2013, ConfigMgr 2012 R2, ADK 8.1 (including WinPE 5.0) and WDS in Windows Server 2012 R2.
Mitch: Windows Intune seems pretty cool for managing smaller networks of Windows computers from the cloud. Can you deploy Windows directly from the cloud to bare-metal systems? If not, do you see something like this becoming possible in the near future?
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!
Mitch: Are there any exciting new things in deployment as far as Windows 8 is concerned? Is it easier or harder than deploying Windows 7?
Johan: If you know how to deploy Windows 7 you are in very good shape to deploy Windows 8. It works the same. That being said, in WinPE 4.0, which can be used for deploying both Windows 7 and Windows 8, you can for example enable BitLocker during the WinPE phase of the deployment, drastically reducing the time needed to deploy a machine encrypted with BitLocker. Also the enhanced PXE and Multicast features in Windows Server 2012 allows for much quicker deployment.
Mitch: What are some of the main issues and concerns that you've heard from organizations about Windows deployment, and do you feel Microsoft is addressing these concerns?
Johan: The major concern right now has been related to Windows 8, and limitations in dealing with Windows store, and customizations of the Windows 8 start screen. Issues that Microsoft starts addressing in Windows 8.1. Part from that I still see organizations doing manual deployments, wasting hours, and hours of valuable time. Deployments that could easily be automated with the solutions Microsoft provides.
Mitch: What learning resources can you recommend for IT pros who are relatively new to Windows deployment? I'm thinking books, websites, blogs, forums, etc.
Johan: If you go to this link you find two great books related to Windows deployment: "Windows 8 in the Enterprise" by Andreas Stenhall, and "Deployment Fundamentals - Volume 4" by me and Mikael Nystrom. You also find links to other resources like training.
Mitch: Are there any good resources out there that can help people become experts in Windows deployment?
Johan: On my blog I maintain a list of useful resources, resources I use myself to keep up with things.
Mitch: If there was one thing you'd like to see possible with regards to deploying Windows that isn't possible today, what would this be?
Johan: Something that would be very cool is to have the operating system being streamed down to the computer like the App-V virtual applications are, but the entire OS. I have seen third party vendors do that, but it would be really cool if Microsoft did too.
Mitch: Anything else you'd like to say to our readers about deployment?
Johan: Learn PowerShell, and remember that Automations is King!
Mitch: Thanks Johan!
About Johan Arwidmark
Johan Arwidmark is the Chief Technical Architect with Knowledge Factory. He is a consultant, author and all-around geek specializing in Systems Management and Enterprise Windows Deployment Solutions.
In addition to his consulting role, Johan present trainings and speaks at several conferences each year, including MMS and TechEd around the world. He is also actively involved in communities like http://www.deploymentresearch.com/ and http://myitforum.com and he has been awarded Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for eight years.
Johan is known for an energetic and humorous style, tackling complex concepts using simple "Real World" scenarios and lots of live demos. His areas of expertise include: Enterprise Windows Deployment Tools and Solutions, ConfigMgr, MDT, WinPE, USMT, and WDS.