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We are a small company that provides solutions for ventilation systems. Part of the solution is a "controller" which communicates with the ventilation equipment. These controllers are simply Dell computers that come with our Windows 7 system image on them and sometimes some special hardware.

We typically do a batch of 10 controllers at a time. We have been using Norton Ghost to apply the system image, but this process breaks because Dell changes the system configuration often, and our Windows image now does not contain the correct drivers. This is especially a problem when they change the RAID controller.

To improve this, I see 2 options:

  1. use some kind of virtualization and install a hypervisor on each PC. This would solve the driver problem, but probably cause trouble with our special hardware.
  2. use some method of adding the proper drivers to our Windows image in offline mode.

I haven't got much experience in either of these approaches. How would you solve our problem?

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There are a lot of ways to do this, but the best way may be to keep the source image a virtual machine, and use this for cloning your destination systems. With this scenario you can always boot up your source vm and apply updates, make changes, etc and always have it ready to deploy where you need to go. The image can also be hardware independent and deployed across a number of hardware configurations.

The microsoft articles on this are pretty good so I hope these help you. In these links there are also video tutorials.

You might find this step by step guide the best:

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With Server 2008 R2 and WDS you can add drivers pretty easy to an existing image. Installing a hypervisor seems not to be an option since the hypervisor himself would need drivers installed.

You would win in so far that there wouldn't be a need of changing the Controller Image anymore everytime the hardware changes, but you would for sure need a second Hypervisor Image which has the drivers and needs to be updated as well.

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and WDS is a free install – Jordan W. Feb 15 '11 at 16:46

If you are interested in virtualization then check out the V to P (virtual to physical) stuff up on VMware.

Also check out the Dell sysprep file located further down the page and the current driver setup it has

Not sure if this is viable.

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I bet the safest approach is to update the drivers and firmware. I know it gets boring to update these time and again after a while but these are released for good reasons and are essential for good performance of your machines.

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I know, and we do update frequently, but there is still the issue of changing hardware configurations. – Martin Wiboe Feb 15 '11 at 22:55

It depends greatly on what your special hardware is but it is possible to "pass through" the hardware from the host to the guest VM under hypervisors other than Microsoft's.

Search for "pass though" under the virtualization tag.

I certainly can see the benefits of doing this because it separates the support of the hardware and the support of your controller. Your developers can concentrate on coding to a known VM that will change only when you wish it to while someone else can worry about keeping the hypervisor running on more rapidly changing hardware.

It is a massive hardware abstraction layer you don't have to write.

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