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Are there any general recommendations for managing OS's on a portable laptop cart? The cart will be taken to educational labs and used for teaching job skills to prisoners. We want to reset all the laptops at the end of each semester so the new class doesn't end up with a hacked/messed up system.

We could make a master image and redeploy it each semester, but how do you automate the changing of the hostname (so each has a unique id on the network) and other machine specific settings? Are there better approaches?

ENVIRONMENT SETUP: - School for County Jail. - Used to teach Windows use, Office Suite, Photoshop, job skills. - Laptops used for (2) different classes each day. - Each class lasts 2-5 weeks before next next round of students.

HARDWARE SETUP: - Portable Cart with (25) Laptops, each running Windows 7. (identical hw) - The cart can provide power charging, and central (wired) network switch.

LIMITATIONS/COMPLICATIONS: - No Windows domain - Low/Limited Budget - The laptops will not have internet access. - Students try to hack/break OS/applications. - One laptop might be provisioned as a local server. - The laptops might not have local network access until they are back in the cart.

IDEAS SO FAR: - Linux Imaging server (clonezilla, FOG, ) - RIS server (if we can get a Windows 2008 license)


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2 Answers 2

It sounds like you work in a challenging environment!

  1. You really need a reboot-and-restore utility for these systems. Upon each and every reboot the system reverts to a known-good-state, regardless of the modifications that have been made to it during runtime. One that comes to mind is DeepFreeze. Keep in mind, if students are expected to keep their work on this system, you will need to create a separate partition for user data.
  2. WDS (Windows Deployment Services)* should handle all of your system imaging criteria (including renaming) out of the box. You will need to ensure that your laptops will "boot from the network" (most do these days, but just double check).

Set up a schedule and a checklist for re-imaging these systems. I like the idea of once a semester. Make sure to run all the latest patches and updates before deployment.

*Windows Deployment Services has replaced Remote Installation Services (RIS) with Windows 2008 and Windows 7 platforms. Here's a quick start guide from technet.

The restore on every reboot, while a great idea, may not be viable if the machines need to be in a condition where the next class must pick up where the previous one left off. – John Gardeniers Apr 4 '11 at 11:19
hehe, it is a pretty challenging environment. Last year we did setup a permanent lab with Windows SteadyState (about 2 months before MS decided to end-of-life it). The only concern I have is that there might not be any budget for getting a windows server (hardware and software), so I'm look for alternatives as a (PLAN B). – BrianH Apr 4 '11 at 16:55

I'd strongly suggest Clonezilla. It support some additional tools: that should make your Windows deployments a bit easier.

I set up the image like so: 1) On first boot, the machine automatically logs itself in and executes a script via RunOnce 2) The RunOnce script disables automatic login, and performs any necessary configuration 3) The machine then reboots, and is ready for general use

Clonezilla can restore your average Windows installation in under 30 minutes, so you would have no problems restoring between each class if you wanted to. If you plan to restore all the machines at the same time, make sure you configure multicast or broadcast restores, which will greatly reduce network traffic.

Make sure all your machines are set to boot from the network first, and ensure that you set BIOS passwords so the boot order can't be changed. You can then configure Clonezilla to boot from the hdd at all times, except when you need to reimage them.


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