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I’d like to prefix this question by mentioning that I’m a Linux administrator, so managing a network of Windows desktops isn’t really my forte; however I’ve been tasked with upgrading a network of Windows desktops from XP Pro to Windows 7, and the upgrade of Windows SBS 2003 to 2008.

I’d like to take this opportunity to do the job right, and implement some sort of automation for the delivery of software packages and updates, because currently this is a completely manual process, which across 25 desktops is obviously a bit time consuming.

It also means when a new desktop is introduced on the network, you have to start from scratch, and make sure it is built exactly the same as the rest of them.

The obvious answer here is disk imaging; however the problem is further complicated by the fact that nearly all the desktops are slightly different, so obviously the underlying hardware isn’t the same, making straight cloning problematic.

I thought a nice solution here would be to run some sort of virtualized desktop, so the hardware is abstracted away, however after looking at virtual desktop products from Citrix and Oracle, it seems that they all use some sort of RDP, meaning I’d need a server grunty enough to run 25 desktops at once, and if I wanted to do that I could just use terminal server and a thin client.

The Linux admin in me is thinking about using something like virtual box, and a rsync job that would just pull down an updated image when necessary, however I don’t feel like this is a particularly tidy solution, and I’m probably reinventing the wheel.

So my main objective is completely automated deployment of the underlying operating system, automated installation of software packages, and automated updating.

I’m sure this has been solved before, and I’d really appreciate any suggestions on a way to manage this with as much automation as possible.


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Also - get yourself some MS Press books for the certification courses on these topics. Windows 7, Server, AD. You don't have to take the tests, but you should learn the concepts. – mfinni Aug 11 '11 at 0:26

To do this right - and LEGAL - I recommend the following: Obtain a Volume License (VL) Upgrade for all systems on the network to Windows 7 Pro (requires XP Pro already installed). The VL media allows you to build a base image with all currently installed patches and line of business software that you can deploy to the hardware. Further, Windows 7 is MUCH, MUCH more lenient about hardware - I've deployed Win7 images built on a Dell OptiPlex 745 Desktop to Dell D430 Latitudes and GX520 desktops. And I've also completly swapped out the motherboards (using completely different boards). Odds are you would only need ONE image - MAYBE two. (Consider that WIMs are images and Windows (since Vista) is distributed on media as WIMs).

Server 2008 includes Windows Deployment Services which will allow you to deploy the image over the network via PXE booting and using a multicast, you could deploy the image to ALL systems in under an hour or two.

If you are migrating to SBS 2008 or SBS 2011 than they include WSUS for patching - otherwise, it's a Role for WSUS.

Note: if the client intends to use Exchange you SHOULD be migrating them to SBS 2011 if they have about 55 or fewer users (maybe 60) as SBS is the most cost effective method of obtaining Exchange in-house (make sure you understand the product - there's a lot of people that don't and think it has restrictions it doesn't).

Terminal Services/Remote Desktop Services is an option that would require a second server as well as additional licensing fees for a variety of things.

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WSUS for system patches and other official MS stuff. WPKG for everything else. Should do what you need.

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