I have a PXE server for deploying Windows XP and Windows 7 to workstations.
The process is as follows:
- Boot the workstation from the NIC.
- Workstation sends a DHCP request.
- DHCP server responds with an IP address and the location of the PXE server.
- Workstation downloads WinPE image file from PXE server via TFTP
- Workstation stores WinPE image file in memory and executes it.
- Once booted into WinPE, I connect to a network share to gain access to either the Windows XP or Windows 7 installation files.
- A custom script is launched to guide you through the process of formatting and partitioning the hard drive(s) (using DISKPART and FORMAT).
- Another custom script asks for details such as the hostname to assign to the workstation. The answers provided are used to build an unattended answer file (SIF [Setup Information File] for WinXP and XML for Win7).
- The Windows setup EXE is launched, passing the unattended answer file to it as a parameter.
The Windows XP and Windows 7 installation sources have been customised to include the drivers for our Dell workstations. They also run a number of scripts upon first booting up to install software packages.
This process works very well for our workstations and I would now like to use it for building our servers too. The vast majority of our servers are HP Proliant DL360 G6, DL380 G5 and DL380 G6. They’re running Windows Server 2003 (various editions) or 2008 (various editions).
To date, we have always built the HP Proliant servers using the SmartStart CD provided. SmartStart does three useful things for us:
- Setup RAID with HP Array Configuration Utility (ACU).
- Installs and configures SNMP
- Installs various HP Tools for Windows (HP Array Configuration Utility, HP Array Diagnostic Utility, HP Proliant Integrated Management Log Viewer, etc)
Using SmartStart I have never had to manually download and install Windows drivers for network, sound, video, etc. I'm not sure if this is because SmartStart copies drivers from the CD during setup, or whether Windows just has the drivers natively in its driver CAB.
If I abandon the SmartStart CD in favour of my PXE server I would have to do the following:
- As I wont have access to ACU, I'll configure the RAID (before booting to the PXE server) by pressing F8 (during the boot process) to access Option ROM Configuration for Arrays (ORCA).
- Installation of SNMP and the HP Tools will have to be installed once the Windows installation is complete using the Proliant Support Pack.
Is this method OK? Is there anything that the SmartStart CD does that I'll be unable to do by other means? Are there any disadvantages to not using the SmartStart CD?
I’ve been reading through the SmartStart Scripting Toolkit documentation.
The scripting toolkit contains command line tools which work within WinPE and can such things as configure BIOS settings, configure an array and setup ILO.
I’m personally not too bothered about configuring BIOS settings as I rarely deviate from the defaults (unless the server is to be a Hyper-V host).
I’m not too fussed about being able to configure the array from within WinPE, as I’m happy to just press F8 and use Option ROM Configuration for Arrays (ORCA). Although, if it’s easy enough to do, I will explore this further, as it saves time if everything can be configured from within WinPE.
One of the nice features all the tools possess is that you can pass input files to them. EG. Configure one server to your requirements, capture its configuration to a file (using the appropriate tool), you can then use the tool on other servers passing the input file with the captured configuration.
Array controller drivers appear to be included with the toolkit along with example of how to incorporate them within a WinPE build.
I suppose WinPE won’t be able to see logical volumes (I.E 2x physical disks in a RAID 1 configuration) without the array controller drivers?
I mentioned in my post that SmartStart normally installs a bunch of Windows HP tools for you. I’ve had a look today, and if you run the SmartStart CD from within Windows all the tools can be installed. Therefore I can do this after the Windows installation is complete.
The SmartStart CD appears to contain a lot Windows drivers. I can customise my Windows 2008 source to incorporate these drivers.
However, I understand that incorporating an array controller driver is a little different to most drivers. I believe that you have to provide the driver during the very early stages of the Windows setup. I’m working through the Scripting Toolkit documentation to try and work this out...