I've been researching on the subject of workstation deployment for a while, and found a ton of info and dozens different methods and tools, but no "best practice" method that doesn't lack at least one feature that i consider required for the solution to be perfect.

I'm currently interested in windows workstation deployment, but if the tools can be extended to Linux, then it's an added value.

I want the deployment tools I use to be able to do the following:

  • hardware independent - I want my image or installation to have a minimum of hardware and driver dependency, so that i can use a single image/package for all workstations
  • easily updatable - I want to be able to update my image as easily as possible without redeploying/rebuilding/reimaging all configurations
  • PXE bootable deployment - I want the tools to be bootable off the network so that I don't need a boot cd/DOK.
  • scriptable for minimum human input - Ideally, the tool should run automatically after being booted and perform a "default" deployment (including partitioning) unless prompted otherwise. i.e - take a pc, hook it up, power on, PXE boot and forget about it until the OS is deployed.

I found no single product or environment that does all this. Closest i came to is the windows deployment services/WIM image format.

I also checked out numerous imaging and deployment tools including clonezilla, ghost, g4u, wpkg and others, but most of them lack the hardware Independence and updatability features.

We currently have a Symantec Ghost server setup that does imaging over the network, but I'm not satisfied with it as it has all the drawbacks i listed above.

Do you have suggestions how to optimize the process of workstation deployment? How do you deploy them in your organization?



  • You're asking for what every desktop admin since the dawn of time has asked for -- I wish I could help, but my windows-fu is pretty weak :-( – voretaq7 Mar 11 '10 at 17:51
  • I know. The amusing thing is, here we are in 2010, and there still is no tool that does this. Barely even a set of tools or a more-or-less standard method. Microsoft is barely getting there now with their deployment tools, after years of failure.. sad. – V. Romanov Mar 11 '10 at 17:56
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    Nonsense. You can do everything you need to do with the Microsoft tools. Buying something like SCCM will make it easier, but if you crack the books, you can do just about anything with the free deployment tools. – duffbeer703 Mar 11 '10 at 17:57
  • @duffbeer703 The initial deployment is pretty easy, it's updating deployed systems (without a re-image or reinstall) that always bites me. I'd love something like radmind or puppet for Windows... – voretaq7 Mar 11 '10 at 18:09
  • @voretaq7: That's the value add of Microsoft SCCM or a third party product. We use SCCM to manage over 30k systems. Altiris, Matrix42, BigFix and LANDesk are excellent as well. – duffbeer703 Mar 11 '10 at 21:07

IMO, the best way to go is unattended installation. Here's a link to a guide for Windows XP. An unattended install requires some care and feeding, but it makes it easy to provide driver support for just about anything... we've been using this method from 2004 to 2009 and went from > 100 traditional Ghost images to a single image.

Our current approach is using SCCM to deploy a WIM image with task sequences to lay down whatever other software that is required. I really like this approach, as we now have the ability to reimage PCs over the network that are completely up to date. (ie. Patches just get rolled in at install)

  • Unattended installations are definitely a part of the tool set i'm trying to assemble here (whether via WPKG or unattended or the native tools of the different installers). Thanks for the suggestion to try SCCM! I will definetily give it a shot, especially for all the added value other than deployment. – V. Romanov Mar 11 '10 at 18:05
  • One more thing, if you are a smaller shop without an EA, Microsoft System Center Essentials offers many of the SCCM features at a lower cost. – duffbeer703 Mar 11 '10 at 21:08

I suggest the Dell KACE system we use it here at the Hospital and it makes deployments a snap. You use a sysprep file in conjunction and voila, instant desktop - boots from network, etc. Creating an image is just as easy.


The Microsoft stuff is really the best I've found. Couple it with the sysprep tool and a sysprep answer file and you pretty much have everything you need.

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