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Choosing the Best Deployment Method

Published: February 24, 2006
By Jerry Honeycutt
Jerry Honeycutt

The success of your deployment project depends on choosing the best deployment method for your organization. In this article, I describe criteria for making this decision.

The Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) is a great resource for kicking off your project. Microsoft has done much of the work for you by providing planning templates, a script-based deployment framework, and comprehensive guidance. A valuable part of the solution is the planning guidance, which helps you navigate the treacherous desktop-deployment waters.

A decision you must make early in the process is which deployment method is best for your organization. This decision affects the paths you will follow as you progress through the project. In this article, I describe criteria for making this important decision and link you to resources for more information.

Decision Criteria

The following list describes the criteria against which I evaluate each deployment method I describe in this article. I provide advantages and disadvantages for each method and then compare the method to the criteria.

Consider the following criteria when choosing a deployment method:

  • Number of desktops. Small and medium-sized organizations with a small number of computers won’t recover their investments in large-scale deployment technologies. In fact, manually deploying to a small number of desktops is usually quicker than setting up complex deployment infrastructures, particularly when you consider the care and feeding that these infrastructures require.

  • Available information technology (IT) resources. Some deployment methods require more care than others. Organizations without a large IT staff are better suited to methods that don’t require a lot of maintenance. Organizations with more available IT resources can more easily benefit from complex deployment infrastructures. The skill sets of the IT staff and their longevity in these roles also factor into the decision.

  • Environment type. Is your environment homogenous or heterogeneous? A homogenous environment has computers with similar if not identical hardware. A heterogeneous environment has computers with different hardware from desk to desk. Different environments require different methods, and environments with a combination of both are not uncommon.

  • Existing infrastructure. Unless you’re prepared to invest in new infrastructure, your current infrastructure affects the deployment methods available to you. For example, if your environment is already running Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), more choices are available to you.

  • Deployment frequency. How many desktops do you intend to refresh at a time? Deploying larger numbers of desktops simultaneously requires more infrastructure than deploying small numbers. Additionally, the frequency can affect the deployment method you choose, because some methods are better suited to large-scale deployments.

Scripted Installations

Scripted installations are just what the name implies: Windows Setup runs on every computer, and you use answer files and scripts to automate the process. The Microsoft Windows Desktop Deployment Resource Kit provides numerous sample answer files and scripts for automating this process. Table 1 lists the advantages and disadvantages of using scripted installations. (Note that the Solution Accelerator for BDD doesn’t directly support scripted installations. However, you can easily adapt the Solution Accelerator for BDD to them or create your own.)

Table 1. Advantages and Disadvantages of Scripted Installations

Advantages

Disadvantages

Scripted installations work well in heterogeneous environments, because Windows Setup runs on every computer.

Scripted installations are slow, because Windows Setup must copy all installation files from the network.

Scripted installations are extremely flexible, because you can make decisions on the fly during installation.

Scripted installations use a lot of network bandwidth for the same reason. As a result, you can deploy to only a small number of computers at a time.

You can automate scripted installations so that they require minimal user or technician interaction.

 

The following list describes how scripted installations fit in to the criteria I defined earlier:

  • Number of desktops. Because they are easy to set up, deploy, and maintain, small and medium-sized organizations can deploy desktops more quickly and with fewer errors using scripts than by manually installing an operating system on each computer. Scripted installations aren’t always ideal in large organizations, however-primarily because scripts aren’t practical for high volumes of computers. That said, numerous large organizations still use scripted installations because of other criteria.

  • Available IT resources. Scripted installations are quick and easy to develop. As a result, organizations with few IT resources are often limited to using scripted installations. Large organizations can certainly use scripted installations, but doing so isn’t ideal because of the scale of their deployments.

  • Environment type. Other than organization size, environment type is one of the biggest determining factors for using scripted installations. Imaging techniques require more care in heterogeneous environments, whereas scripted installations are ideally suited for this type of environment. During a scripted installation, Windows Setup runs from beginning to end, detecting the hardware installed on each computer. That means that hardware similarity isn’t required, making scripting an ideal solution in environments without hardware standards.

  • Existing infrastructure. More complex deployment methods require more complex infrastructures. However, scripted installations require nothing more than a file server, which most small and medium-sized organizations already have or can install. Thus, in organizations without advanced infrastructures, scripted installations are an easy solution.

  • Deployment frequency. Scripted installations are not ideal when you intend to deploy to large groups of computers at one time, because they’re slow and use a lot of bandwidth. As a result, scripted installations are limited to deploying small numbers of computers at once.

Remote Installation Service

Remote Installation Service (RIS) is a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 component that provides the services necessary to deploy an operating system like Microsoft Windows XP Professional. RIS requires more infrastructure than scripted installations, including:

  • The Microsoft Active Directory directory service

  • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server

  • Microsoft Windows DNS

  • Computers with Pre-Boot eXecution Environment (PXE)-capable network adapters

Table 2 describes the advantages and disadvantages of using RIS as a deployment method.

Note:  I assume that you would use RIS to deploy disk images (Riprep) rather than CD-based installations. Note that the Solution Accelerator for BDD doesn’t support deploying disk images via RIS directly. However, adding this ability to the Solution Accelerator for BDD is straightforward.

Table 2. Advantages and Disadvantages of RIS

Advantages

Disadvantages

Infrastructure is readily available to any organization using Active Directory.

RIS installations are slower and use more bandwidth than other disk-imaging technologies, because RIS must transfer all the installation files across the network for each computer.

RIS disk images allow you to standardize configurations, reducing deployment errors and making ongoing support easier.

You cannot use RIS in upgrade scenarios. RIS works only in integrated installation scenarios.

Adding applications to RIS disk images is easy and allows you to standardize images with applications.

RIS works best in homogenous environments. Heterogeneous environments require you to maintain multiple RIS disk images.

 

Deploying RIS disk images to remote sites is difficult.

 

RIS can capture and deploy images of drive C only.

 

RIS requires Active Directory, DHCP, and Windows DNS.

The following list describes how RIS fits in to the criteria defined earlier:

  • Number of desktops. RIS is not well suited to deploying operating systems to high volumes of computers. In small or medium-sized organizations with small numbers of computers, RIS is a good choice. In large organizations deploying high volumes of computers, other disk-imaging techniques are a better choice.

  • Available IT resources. RIS does not require a lot of IT resources, particularly for ongoing operations. RIS is easy to set up and configure, and building images for RIS is straightforward. RIS is also well within reach of the IT departments of most small and medium-sized organizations, making it an ideal solution in those environments.

  • Environment type. RIS disk images require a homogenous environment; otherwise, you must maintain multiple disk images for different hardware configurations. Organizations with heterogeneous environments can at least use RIS to deploy CD-based images, which are almost identical to scripted installations.

  • Existing infrastructure. RIS requires Active Directory, DHCP, and Windows DNS. Most organizations with managed infrastructures have already deployed these technologies. As a result, RIS is readily available in most organizations and is easy to deploy. However, RIS does require target computers to have PXE-compatible network adapters. Newer computers universally have compatible network adapters, but older computers and network adapters might not.

  • Deployment frequency. RIS is similar to scripted installations-for example, it’s file based. RIS copies all the installation files over the network uncompressed. As a result, RIS is not best suited to high-volume deployments in which you’re deploying large numbers of computers at a time.

RIS is useful in most deployment methods-not necessarily to deploy the operating system, but to start Microsoft Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) remotely. All the deployment methods I describe here require an operating system to start the computer and begin installation. (The Solution Accelerator for BDD uses Windows PE.)

Lite Touch Installation

The Solution Accelerator for BDD has two editions?Standard and Enterprise?that support Lite Touch Installation (LTI) and Zero Touch Installation (ZTI), respectively. With LTI disk imaging, you build a disk image using the Computer Imaging System. Then, technicians deploy the disk image using the Deployment Interview Wizard. A technician must start the deployment on each computer and configure deployment settings. Thereafter, the deployment is fully automated and requires no intervention other than the occasional glimpse to make sure everything is working properly. The infrastructure and software requirements are available at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/desktopdeployment/bdd/2007/default.mspx. Table 3 describes the advantages and disadvantages of using the Solution Accelerator for BDD Standard Edition and LTI.

Table 3. Advantages and Disadvantages of LTI

Advantages

Disadvantages

Deploying disk images is faster and uses less network bandwidth than scripted installations and RIS.

Disk images are better suited to homogenous environments. Heterogeneous environments will likely maintain multiple disk images.

LTI of disk images requires little infrastructure. The minimum requirement is a file server on which to store the solution scripts and disk images.

Disk images aren’t as flexible as scripted installations. To add applications or device drivers, you must rebuild the disk image.

LTI of disk images enables you to deploy standard configurations that reduce errors and make support easier.

RIS You cannot use disk imaging in upgrade scenarios, because disk imaging is an integrated installation technique.

Disk imaging formats the hard disk and installs an entirely new configuration (integrated installation). This scenario ensures that every computer starts from a known state, making it easier to support and manage.

 

Disk images are easy to build and deploy using the Solution Accelerator for BDD. Wizards guide you through the entire process, and the documentation is extensive.

 

The following list describes how LTI fits in to the criteria defined earlier:

  • Number of desktops. LTI is ideally suited for organizations with a small number of desktops. Because a technician or technical savvy user must visit each computer, organizations with large numbers of computers should consider ZTI, instead.

  • Available IT resources. Even the smallest IT departments can achieve LTI. While the guidance is designed for large IT departments with a lot of resources, it easily scales down. As a result, LTI using the Solution Accelerator for BDD is a good fit for small and medium-sized organizations.

  • Environment type. Disk imaging is best suited to homogenous environments in which the hardware is similar if not standardized. In extremely heterogeneous environments, maintaining numerous disk images is not uncommon.

  • Existing infrastructure. LTI requires little infrastructure. Most of the tools, other than disk-imaging software, are free from Microsoft. The only actual infrastructure required is a file server, which puts LTI in range of any organization of any size.

  • Deployment frequency. LTI is better suited to high-volume deployments, because it’s faster and uses less bandwidth than other deployment methods. As a result, organizations that need to deploy large numbers of computers at once should consider LTI over scripted installations.

Zero Touch Installation

The Solution Accelerator for BDD Enterprise Edition uses SMS and the Microsoft Systems Management Server Operating System Deployment (OSD) Feature Pack to provide ZTI. Zero-touch means hands-free, fully automated deployment. The infrastructure and software requirements for ZTI are more extensive and are available at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/desktopdeployment/bdd/2007/default.mspx. Table 4 describes the advantages and disadvantages of using ZTI, which extend those defined in Table 3 for LTI.

Table 4. Advantages and Disadvantages of ZTI

Advantages

Disadvantages

Automates well-documented practices.

Provides granular configuration by role, user, and per inventory.

SMS provides centralized control of the entire project.

ZTI requires an SMS infrastructure.

ZTI requires locked-down environments.

 

ZTI enables scheduling and off-peak deployment.

 

ZTI provides logging and reporting capabilities.

 

ZTI supports large environments, particularly wide area networks (WANs), extremely well.

 

The following list describes how ZTI fits in to the criteria defined earlier:

  • Number of desktops. ZTI is especially suited to large environments with large numbers of computers. It’s not well suited to smaller environments because of the high overhead of maintaining SMS.

  • Available IT resources. ZTI requires significant resources to develop and maintain. It’s beyond the scope of most small and medium-sized organizations’ IT departments.

  • Environment type. Disk imaging is best suited to homogenous environments in which the hardware is similar if not standardized. In extremely heterogeneous environments, maintaining numerous disk images is not uncommon.

  • Existing infrastructure. ZTI requires a significant investment in infrastructure, including deploying SMS. For more information about the infrastructure required, see http://www.microsoft.com/technet/desktopdeployment/bdd/2007/default.mspx.

  • Deployment frequency. ZTI is ideally suited to high-volume deployments in which you must deploy large numbers of computers at a time. In fact, ZTI using the Solution Accelerator for BDD and SMS gives you considerable control over scheduling and reporting.

Making the Choice

Whichever deployment method you choose, make the decision early and make sure it’s an informed decision. Table 5 compares all the methods I describe to the outlined criteria.

Table 5. Deployment Method Summary

Criterion

Scripted Installation

RIS

LTI

ZTI

Best suited to small or large numbers of computers?

Small

Small

Small

Large

In scope of small IT departments?

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Best suited to homogenous or heterogeneous environments?

Homogenous

Heterogeneous

Heterogeneous

Heterogeneous

Requires light or heavy infrastructure?

Light

Light

Light

Moderate

Best suited for low- or high-volume deployments?

Low

Low

Low

High

For More Information

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About the Author
Jerry Honeycutt is a writer, speaker, and technologist. He has written more than 25 books, including Microsoft Windows Desktop Deployment Resource Kit (Microsoft Press, 2004). Jerry's consulting practice is in the Dallas, Texas, area, but he travels frequently. For more information about Jerry, see his complete bio, visit http://www.honeycutt.com, or contact him at jerry@honeycutt.com.


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