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What Is Unattended Installation?

Updated: March 28, 2003

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

 

What Is Unattended Installation?

In this section

Unattended installation is an automated installation technology in Microsoft Windows Server 2003 that you can use to install or upgrade an operating system with minimal user intervention. Unattended installation is typically used during large-scale rollouts when it would be too slow and costly to have administrators or technicians interactively install the operating system on individual computers.

One of the essential components of an unattended installation is an answer file. An answer file is a simple text file that instructs the Windows Setup program how to install and configure the operating system. To perform an unattended installation, you run Setup with a special command-line parameter that instructs Setup to read the answer file. Then, during the setup process, instead of prompting you for installation and configuration information interactively, Setup follows the instructions contained in the answer file.

The following figure shows how an unattended installation differs from an interactive setup.

Comparison of Unattended Installation and Interactive Setup

Unattended Installation versus Interactive Setup

Like all automated installation technologies, unattended installation has many benefits that standard interactive setup does not.

Fewer errors during installation

Because unattended installation uses an answer file to install and configure the operating system, there is minimal interaction by administrators or technicians during the setup process. This reduces the number of errors that are introduced during the setup process.

Greater consistency during a rollout

By using the same answer file to install and configure the operating system, you can ensure that all of the computers in your organization are set up exactly the same way.

Shorter installation times

Unattended installation is faster than interactive setup because Setup does not have to prompt administrators or technicians for configuration information and wait for them to enter it; instead, Setup reads configuration settings from an answer file.

Lower support costs

By minimizing errors during the setup process, increasing the consistency of the computers in your organization, and reducing the amount of time a technician needs to spend setting up a computer, you can reduce the overall support costs in your organization.

Unattended installation is a suitable automated installation technology if you need to:

  • Upgrade a Windows operating system to Microsoft Windows XP Professional, Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition; or Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition operating systems.

  • Perform clean, automated installations on computers that have heterogeneous hardware configurations.

  • Perform clean, automated installations on specific types of servers, such as domain controllers, remote access servers, and servers that run Certificate Services or the Cluster service.

  • Configure a wide range of operating system settings during an automated installation without using batch files and scripts.

Common Unattended Installation Scenarios

Although unattended installation is a robust installation technology, and can be used to roll out many types of server configurations, some installation scenarios are particularly well suited for unattended installation.

Heterogeneous Hardware

Unattended installation is ideal if you are installing the same server configuration on computers that have dissimilar or heterogeneous hardware. For example, you can use unattended installation to roll out the same file server configuration to a group of computers that have different processor configurations and different storage configurations because an unattended installation can detect and install the appropriate hardware abstraction layer (HAL) and the appropriate hard disk controller during the installation process. Other automated installation technologies — particularly image-based technologies — have a limited ability to detect and install different HALs and hard disk controllers during the installation process.

In addition, unattended installation is equally adept at handling other hardware differences, including differences among network adapters, media devices (CD drives), and video adapter cards. In large part, this is because unattended installation is just an automated process that uses the standard Setup program. Therefore, whatever device Setup can detect or install, unattended installation can also detect or install.

Upgrades

You can use unattended installation to upgrade a Windows server operating system to Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition or Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition operating systems. You cannot use unattended installation to upgrade a Windows operating system to Windows Server 2003, Web Edition. No other automated installation technology can perform upgrades.

Unattended upgrade installations are commonly performed by small organizations that have only a limited number of servers and a limited number of IT professionals to perform installations. An unattended upgrade installation is preferred in this situation because existing server settings are retained during an upgrade (for example, user rights, groups, and permissions settings), and applications and files do not need to be reinstalled.

The following table shows the types of upgrades that you can perform by using unattended installation.

Types of Upgrades by Using Unattended Installation of Windows Server 2003

 

Existing Operating System Upgrade to Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition Upgrade to Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition

Microsoft Windows NT Server 3.51

 

 

Microsoft Windows NT Server version 4.0 (with Service Pack 5)

Table Bullet Table Bullet

Microsoft Windows NT version 4.0, Terminal Server Edition

Table Bullet Table Bullet

Microsoft Windows NT version 4.0, Enterprise Edition

 

Table Bullet

Microsoft Windows 2000 Server

Table Bullet Table Bullet

Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server

 

Table Bullet

Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition

 

Table Bullet

There are three exceptions to the upgrades listed in the previous table:

  • You cannot upgrade from one localized version of a Windows operating system to another localized version of a Windows operating system. For example, you cannot upgrade from the Japanese version of Windows 2000 Server to the English version of Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition.

  • You cannot upgrade the operating system of a computer that has the Multilingual User Interface Pack (MUI Pack) except to the English version of the operating system.

  • You cannot upgrade the operating system from Windows NT 4.0 unless you have Service Pack 5 or later installed. It is not possible to upgrade from Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4 or earlier.

Note

  • You cannot use unattended installation to install or upgrade to Windows Server 2003, Datacenter Edition.

Domain Controllers and Servers Running Certificate Services and Cluster Service

Unattended installation is an ideal automated installation technology for deploying domain controllers, and member servers that run Certificate Services and Cluster service. Although you can use other automated installation technologies to deploy these types of servers, those technologies require you to use scripts or supplemental answer files after the automated installation is finished. With unattended installation, the answer file contains all of the necessary settings for installing these types of servers.

Master Installations for Image-based Deployment Technologies

You can use unattended installation to create master installations for image-based installation technologies, such as the System Preparation (Sysprep) tool, or Remote Installation Services (RIS) when it is being used for image-based installation. For example, to use Sysprep, you need to create a master installation from which you create a disk image. You can create the master installation manually by running Setup, and then manually configuring operating system settings and installing software, or you can automate the creation of the master installation by performing an unattended installation on the master computer.

By using unattended installation to create master installations you:

  • Introduce fewer installation errors because unattended installation relies on an answer file for configuration settings.

  • Enhance consistency among all of your master installations because you can use the same answer file as a basis for each of your master installations.

  • Decrease the amount of time it takes to modify and create a master installation because unattended installation is much simpler and quicker than manual installation.

  • Maintain a record of each of your master installations because the settings are all recorded in an answer file (with the exception of password and product key information).

Unattended Installation Dependencies

To perform an unattended installation, you need the following:

  • Answer file

  • Operating system files, including the Windows Setup program

Because an unattended installation is an automated way of using Setup, you can perform an unattended installation only by running one of the two Windows Setup programs, Winnt.exe or Winnt32.exe. Winnt.exe is a 16-bit Setup program that you can use to perform an unattended installation by starting a destination computer with a 16-bit operating systems such as MS-DOS. Winnt32.exe is a 32-bit Setup program that you can use to perform an unattended installation by starting a destination computer with a 32-bit operating system such as Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003. You can also perform an unattended installation on an Itanium architecture-based computer by running Winnt32.exe from the command prompt on the following: Windows XP 64-Bit Edition; the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition; or the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003, Datacenter Edition.

An answer file can be created in two ways: by using a text editor such as Notepad, or by using Setup Manager (Setupmgr.exe). Setup Manager is a wizard-like tool that prompts you for a series of configuration parameters, and then writes your responses to an answer file.

You also need a Windows Server 2003 product CD, or a shared distribution folder (“distribution share”) that contains the Windows Server 2003 installation files. If you store the installation files on a distribution share, each of your destination computers needs a high-speed network connection and appropriate permissions to access the server on which the distribution share resides.

Technologies Related to Unattended Installation

Unattended installation is similar to two other automated installation technologies: image-based installation with the Sysprep tool and Remote Installation Services (RIS) installation. Like unattended installation, these technologies are designed specifically as mass roll-out or deployment solutions. Although you can use these technologies to automate the installation of Windows Server 2003, each of these technologies is based on a different installation process, and relies on a different set of programs and tools.

Image-based installation with Sysprep

Image-based installation with the Sysprep tool is a method of copying, also known as cloning, preconfigured operating systems and software applications to servers.

Image-based installation with Sysprep is a suitable automated installation technology if you need to:

  • Install identical operating systems and software configurations on multiple computers.

  • Install an operating system and software configuration as quickly as possible.

  • Eliminate administrator and technician interaction during the setup process.

  • Minimize post-installation tasks.

  • Perform clean installations of an operating system, rather than upgrade existing installations.

  • Install operating systems on computers that have similar hardware and a compatible HAL.

You need two tools to perform an image-based installation with Sysprep: Sysprep, which can be found on any Windows Server 2003 product CD; and a disk-imaging program. Usually, you use a non-Microsoft disk-imaging program, which you must purchase from a vendor. However, you can instead perform an image-based installation with Sysprep by using Windows Server 2003 Automated Deployment Services (ADS). ADS is part of the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), and can be used to rapidly deploy Windows server operating systems.

Image-based installation with Sysprep requires substantial planning and design, but it is the fastest method of installing operating systems and applications. You cannot use it to perform operating system upgrades.

RIS installation

RIS installation is a method of cleanly installing an operating system and applications over a network with minimal administrator or technician interaction. RIS uses Pre-Boot Execution Environment (PXE) technology to enable client computers without an operating system to start up from a PXE-enabled network adapter and connect remotely to a RIS server, which installs a supported operating system.

RIS is a suitable automated installation technology if you need to:

  • Eliminate administrator and technician interaction during the setup process.

  • Minimize post-installation tasks.

  • Perform clean installations of an operating system, rather than upgrade existing installations.

RIS installation is more complex and requires more upfront configuration and planning than image-based installation and unattended installation. However, RIS installation is an efficient deployment technology if you have a high-speed network and you need to perform clean installations of operating systems and preconfigured applications on a large number of computers.

Related Information

The following resources contain additional information that is relevant to this section.

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