Building Windows 7 Installation Images for Multiple Audiences
Published: October 2009
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Do you have limited resources to deploy Windows 7 in your organization? Learn how Microsoft IT (MSIT) optimized its enterprise Windows 7 image to maximize end user productivity and provide a seamless client experience. The Windows 7 installation image was configured to meet corporate hardware and software standards. If the installation encountered non-standard hardware or software, the image directly re-routed the user to Windows Update so that they could quickly and easily be up and running.
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This article describes the best practices that MSIT uses to build multiple Windows images for internal Microsoft users. It shows how MSIT controls support costs and at the same time ensures that their clients have a great experience moving from Windows Vista to Windows 7. It also describes how MSIT layers the builds with different components and how they use version 4.0 of the User State Migration Tool (USMT) to do clean self-installations.
MSIT provides global PC standards (PCs, workstations, video devices, mice, and so on) and operating system images to approximately 100,000 internal clients. For the Windows 7 deployment, the core focus was on controlling costs. MSIT didn't want users to call the Microsoft Helpdesk for support with the deployment. When users get frustrated, they're not as productive, and Helpdesk calls are expensive. MSIT also wanted to provide a seamless migration. The goal was to transfer user data and settings while minimizing disruptions to productivity.
MSIT adopted a retail model to achieve its goals. They wanted their clients to have the same out-of-the-box experience as if they purchased their computer from a retailer. When a user buys a computer from a retailer, the image is pre-loaded by the manufacturer. Users add basic information about themselves and the image walks them through the process. If it's done well, users don't have to call the Helpdesk.
MSIT provides end users with a few installation options. Users can self-install at any time by doing a network-boot of their machine through the Windows Deployment Services (WDS) or, if users are not connected to the corporate network, they can download the image to a DVD or a USB drive and install at their convenience. Either way, the image provides them with a step-by-step process to install the operating system and the core applications and tools that all Microsoft employees need to get up and running quickly. Having a common set of tools is a core part of controlling build costs. When MSIT releases images each quarter or adds patches or any new applications, it is essentially a very predictable process.
MSIT provides 32-bit and 64-bit images. There is currently a big internal migration to 64-bit to take advantage of the machines that MSIT has purchased over the last few years that have 64-bit capability. There's also a big push for virtualization. But it's still an end user choice whether to install 32-bit or 64-bit.
The Image Build Process
In building the image, MSIT identified four components that were critical for success:
- The foundation OS
- A core set of drivers
- A core set of applications
- A communications layer to provide support pointers and user guides
The Foundation OS Component
The foundation OS is Windows 7 Enterprise.
The Drivers Component
MSIT delivers a core set of drivers through a partnership with the Windows Update team. All of the PC enterprise standards—the major OEMs and players in Tier 1—are supported on Windows Update. Other enterprises can leverage the driver coverage on Windows Update so that the end user doesn't have to worry about installing a video driver, a Wi-Fi card driver, and so on. In comparison to Windows Vista, the coverage in Windows 7 is much more comprehensive. That's a big win for enterprise customers.
The Applications Component
For the applications component, MSIT doesn't include every application that every user at Microsoft needs—just the most common tools and applications, including Microsoft Office, a virus solution, a PDF reader, and RAS (Microsoft's VPN solution).
The Communications Component
The communications component includes the installation guides. For example, MSIT added a domain join feature for users that are inside the firewall running a WDS build. These users are automatically joined to the domain at the end of the build process. For users in remote locations outside the corporate environment, MSIT provides a communications guide to walk users through the process of joining their machine to the enterprise domain instead of to a local workgroup. These self-service communications guides help MSIT avoid calls to the Helpdesk.
Tying the Components Together with the Task Sequencer and XML Files
MSIT uses a task sequencer to "lay down" the drivers and applications. The task sequencer also keeps users informed throughout the whole process and lets users know where they are within the process. Keeping users aware of what to expect from the image is fundamental. For example, if there are 48 components to install, and 27 components have already been installed, the user might have time to do something else in the meantime. Keeping users informed builds confidence that everything is happening as planned and cuts down on calls to the Helpdesk.
MSIT developed the task sequencer internally, but didn�t invest a lot of development hours to create the tool. The task sequencer is just a script that ties together a series of buckets. Many enterprises do a similar activity where they take unattend files and driver payloads and tie them together with the branding and the communications information that keeps the user informed.
"The great thing about USMT is that it migrates user data and user and application settings from the user profile without any involvement from the user."
MSIT uses XML files to control the setup experience (unattend.xml file) and the out-of-the-box experience (oobe.xml). The oobe.xml file contains the brand information—the MSIT logo and support information. Once the image is fully configured, the support links within the user interface point to MSIT internal support resources like FastHelp, a web-based, virtual customer-service representative.
The end result is that after users go through the build process, they are able to log on to the network and get to work with the applications and tools that they need in about one hour.
The User State Migration Tool
MSIT uses USMT version 4.0 for the Windows 7 deployment. With USMT 4.0, MSIT can do clean installations instead of updates while migrating user data and settings. The USMT technology, which is part of the Windows Automatic Installation Kit (AIK), has been available for several years, but version 4.0 has significant new features. The great thing about USMT is that it migrates user data and user and application settings from the user profile without any involvement from the user. This is what enables MSIT to do clean installations instead of updates. For example, users typically customize their Windows desktop by arranging icons and adding a background. They might also create user-defined function keys. After going through the build process using USMT, when a user logs on to Windows 7, the icons are in the same place, the background is the same, and all of the user-defined function keys work. There is no extra activity required by the end user to pull all of this together.
How it Works
In a typical Windows Setup process, when installing a new OS on top of an old OS, Windows Setup creates a windows.old folder. That folder contains all of the information—the OS files and the user profile—that makes it possible to do a restore in case something goes wrong. Once Windows 7 Setup finishes and the task sequencer begins to do its process, USMT captures the state of the user and stores all of those settings. The big difference between USMT 3.x and USMT 4.0 is hard links. In USMT 3.x, it was necessary to have external storage for the user data and settings. USMT 4.0 just creates references to the files that are already on the hard drive. If a user needs to restore the system, rather than moving the files out of storage, USMT populates the links. The files are never moved. This means that MSIT doesn't have to worry about space limitations before beginning the OS installation process. They don't have to have file servers to store data temporarily and they don't have to worry if the user loses connectivity.
MSIT provides a consistent user experience whether a user installs Windows 7 from the network or from a DVD or USB drive. The image build process incorporates the foundation OS, a core set of drivers, a core set of applications, and the communications and branding information to keep the user informed during the process. USMT 4.0 enables MSIT to do clean installations, moving user data and settings to the new system. For users, it all "just works" and they don't need to call the Microsoft Helpdesk. They are able to get up and running quickly with the new operating system and the tools that they need to be productive.
For More Information
Please visit http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee255996.aspx to see a multimedia presentation on the content of this article.
For additional IT Showcase Windows 7 content, please visit http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb687804.aspx#7.
For more information about USMT version 4.0, visit MSDN and TechNet.
For more IT Showcase content, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/technet/itshowcase
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