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Geek of All Trades: Automate the wizard

You can automate the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2012 Windows Deployment Wizard and save yourself considerable time and effort.

Greg Shields

You grew up using Ghost. You’ve gotten comfortable with Windows Deployment Services (WDS), but you still feel like something’s missing in your desktop deployment strategy.

Thanks to WDS, you can image a desktop in less than 20 minutes just about anywhere on your network. You’ve fully automated the process. Even your junior admin can’t screw up a desktop deployment when hitting F12 once is the only step to remember. Yet you can’t shake that nagging feeling there’s got to be something more … more automated, more granular, more useful than what WDS delivers by itself.

That nagging feeling you have is spot on. Microsoft’s next step in fulfilling that “something more” is the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2012. It’s a free tool that’s more powerful than WDS alone, but not as comprehensive as System Center Configuration Manager. The MDT offers a perfect middle ground if you demand slightly more automation for your Windows desktop deployments.

MDT: Like starting over

The MDT adds configuration granularity and automation to the deployment experience. However, using this deployment solution right out of the box can seem like starting over. Many of your WDS automations will suddenly no longer be present. The MDT might be able to launch a refresh from within the desktop’s original OS, but doing so requires responding to a litany of wizard screens.

You’ve found the MDT Windows Deployment Wizard (see Figure 1) by launching LiteTouch.vbs on a desktop you’re ready to refresh. You’re impressed with its new options. You just want your full automation back. Here’s how to get it.

More granularity, less automation … at first.

Figure 1 More granularity, less automation … at first.

Fully automate LTI

Microsoft breaks deployments into a short list of scenarios. Its Zero-Touch Installation (ZTI) scenario offers zero-touch installation with the help of Configuration Manager. ZTI is called “zero-touch” because your physical presence at each desktop is replaced by a Configuration Manager client. ZTI is an efficient solution for the IT shop that owns System Center licenses, but not everyone can afford the luxury of using Configuration Manager.

The Microsoft Light-Touch Installation (LTI) scenario takes the level of automation down slightly, and eliminates the need for Configuration Manager. Because you don’t have Configuration Manager clients on every machine, you must be present at each computer to kick off each desktop deployment. The goal of LTI is to minimize how long that presence is required.

Adding the MDT to an already-automated WDS infrastructure can maintain most of your WDS deployment automations. Your unattended installation scripts can still answer the deployment questions. It’s eliminating the Windows Deployment Wizard itself that requires extra effort. Microsoft calls this the (somewhat confusingly named) Fully Automated LTI deployment scenario.

Eliminating or reducing pages in the Windows Deployment Wizard involves hacking your MDT Deployment Share rules. The Rules tab (see Figure 2) shows you your share’s properties. These rules define the behaviors of the MDT. This is where you define answers to virtually all the questions it will ask.

Automate via manipulating the Rules.

Figure 2 Automate via manipulating the Rules.

Finding the properties in the first place is the hardest part. The property list is buried inside the MDT Toolkit Reference. You can access inside the DeploymentWorkbench Information Center | Documentation (see Figure 3).

Find the Toolkit Reference and you’re well underway.

Figure 3 Find the Toolkit Reference and you’re well underway.

Search the Toolkit Reference for the document, “Providing Properties for Skipped Deployment Wizard Pages.” Table 6 of this document will list the properties you’ll need to add in your Deployment Share Rules tab to start skipping pages.

If you want to bypass wizard pages, you’ll have to provide answers for the questions asked on those pages. You can accomplish this by defining the properties that correspond to each question (see Figure 4). For example, to skip the Task Sequence page, set the SkipTaskSequence property to “Yes” in your Deployment Share Rules tab. Then, set the TaskSequenceID property to the Task Sequence you want to deploy.

Skipping Windows Deployment Wizard pages is one way to automate.

Figure 4 Skipping Windows Deployment Wizard pages is one way to automate.

Bypassing the Welcome page, for example, requires setting SkipBDDWelcome to Yes. You can skip others by specifying only the properties that define the proper answers. Repeat this process for each page that contains questions you’ll need to answer in advance. You can skip the wizard in its entirety by setting SkipWizard to Yes and then providing answers for all of the additional properties the wizard requires.

Pay careful attention to the SkipComputerName property. Skipping this page requires you to define the OSDComputerName property to name the computer. Because every computer name must be different, you’ll need to use a variable to define the deployed computer’s name. You can use %SerialNumber% or %AssetTag%. Or, with a little additional effort, you can use the MDT Deployment Database as a storage location for computer name mapping.

By definition LTI still requires a person to be present to kick off a deployment. As a result, the simplest option in naming each computer might just be the easiest. This option avoids skipping the Computer Details page, but prepopulates the JoinDomain and DomainAdmin properties to speed up the process. This option adds a step to each deployment, but gives you the freedom of determining each computer’s name at each deployment.

Full automation and configuration granularity

Like WDS, the MDT by itself is merely a framework for desktop configurations. Once installed, it’s your job to add the drivers, updates, images and applications you want to deploy to desktops. This requires some extra up-front effort in packaging applications and building automations, but the reward is a desktop deployment infrastructure that can deploy just about any image, anywhere, for any reason.

Greg Shields
Greg Shields, MVP, is a partner at Concentrated Technology. Get more of Shields’ Geek of All Trades tips and tricks at ConcentratedTech.com.

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