Building Windows 7 Images
Alan Le Marquand
In the previous post we looked at the key information and first steps required to perform a successful deployment of Windows 7, and we looked in some detail at one of the main concerns organizations have when deploying a new OS; application compatibility. In this post we’ll look at the resources available to help prepare for the actual deployment of Windows 7.
Efficient deployment of a Windows OS to many different machines usually involves using an image. Until very recently that image was a sector-based image and organizations usually had one for each type of client hardware they own.
Today we have file-based images in the Windows Imaging Format (WIM). This format offers a number of advantages over sector-based images, such as being hardware agnostic within processor architecture, e.g. you will need separate images for x86 and x64 processors. WIMs are usually smaller than their sector-based image equivalent and easier to maintain and patch. You don’t need hundreds of WIMs to support your client hardware base, and they allow for more flexible deployment options. Along with this new image format comes a slew of new tools and documentation to help create and maintain them. The main tool is the Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows 7. I called it a tool; in fact it’s a suite of tools and documentation to help with image creation and maintenance.
The one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the concept; regardless of whether you use sector-based images or file-based images you do start with a reference machine, prepare it for capture, and then capture it. What has changed is the way you do this and the strategy you follow. In the article Choosing an Image Strategy and Building Windows 7 System Images, the 3 primary strategies for imaging are discussed. In brief, these are “Thick”, “Thin”, and “Hybrid”.
A “Thick” image is one that contains the OS and all applications you want to have available as soon as the imaging process is complete. As the name suggests, it’s the bigger of the imaging strategies.
A “Thin” image is effectively the opposite of “Thick”, containing the very basic information, leaving other items like the applications to be handled at deployment time.
Finally, “Hybrid” is a combination of the other two, where core applications needed for immediate use are installed, and others are handled at deployment time or later.
Which one to use depends on your requirements, but the tools to create the images for the three strategies are the same. The core tools are Windows PE, SysPrep, ImageX, and DSIM (Deployment Image Servicing and Management). These tools, in order, allow you to boot a machine to install Windows 7, prepare it for capture and deployment, capture the image ready for deployment, and then subsequently maintain it. I could write about the process, even point you to the training kit for Configuring Windows 7; (Imaging is approximately 13% of exam 70-680), but it’s better to see it in action. To see these tools in action watch the following videos: Sysprep and ImageX being used to generalize and capture a custom and DSIM servicing an offline mounted Windows 7 image.
The creation and maintenance of images these days is pretty straightforward and certainly a lot more efficient. If you are not using file-based Windows Image format (WIM), download and read over this: Deployment A-Z for Windows 7. Once you have you images ready, the next step is to get them onto the clients. In the final post we will look at ways to get the image file onto a client machine.