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Windows 8.1 deployment strategies

Applies to: Windows 8.1, Windows 8

In this series:

Microsoft recommends a few targeted strategies for deploying the Windows 8.1 operating system. These strategies range from manually configuring Windows 8.1 on a few client computers to using automated tools and technologies to deploy the operating system to thousands of computers.

Following are details about four recommended deployment strategies. After you have chosen a strategy, you can click on its link to obtain more detailed information.

  • High-Touch with Retail Media. A hands-on manual deployment method in which you use the retail media with an Unattend.xml file to install Windows 8.1 on each client computer. With this method, you must manually install applications on and configure each computer. This strategy can save your organization time and money by helping you automate portions of the installation process. Microsoft recommends this strategy if your organization does not have dedicated IT staff and a small, unmanaged network with fewer than 100 client computers.
  • High-Touch with Standard Image. This strategy is similar to the High-Touch with Retail Media strategy but uses an operating system image that includes your customizations and application configurations. Microsoft recommends this strategy if your organization has at least one IT pro (with or without prior deployment experience) on staff and a small or distributed network with 100–200 client computers.
  • Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment. This strategy requires limited interaction during deployment. Interaction occurs at the beginning of installation, but the remainder of the process is automated. Microsoft recommends this strategy if your organization has dedicated IT staff and a managed network with 200–500 client computers. Prior deployment experience is not required but is beneficial.
  • Zero-Touch, High-Volume Deployment. This strategy requires no interaction during deployment but instead offers a fully automated installation through Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager. Microsoft recommends this strategy if your IT organization has experts in deployment, networking, and Configuration Manager as well as a managed network with 500 or more client computers.
note iconNote: For a complete view of Windows 8.1 resources, articles, demos, and guidance, please visit the Windows 8.1 TechCenter.

Table 1 provides guidelines for choosing a strategy based on factors such as the skill level of your organization’s IT staff, your organization’s license agreement, the number of client computers, and your infrastructure.

To use the strategy table, choose the column that best matches your organization’s network scenario. In cases where you identify with multiple columns, start with the leftmost column. As you move to the right, the solutions require more skills and investment to implement, and they provide for quicker, more thorough, and more automated deployments.

As you plan to deploy more computers, consider improving your scenario to enable you to move right in the strategy table. For example, if the only criterion preventing you from performing a Lite-Touch, High-Volume deployment is that you are using retail media, consider purchasing a volume license. Click the link in the heading of the chosen column to read more about implementing that particular strategy.

Table 1. Deployment strategy

  High-Touch with Retail Media High-Touch with Standard Image Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment Zero-Touch, High-Volume Deployment
IT skill levelIT generalistIT pro with optional deployment experienceIT pro with deployment experience recommended
  • IT pro with deployment experience
  • Configuration Manager expertise
Windows license agreementRetail
  • Retail
  • Microsoft Software Assurance (SA)
SAEnterprise agreement
Number of client computersless than 100100–200200–500greater than 500
  • Distributed locations
  • Small, unmanaged networks
  • Manual client computer configuration
  • Distributed locations
  • Small networks
  • Standardized configurations, including applications
  • Managed networks
  • At least one office with more than 25 users
  • Windows Server products
  • Configuration Manager (optional)
  • Managed network
  • At least one office with more than 25 users
  • Windows Server products
  • Configuration Manager
Application supportManually installed commercial applicationsManually installed commercial or line-of-business (LOB) applicationsAutomatically installed commercial or LOB applicationsAutomatically installed commercial or LOB applications
User interactionManual, hands-on deploymentManual, hands-on deploymentLimited interaction at the beginning of installationFully automated deployment
Lower cost and effort by . . . . . . automating Windows 8.1 installation . . . creating standardized images . . . providing network-based installation to support large-scale deployment with limited interaction . . . providing network-based installation to support large scale-deployment with no interaction
Helping to . . . . . . create reproducible and faster client computer installation . . . reduce configuration testing and deployment time . . . leverage standardized images with network access by using pull automation . . . leverage standardized images with network access by using push automation
Windows 8.1 tools
  • Windows ADK
  • Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT; included in the Windows ADK)
  • Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool (included in Windows 8.1)
  • Microsoft System Preparation (Sysprep) tool (included in Windows 8.1)
  • Windows Easy Transfer (included in Windows 8.1)

Additional resources