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High-Touch with Standard Image

Applies to: Windows 8.1, Windows 8

In this series:

The High-Touch with Standard Image strategy that Figure 1 shows is for small organizations that have an IT generalist on staff and that often use partners to help with technology adoption. Small organizations using this strategy usually have 100–200 client computers with small, unmanaged networks in distributed locations.

Figure 1. High-Touch with Standard Image Strategy

Typically, these organizations manually install the Windows 8.1 operating system from retail or Microsoft Volume Licensing (VL) media, manually install applications from their media, and then manually configure the computers to suit their needs. IT pros often begin using answer files to automate Windows 8.1 installations—a technique that the High-Touch with Retail Media strategy advocates.

Investing in a major deployment infrastructure provides limited returns for a small organization, but customizing and deploying a standard image can help those organizations save time and money by making deployment faster and more consistent with fewer problems. In addition, organizations can begin to take advantage of more solutions from Microsoft, which helps them transition to more automation as they grow.

Like the High-Touch with Retail Media strategy, this strategy advocates a high-touch installation, but it uses a standard configuration image instead of the retail image. This strategy works well in organizations with more technical IT staff, and it scales to 100–200 client computers. It can provide faster deployment with fewer problems without requiring a big investment to support an infrequent task.

About the strategy

When installing Windows 8.1 in small organizations, users run the Windows Setup program from the retail or VL media and answer each prompt. Afterward, they install applications and configure the client computer to meet their requirements. This process is repetitive, problematic, and inefficient. Users repeat the same manual steps, leading to inconsistent configurations that do not always work correctly.

Small organizations can create a more efficient deployment process by using Windows Setup to customize and install a standard image, which is a snapshot of a computer that you have configured with applications and settings. Organizations can create standard images that include computer settings, device drivers, line-of-business applications, and so on. As advocated by the High-Touch with Retail Media strategy, this process also helps automate installation, allowing the IT pro to bypass interaction with Windows Setup during installation.

After creating a standard image, the organization uses Windows Setup to refresh client computers with the new image instead of using the retail or VL image that Microsoft provides. Using a custom image provides the following benefits:

  • Fewer problems and reduced support issues, because configurations are consistent across all client computers
  • Faster deployment, because the images include settings, applications, and so on
  • Reduced deployment validation and testing time
  • Many updates to the standard image can be performed offline without having to install, customize, and recapture the image

In addition, the High-Touch with Standard Image strategy allows small organizations to provide their original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with these images when ordering new client computers. This in turn allows the organizations to receive new computers with their custom image already installed. So, deployment to new client computers is not a process that many small organizations need to perform—they simply unpack the computer, turn it on, and connect it to their network. Although this strategy focuses on refreshing existing client computers with a standard image, you can ask your OEM to use that image on new client computers to save you time and money.

Strategy requirements

The following elements are required to use the High-Touch with Standard Image strategy:

  • Windows 8.1 retail or VL media provided by Microsoft
  • Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK)
  • Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool (included with Windows 8.1)
  • Microsoft System Preparation (Sysprep) tool (included with Windows 8.1)
  • Windows Easy Transfer (included with Windows 8.1)
  • USB flash drive or USB hard disk from which to install the standard image
  • Reference computer on which to create and customize the master image
  • Optionally, Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT; included in the Windows ADK)

Strategy limitations

The High-Touch with Standard Image strategy has limitations that could lead a small organization to consider network deployment with the Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment strategy. If any of the following issues describes your organization, consider using the Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment strategy:

  • The strategy doesn’t scale. The High-Touch with Standard Image strategy doesn’t scale to larger organizations, because it requires media (such as a USB flash drive) and a technician to deploy Windows 8.1 to the client computers. Larger organizations can consider a Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment strategy to better automate installation and provide a self-service capability to users.
  • The strategy works best with one image. This strategy works well in small organizations with similar applications and configuration requirements across most of its client computers. Organizations that require multiple images (i.e., each department requires completely different applications) should consider a Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment strategy that uses thin images—Windows images with little or no customization. After installing thin images, you can manually or automatically install applications, device drivers, and updates on each computer.
  • The strategy works best when image changes are made only rarely. Licensing restrictions limit the number of times that you can update an image to which Sysprep has been applied online. For best results, start the image-creation and update process by installing Windows 8.1 from retail or VL media. Organizations that update their images frequently should consider using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, which allows automation of the standard image-creation process. For more information, see the Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment strategy.
  • Upgrade is not supported. When deploying a standard image, upgrading an existing Windows installation and preserving users’ applications is not supported. Instead, you must refresh computers with a new Windows 8.1 installation, and then migrate users’ files and settings. If you use this strategy, Microsoft recommends using Windows Easy Transfer to migrate users’ files and settings. Optionally, you can replace Windows Easy Transfer with the Windows User State Migration Tool.

Deployment process

Creating the standard image for the High-Touch with Standard Image strategy is an online process, which means that the small organization’s IT generalist or partner installs Windows 8.1 on a reference client computer; customizes it as required by installing applications, device drivers, and updates; and then captures an image. After capturing the custom image, the organization can deploy the image to its client computers. In addition, small organizations can maintain images offline, which allows them to easily update their images with new operating system updates and device drivers as they become available.

Table 1 describes the high-level deployment process for using the High-Touch with Standard Image strategy. The left column describes the step, and the right column contains links to detailed information about completing that step. Because each image supports only a single architecture (x86 or x64), perform the steps in the table for each operating system used in the organization.

Table 1. High-Touch with Standard Image Strategy

StepMore Information
1. Optionally, use the ACT to prioritize your organization’s applications, determine the compatibility status, and consolidate applications. The ACT can help organizations triage and remediate applications that do not work correctly in Windows 8.1.
2. Install Windows 8.1 on the reference client computer from the retail or VL media. Microsoft recommends that you use an answer file (Unattend.xml) to install Windows on the reference computer to make this process consistent and reproducible.
3. On the reference client computer, install any applications, device drivers, and updates you want to include in the master image. In addition, configure computer settings that you want to include in the master image.
  • None

4. On the reference client computer, run Sysprep to generalize the image, and then shut down the computer. Some applications are not accommodating to Sysprep, and it is important that you test them fully. If Sysprep issues occur, Microsoft recommends that you automate the installation of these applications at deployment time by using an Unattend.xml file.

note iconImportant: Do not deploy a standard image on which you have not run Sysprep.
5. Start the reference client computer by using the Windows Preinstallation Environment, and then capture an image of it by using Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM). Copy the image to a removable storage device, such as a USB flash drive, or a network share.

6. Prepare the media for Windows 8.1 installation. Perform one of the following tasks:

  • Create an answer file (Unattend.xml) that points to the image you copied to the removable storage device or network share in the previous step.
  • Create a new installation media, and replace the Install.wim file on the media with the file that you captured in the previous step.
7. Optionally, use Windows Easy Transfer to save users’ documents and settings from the computer (you will restore them after refreshing the computer).
8. Install the standard image on each client computer. If you created new installation media, start the computer by using the media, or run Setup.exe from the previous Windows installation. Otherwise, run Windows Setup with the answer file that you created earlier.
9. Optionally, use Windows Easy Transfer to restore users’ documents and settings to the computer.
10. Users of retail media must activate their computers online.
  • None


note iconNote: By using DISM, you can service custom images offline, which means that you can update device drivers and operating system packages (for example, hotfixes, language packs) without installing, configuring, and recapturing the image. Offline servicing makes it easier to keep your standard image updated. You can also service images online by repeating the process this strategy describes.


Additional resources