Automating Windows deployment tasks has always been for me an interesting and rewarding way to save time and energy. After performing countless manual installations of early versions of Windows (not a riveting experience after, say, the first 100 or so repetitions!) I have researched many ways to streamline the process. For example, on the Windows XP CD is the Deploy.cab file which has compressed inside a great tool called Setup Manager. Setup Manager can create unattended answer files that can be placed on a network share or copied onto a floppy disk. Remember floppy disks? I could pop a floppy disk into a computer, boot it from the XP CD and leave the machine alone for 45 minutes or so and it would have XP completely installed when I returned. Setup Manager can also create a set of shared folders and copy Windows setup files for over the network installations. Out-of-box drivers and applications can also be included. Boot a client computer with a DOS floppy, connect to the share, launch setup from the command line with switch parameters that specify the answer file and you can create an installation with any combination of applications that you wish.
Today we have the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 which can be used to automate deployment of Windows 7. It seems similar in some ways to the old XP deployment tools in that it is based around a set of shared folders which in the MDT is called a Deployment Share but it is a much more sophisticated set of technologies. MDT is far more powerful and flexible by itself, but can also be integrated with other tools such as Window Deployment Services on Windows Server 2008 and with System Center Configuration Manager.
With the MDT you can create amazingly elaborate Task Sequences that not only install Windows but also do image preparation and capture. Starting with the release of Windows Vista and Server 2008 all installations of Windows, even from a DVD source, are image-based. Rather than the Windows XP file copy install routine, Windows installation DVDs contain a single file called Install.wim. Install.wim is applied by small utility OS called Windows PE. Windows PE loads into RAM from the DVD and guides the install process. The MDT creates specialized versions of Window PE that can interact with MDTs Task Sequences.
I was able to create a Deployment Share and stock it with standard images of Windows 7, applications and drivers in an afternoon. The MDT can work on both 32 bit and 64 bit Hardware from the same Deployment Share and Deployment Shares can be duplicated onto other servers to support large numbers of clients.
Check out the MDT team blog at: