Thursday, May 28, 2009

Software Deployment in Windows, courtesy of Admin Arsenal

One of the blogs that I read frequently is Admin Arsenal. To be honest, they're really the only commercial/corporate blog that I follow, because it's about many aspects of Windows administration, and doesn't just focus on their product.

Shawn Anderson, one of the guys who works there (and a frequent reader here on Standalone Sysadmin), took me up on my offer of hosting guest blog spots, and asked if I would host something written by the Admin Arsenal staff. I agreed, under the condition that the entry wasn't a commercial disguised as a blog entry. Of course their product is mentioned in this entry, but I don't feel that it is over the top or out of place.

The topic we discussed was remote software installation on Windows, something that has always seemed like black magic to me, someone who has no Windows background, and I figured it would be something that many of you would be interested in as well.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I am not getting paid or reimbursed in any way for this blog entry. If you feel that allowing companies (even companies with blogs that I enjoy) submit guest blogs, say so in the comments. In the end, this is ultimately my blog, but I'm not so stubborn as to not listen to wise counsel.

Let me just reiterate here that anyone who has a topic of interest and wants to do a guest blog is welcome to drop me a line. The chances are great that I'll be very happy to host your work, and that many people would love to read it.

Without further ado, here's the guest entry from Admin Arsenal!

Photo by gotplaid?
Photo by "gotplaid?"

Ren McCormack says that Ecclesiastes assures us that "there is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to laugh (upgrading to Windows 7), a time to weep (working with Vista), a time to mourn (saying goodbye to XP) and there is a time to dance." If you haven't seen Footloose then you have a homework assignment. Go rent it. Now.

OK, 80's movie nostalgia aside, let's talk about the "dance". Deployment. Almost every system admin knows the pain of having to deploy software to dozens or hundreds or even thousands of systems. Purchasing deployment tools can get very pricey and learning how to use the new tools can be overwhelming especially if you are new to the world of Software Deployment. Here are a few tips to help you in your Software Deployment needs.

Group Policy

Deploying software via Group Policy is relatively easy and has some serious benefits. If you have software that needs to "follow" a user then Group Policy is the way to go. As particular users move from computer to computer you can be certain that the individual software needed is automatically installed when the user logs on. A downside to this approach is that any application you wish to install via Group Policy really needs to be in the form of a Windows Installer package (MSI, MSP, MSU, etc). You can still deploy non-Windows Installer applications but you need to create a ZAP file and you lose most of the functionality (such as having the software follow a user). It's also difficult to get that quick installation performed and verified. Generally speaking, you're going to wait a little while for your deployment to complete.


If you are a licensed user of SMS / SCCM then you get the excellent SMS Installer application. SMS Installer is basically version 5 of the old Wise Installer. With SMS Installer you can create custom packages or combine multiple applications into one deployment. You can take a "before" snapshot of your computer, install an application, customize that application and then take an "after" snapshot. The changes that comprise the application are detected and the necessary files, registry modifications, INI changes etc are "packaged" up into a nice EXE. Using this method you ultimately have excellent control over how applications are installed. A key strength to using the SMS Installer is found when you need to deploy software that does not offer "Silent" or "Quiet" installations.

A downside to using SMS is the cost and complexity. Site servers. Distribution Point servers. Advertisement creation... it's a whole production.

Admin Arsenal

Admin Arsenal provides a quick and easy way to deploy software. Once you provide the installation media and the appropriate command line arguments the deployment is ready to begin. The strength is the ease and speed of deployment. No extra servers are needed. No need to repackage existing installations. A downside to Admin Arsenal is that it if the application you want to deploy does not have the ability to run in silent or quiet mode (this limitation is occasionally found in freeware or shareware) then you need to take a few extra steps to deploy.

Most applications now-a-days allow for silent or quiet installations. If your deployment file ends in .MSI, .MSU or .MSP then you know the silent option is available. Most files that end in .EXE allow for a silent installation.

Refer to Adam's excellent blog entry called the 5 Commandments of Software Deployment.

Disclaimer: I currently work for Admin Arsenal, so my objectivity can and should be taken into consideration. There are many solutions commercially available for deploying software. Take a dip in the pool. Find what works for you. If the software has a trial period, put it to the test. There are solutions for just about every need and budget. Feel free to shoot questions to me about your needs or current deployment headaches.