Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Windows Desktop Automated Installations

Over the past couple of weeks, I've had the idea in the back of my mind to build an infrastructure for automated Windows installs, for my users' machines. I've been doing some research (including on ServerFault), and have created a list of software that seems to attempt to fill that niche.

First up is Norton Ghost. From what I can tell, it seems to be the standard image-creating software around. It's been around forever, and according to a slightly skeptical view, seems to be the equivalent of Linux's 'dd' command. It's a piece of commercial software that seems primarily Windows based, but according to the Wiki page supports ext2 and ext3. It does have advanced features, but it looks like you need one license per machine cloned (Experts-Exchange link: scroll to the bottom), and I'm not into spending that sort of money.

Speaking of not spending that sort of money, Acronis True Image has some amazing features. Larger enterprises should probably look into it if they aren't already using it. Just click the link and check the feature set. Nice!

Available for free (sort of) is Microsoft Deployment Services, courtesy of Windows 2008 Server. It's the redesigned version of Remote Installation Services in Server 2003. Word on the street is that it's going to be the recommended way to install Windows 7, winner of the "Most likely to be the next OS on my network when XP is finally unsupported" award. The downside is that I don't currently have any 2008 servers, nor do I plan on upgrading my AD infrastructure. I suppose I could use Remote Installation Services, but eventually I know that I'll upgrade, and then I'll be left learning the new paradigm anyway.

So lets examine some free opensource offerings.

It seems like the most commonly recommended software has been Clonezilla so far. Based on the Diskless Remote Boot in Linux (DRBL), along with half a dozen other free softwares, it seems to support most filesystems capable of being mounted under Linux (including LVM2-hosted filesystems). It comes in two major releases. Clonezilla Live, able to be booted from a CD/DVD/USB drive, and Clonezilla Server Edition, a dedicated image server. If I were going to implement it, I think I'd keep one of each around. They both sound pretty handy for different tasks.

Next up is FOG, the Free Opensource Ghost clone. I haven't come across a ton of documentation for it, but it sounds intriguing. Listening to Clonezilla -vs- FOG peaked my interest, and this is on my list to try. Feel free to drop feedback if you've used it.

Ghost4Linux exists. That's about all I've found. If you know anything about it, and it's good, let me know.

What I've been considering most heavily, Unattended seems very flexible and extensible. It seems to primarily consist of perl scripts, and instead of dealing with images, it automates installs. This has several advantages, mostly that instead of maintaining one image per each model of machine, I can save space by pointing an install to specific drivers necessary for an install, and keep one "base" set of packages.

As soon as I have time, I'm going to start implementing some of these, and I'll write more about them. If you have any experience with this stuff, I'd love to hear from you.