Aug 18 2009

Windows Deployment Service Expedites Vista Rollouts

Learn how to utilize a free component of Windows Server to deploy Windows Vista quickly to multiple computers.

If you need to install Microsoft Windows on more than a handful of computers, roaming the office with a DVD in hand isn’t the most efficient way to spend your time. Most modern PCs have PXE-enabled (Preboot Execution Environment) network cards, which allow them to be booted not just from a locally attached disk, but also from an image stored on a network server.

Remote Installation Services (RIS) first appeared in Windows 2000 Server, and in conjunction with DHCP, DNS and Active Directory (AD), enabled PCs to boot from an image stored on a RIS server and load Windows on bare-metal hardware.

Although a welcome addition to Windows 2000, RIS was difficult to get working and fell short on features compared with more advanced third-party tools. Many PCs lacked a PXE-enabled network card, limiting RIS use to high-end business PCs.

Move forward to Windows Server 2003 SP2, in which Windows Deployment Services (WDS) replaced RIS. Included natively in Windows Server 2008, WDS makes it easy to quickly deploy Vista images over a network, either using the Vista install media or a custom image created with the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK). WDS also includes the ability to multicast images over the network to multiple computers simultaneously, without saturating network bandwidth.

Installing WDS

While it’s likely you’ll to want to deploy your own custom images, consider the basics of getting WDS installed and deploy the standard image included on the Vista DVD. WDS has very few prerequisites, but must be installed on a server that is a member of an Active Directory domain, have access to an NTFS partition for storing images and be part of an infrastructure that includes DHCP and DNS. In this tutorial, we have a Windows Server 2008 domain with DHCP and DNS services running on a domain controller, and we’ll install WDS on a dedicated Windows 2008 member server.

The NTFS partition required by WDS can be the server’s system disk, but Microsoft recommends at the very least a separate partition, and preferably a dedicated physical disk. PCs that will receive images from WDS must have a PXE-enabled BIOS, which is included by default in almost all devices manufactured during the past few years. Log on to your member server as domain administrator:

  1. Open Server Manager from the Start menu.
  2. Scroll down the right pane and click Add Roles in the Roles Summary section.
  3. Click Next on the Before You Begin screen.
  4. Check Windows Deployment Services and click Next twice.
  5. Leave Deployment Server and Transport Server checked and click Next.
  6. Click Install and then Close when the installation is complete.

Configuring WDS

Before you continue, you’ll need to have your Vista install media available.

  1. Open the Windows Deployment Services MMC from Administrative Tools on the Start menu.
  2. Expand Servers in the left pane, right click your WDS server and select Configure Server from the menu.
  3. Click Next on the welcome screen.
  4. Choose a location for the remote installation folder and click Next.
  5. Select Respond only to known client computers and click Finish (Figure 1).
  6. Click Finish to add an image to WDS.
  7. Browse to the sources folder on your Vista DVD where install.wim is located and click Next.
  8. Give the new image group a name and click Next.
  9. You should see one boot image and seven install images listed on the review screen (Figure 2). Click Next to continue.
    WDS requires a boot image and an operating system (OS) image. The boot image is Windows PE (Preinstallation Environment) 2.0, which is an abbreviated version of the OS that loads before Vista is installed. The seven OS images are different versions of Vista contained on the install media: Home, Business and Ultimate, etc.
  10. WDS will then add the images to the RemoteInstall directory. Click Finish when the operation is complete.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Pre-Staging Our Client

Though WDS can be configured to respond to unknown clients, pre-staging affords extra security by preventing unknown devices from connecting to WDS. It also eases deployment when you want to assign the same computer name to a piece of hardware each time an image is installed.

Before pre-staging the computer account in Active Directory, we need to determine the client computer’s globally unique identifier (GUID). This can be found in the BIOS or on the PXE network boot screen (Figure 3). Log on to your domain controller, or a machine that has the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) installed, as a domain administrator:

  1. Open Active Directory Users and Computers (ADUC) from Administrative Tools on the Start menu.
  2. Right click the Computers node under your domain in the left pane, select New and then Computer.
  3. Give the computer a name (Vista-WDS in this example) and click Next.
  4. Check This is a managed computer and enter the computer’s GUID (Figure 4). Click Next.
  5. Select The following remote installation server and click Search.
  6. Click Find Now and your WDS server will be displayed in the search results. Select the server and click OK.
  7. Click Next on the Host server dialog and then click Finish.

You might notice that the GUID on the New Object – Computer screen (Figure 5) doesn’t match what you typed in step 4. This is a bug in Windows Server 2008 and will prevent the client from receiving an IP address during PXE boot. To correct the GUID:

  1. Select the Computers node in ADUC and double click the new computer name in the right pane.
  2. Change to the Remote Install tab, correct the GUID within the quotes in the Computer’s unique ID field and click OK.

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Booting the Client from WDS

Now for the moment of truth — can we install Vista on bare metal across the network?

  1. Start the client, making sure that boot from the network is enabled in the system BIOS and that the machine is physically connected to your network.
  2. Once a DHCP address has been assigned, depending on your PXE BIOS, you may need to press F12 or another key to boot from the network.
  3. Windows PE will start, and you can configure your operating system by selecting the locale and keyboard layout (Figure 6). Before you can choose which of the seven images to install, you’ll be required to authenticate to the WDS server.
  4. Install Vista in the same way as if using DVD media.

Figure 6


If you need to deploy an image to hundreds of clients simultaneously, to avoid saturating your network bandwidth you can create a multicast transmission so that the image is only sent over the network once.

Make sure that any routers on your network support multicast and that all clients have enough disk space to store the Vista image locally. In addition, the boot image installed on WDS must be that from the Windows Server 2008 install media, Vista SP1 or Windows 7. Multicast transmissions can also be throttled to limit bandwidth usage on particularly sensitive networks.

IT Takeaway

WDS is a clean, simple solution for distributing images over a network, and with the ability to customize those images using WAIK, it can save IT departments considerable time and effort when upgrading or refreshing desktops en masse.

The closest competitor to WDS is Symantec’s Ghost Solution Suite, which provides a single management console for deploying and migrating to Vista, with features such as preserving users’ files and folders while deploying an image and support for Linux. The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) and Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT), which can be used in conjunction with WDS, provide many of the features that are integrated into Ghost Solution Suite, but are less streamlined. Ghost Solution Suite is a better choice if inexperienced sysadmins are required to create and deploy images on a regular basis.

Russell Smith is an independent consultant based in the United Kingdom who specializes in Microsoft systems management.