• United States
by Thomas Henderson, Network World Global Test Alliance

Free MS tool pushes Windows image across the net

Nov 03, 20033 mins
Data CenterMicrosoft

Microsoft’s Automated Deployment Services is a free download that manages the distribution of network operating systems and application disk images to servers across companies.

Microsoft’s Automated Deployment Services is a free download that manages the distribution of network operating systems and application disk images to servers across companies.

It’s the first product released in the company’s Dynamic Systems Intiative  framework for providing better server management, and proved in our tests to offer a time saving, systematic approach to the torturous drill of deploying new Windows servers.

ADS requires one Windows 2003 Enterprise Server license, but it also can be used to deploy other Windows 2000 server editions. We tested ADS with Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition (single- and multiple-CPU versions) and Windows 2000 Advanced Server on five HP servers.

One downside is that this software does not allow for an upgrade of Win 2000 Server to Win 2003, for example. Nor does it cover clients.

ADS competes with other disk-imaging products such as Symantec’s Ghost, but less so with more comprehensive server fleet management offerings such as those from Altiris.

Initial setup time took between 20 and 60 minutes per image. After setting up ADS and building generic and highly customized images, a fresh server could be generated from bare metal in far shorter time than manually attending the servers. The largest saved chunk of time comes from the ability to push out patched server images instead of performing manual service pack installation and network operating system (NOS)/driver updates from local disk sources or the Microsoft Windows Update Web site.

ADS queries net-booted target hardware, loads a slim version of Win 2003 Server, queries the hardware again, and chooses a pre-built NOS image for the target server. The ADS software, via scripts and scheduling, then lets the target download the image and install it and any other items, such as applications and service packs, tucked into the disk image. The downloaded disk images are actually single mountable files built with administrator-generated (tools provided) reference server disk images. The images are like large, compressed WinZip files that can be divided as needed.

When the target machine first boots, it finds the ADS server over the Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) load. From the ADS server, one of two ADS agents – deployment and administrative – are then executed. The downloaded deployment agent loads a crammed version of Win 2003 Server into a RAM disk on the target server, and the administrative agent executes scripts that load images, local application installers or other commands.

   Automated Deployment Services


Pros:Distributes customized NOS to multiple servers; is a big time saver.
Cons:Doesn’t cover clients, not useful for NOS upgrades.

You can customize distributions with server-specific settings (registry settings/hives, updated drivers, service packs) that get tucked into the images. You then can define scripts that you can use to push the customized images out to one or more servers.Targeted servers must comply with the hardware requirements for the server version and have a PXE port (an Ethernet port that uses Intel’s PXE protocol) that lets the target boot from the ADS server via Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol . Communications between the ADS server and its target can be encrypted, and we suggest installations over private networks because download image traffic can be huge.

Overall, images can be distributed to new or retrofit hardware to build the NOS installation in one session when the session is keyed by matching an appropriately built image to a hardware destination. Building ADS to support a variety of hardware targets was fairly easy.