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Installing Windows Server 2003 from an Image

To deploy multiple servers that are configured the same way and that have similar hardware, you can't beat using an image-based installation. You can use Remote Installation Services (RIS) with the Remote Installation Preparation Wizard (RIPrep), the System Preparation tool (Sysprep) to prepare a server for imaging using Xcopy or third-party imaging software, or use the Feature Pack add-in Automated Deployment Services.

An image-based installation might be the answer for you if you have the following needs:

  • Installing identical operating systems, applications, and configurations on multiple servers

  • Performing clean installations (no upgrades)

Using Remote Installation Services

Using Remote Installation Services, better known as RIS, allows for a setup that is network initiated. When you combine this service with the Remote Installation Preparation Wizard (RIPrep), you can install a clean, imaged installation.

This method of installation, combined with PXE network cards, allows the setup program to be initiated with minimal user intervention. Boot floppy disks can also be used for certain PCI network interface cards that are not PXE compliant.

When using RIS, the client requests an IP address from a DHCP server. The client then contacts the RIS server, which in turn checks Active Directory to see whether the client has been prestaged. The RIS server either responds to the client or forwards the request to another RIS server. When the proper RIS server has been contacted, it sends Startrom.com to the client, which then launches OSChoice. OSChoice begins the remote installation service process.

Improvements to Remote Installation Services

With Windows Server 2003, Microsoft has enhanced RIS technology. RIS now has support for deploying all versions of Windows 2000, Windows XP Professional, and all 32-bit versions of the Windows Server 2003 family. And there is a significant performance improvement when compared to all previous versions.

Several security enhancements have been made as well. When a system is configured with RIS and is joined to the domain, the Domain Administrators group is added to the Local Administrators group; then the local administrator account is disabled. Also, as stated in the "Performing an Unattended Windows Server 2003 Installation" section, there is the ability to encrypt the administrator password.

Client Requirements for RIS

To use RIS to deploy a server, the computer must meet PXE 1.0 or 2.0 specifications. It must have a network interface card (NIC) that supports PXE or that is supported by the RIS boot floppy. Finally, the hardware must meet the minimum requirements for the version of Windows being installed.

Using the System Preparation Tool

In the past, one problem with imaging systems was that when the new (copied) system was brought online, there were conflicts with the old (original) system. The security identifier (SID), computer name, and IP address all were identical on the image and the original, and all of them are supposed to be unique on your network.

One way to resolve this problem is to use the System Preparation tool—otherwise known as Sysprep. This tool prepares a system for imaging by removing certain configuration details, such as the SID, IP address, and computer name. The system is then imaged and, when the image is deployed, a mini-setup is run instead of the normal full setup. The user can answer just a few questions, and the installation is on its way.

To use Sysprep, you perform the installation once on the source computer, installing the operating system and any applications that you want deployed. After the source system is installed and configured, Sysprep is run on that system, which then powers off. Using an imaging tool, the system is then copied to a network location for distribution. A new system is booted using an imaging tool, connected to the network, and the image is copied from the network. When this new system is powered on, the mini-setup is run, and the installer is asked a few configuration questions. When the setup application is complete, the server can be turned off and is ready to distribute.

Improvements to the System Preparation Tool

Sysprep has been around for a while, and Microsoft has added some improvements that have made it easier to deploy imaged installations. One such enhancement, the –factory switch, allows updated drivers to be picked up by the image before the system is fully set up. Also, you can now image products in the Windows Server 2003 family running IIS. And, as a time-saver, you no longer have to use the –PnP switch to force Plug and Play enumeration on the next restart. In the past, this process added 5 to 10 minutes to the mini-setup.

Using the Automated Deployment Services Tool

For organizations looking to deploy identically configured Windows Server 2003 images to multiple servers, the Automated Deployment Services (ADS) tool simplifies the imaging task.

ADS uses the Preboot Execution Environment (PXE), which is similar to the Remote Installation Service (RIS), to deploy images to new servers. The significant benefit of ADS over RIS is the administrative tool that comes with ADS. The ADS administration tool provides administrators with a centralized view of stored images, the flexibility to automatically reconfigure images from a central location, and the ability to process images based on the needs of the organization.

ADS can be downloaded from the Microsoft Feature Pack Downloads page at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/downloads/featurepacks/default.mspx.

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