So Many Deployment Tools, So Little Time!
Whenever I blog about Windows deployment, I wonder why Microsoft doesn’t provide a single application for deploying Windows……or something close to a single solution. There are dozens of tools that Microsoft throws into a pile, all intermingled, with overlapping capabilities, which causes a lot of confusion.
It seems like various Microsoft product groups work in a sandbox and come up with their own solutions for various products.Then another department grabs those tools and modifies them for their own use. Later its decided to release all these tools for public consumption as Microsoft solutions. What the consumer ends up with is a potpourri of utilities, some are glorified workarounds that someone at Microsoft writes during their lunch break for internal use (NTDSUTIL is a good example) that can end up being released to consumers without any major re-writing of the code.
One of the questions that comes up often when dealing with dozens of Microsoft tools is which tool do I use in my environment. For example, both Windows Deployment Services (WDS) and Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) can be used for deploying Windows operating systems. WDS is relatively a simpler solution and will work for a certain organizations, especially smaller organizations. MDT on the other hand is a more comprehensive solution. As far as Microsoft is concerned, it may be the ultimate deployment solution that offers all the bells and whistles. The nice thing about MDT is that it allows you to create a task sequence, which gives you the ability to run a series of steps either before or after the image deployment. By the way, MDT used to be called BDD (Business Desktop Deployment).
While some of the tools, such as MDT, are very powerful and useful in Microsoft’s deployment arsenal, they are also very cumbersome to use and require a high level of expertise. MDT is not for your average network administrator and requires a lot of investment in time, resources and training. And that’s the good news. The bad news is that some of these tools, including MDT, are very slow, time-consuming, and require a lot of dependencies. Here’s a link to a presentation by a Microsoft partner that you might be interested in. It’s called The Hidden Cost of a Free Tool: Microsoft Deployment Toolkit.Keep in mind that the purpose of their presentation is to sell their product but they do make some good points about the issues related to MDT.
What are Some of the Deployment Tools?
In this article I just want to give you a glimpse of some of the tools that you may need for deployment. If you are a Network Administrator or the person in charge of deployment you are probably wondering where to begin and when to use which tool.
Here are some of the tools related to deploying Microsoft products. This list is not in any particular order.
- Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT): Take inventory of applications and devices in your organization. Collect compatibility data while you test your applications on the version of Windows that you want to deploy.
- User State Migration Tool (USMT): A scriptable command-line tool that IT Professionals can use to migrate user data from a previous Windows installation to a new Windows installation. It includes 3 command-line tools.
- Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT) : Enables IT professionals to automate and centrally manage the activation of Windows, Windows Server, Windows ThinPC, Windows POSReady 7, select add-on product keys, and Office for computers in their organization.
- Windows Performance Toolkit (WPT): Includes tools to record system events by using Event Tracing for Windows, and a tool to analyze performance data in a graphical user interface.
- Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT): For IT professionals who want to customize and deploy Windows in their organizations.
- Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM): A tool that you use to create unattended Windows Setup answer files.
- System Preparation (Sysprep): Used to prepare Windows images to be captured and applied to other PCs. Sysprep is part of the Windows image, and is used during audit mode.
- Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE): A recovery environment that can repair common causes of unbootable operating systems automatically and deploy your customized recovery solution.
- Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM): Command-line tool that is used to mount and service Windows images before deployment.
- Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK): A collection of tools and documentation that you can use to customize, assess, and deploy Windows operating systems to new computers. The Windows ADK enables two key scenarios: Windows deployment and Windows assessment. It includes at least 7 command-line tools.
- Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE): Minimal operating system designed to prepare a computer for installation and servicing of Windows.
- Windows Assessment Toolkit: Tools to discover and run assessments on a single computer. This is not the same as Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK) but is included in Windows ADK.
This is not a complete lost by any means and I am sure that there are other Microsoft tools that I have not listed in this article.
Feedback to Microsoft
Microsoft provides these deployment tools to ease the pain of deployment at no cost to consumers. Microsoft deserves credit for this. There is room for improvement and I believe Microsoft needs to consider an entirely new approach for deployment Microsoft products.
What I believe Microsoft needs to do, at minimum, is to create a GUI console and give people the ability to use these tools within that console. Behind the scenes the menu options may be PowerShell scripts that simply call ImageX, scanstate, or USMT, etc. People will click on menus and make their choices, say between Lite Touch or Zero Touch installation and the wizard can guide them to install MDT, SCCM, or other necessary components and walk them through the steps. People don’t care which tool is running behind the scenes, all they care is that the process is simplified, the packages are created properly, and the deployment takes place smoothly. I am not a developer, and perhaps I am over-simplifying my wish, but I know I speak for a lot of people, including my consulting clients and my students. I realize the deployment beast is too difficult to tackle but I believe the process can be simplified by using my suggestion. We have to start somewhere because things are only going to get more complicated with time because the newer products not only have more features they are also getting larger in size.
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