I like to make my way into the field as much as possible to see how Hosters are working with our products. Every place I visit is varied in one way or another, but a common theme exits between several of them. "What is the best way to automate deployment of my Windows servers?" they inevitably ask me. There are many answers to that question, depending on your requirements, your business model, your desire for integrating automation. However, today I would like to share with you a little bit about the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit.
Several years ago, the hosting solutions for Windows-based hosting and Hosted Messaging and Collaboration included a nifty way of "Server Purposing" or "building servers". The tool was called Automated Deployment Services and was a PXE-based, bit level copy tool and was free to anyone to use (with purchase of Windows 2003 Enterprise edition). It was an excellent tool to help with the automation of server builds and could really accelerate the build out of a new environment. In addition many hosters still today are using ADS to push jobs and add functionality to running servers. However, ADS had some limitations because it did not use WinPE, and reporting capabilities were very limited.
Around the launch of Windows Vista, Microsoft released Business Desktop Deployment(BDD). This was a part of the Solution Accelerators program that helped businesses prepare for and deploy Vista across their organizations. Because Vista and Windows server 2008 are based on the same code base, the BDD content was altered into what became the Windows Deployment Toolkit.
The Windows Deployment Toolkit is different than ADS because it takes computer imaging in a different direction. It is not bit copy based, but rather it is Windows Image File based (WIM). WIM is a hardware-independent image file format. This basically means that for hosters, you will not need a specific "image" per server type anymore. You can load any storage, networking, etc drivers into the Deployment Toolkit and it will take care of inserting them as needed into your deployment process.
Currently, the process to deploy a server is performed in one of two fashions, Lite touch or Zero touch. Lite touch meaning that you need to either pop in a CD/DVD or boot to PXE to start the deployment. Zero touch utilizes System Center Operations Manager 2007 to automate the process completely. Here is a LINK to the Solution Accelerator which will help you down this road.
Please look for a future post on Windows Deployment Services as well!
Marcel Messing - Hosting Technology Specialist