Executive Summary:

If you're planning to roll out an operating system (OS) or application suite across your organization’s network, application software and OS deployment tools from Microsoft and third-party vendors can help. Review the detailed feature comparison table of 14 OS and application deployment tools from various vendors.

To make rollouts easier for large and midsized organizations, Microsoft and third-party vendors offer an assortment of deployment toolsets. The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2008 is useful for combined OS and application rollouts. Windows Deployment Services (WDS) is geared toward deploying an OS to remote sites. Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM) lets you create and manage unattended configuration files and add or delete optional components within an existing OS image.

If you have a complex deployment of Microsoft and non- Microsoft OSs, you might want to consider a third-party deployment product. For a look at the features of both Microsoft and third-party deployment products, see the buyer’s guide table.

Deployment Choices: MDT
MDT supports many Microsoft OSs and applications. It offers a common console from which you can perform desktop and server deployments. MDT provides one path for image creation and automated installation and helps decrease deployment time and service disruptions, standardize images, and improve security and configuration management. MDT uses Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 with its Zero Touch Installation technology.

Although MDT’s written guidance is extensive, some users find the MDT documentation daunting. Rhonda Layfield, who has written extensively about deployment in Windows IT Pro, recommends jumpstarting your deployment by first finding a practical, how-to article to help you get MDT up and running quickly (for more information, see the online Learning Path box at the top of this page.)

WDS
WDS is geared toward enabling remote Windows OS deployments. WDS lets you set up clients over the network rather than installing an OS directly from a CD-ROM or DVD. If you’re planning to use WDS, Layfield recommends that you run WDS and create boot and install images on a Windows Server 2008 system, if possible, so that you can benefit from WDS’s new multicast functionality.

Additionally, Layfield recommends storing 32-bit and 64-bit images in different image groups. If they’re stored in the same image group, she says, “single-instancing can’t do its job.” The architecture of 32-bit images is different from that of 64-bit images, so if both image types were stored in the same group, they’d consume more disk space than if stored separately. Layfield also says that, when using WDS, it’s important to use the Microsoft-supplied Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE) version (which looks for setup .exe and presents a list of OS images to choose from), rather than create your own WinPE.

Windows SIM
Windows SIM lets you create and manage Windows Setup answer files, which are XML-based files that Windows Setup uses to configure and customize a default Windows installation. Use Windows SIM to validate answer-file settings against a Windows image file. Layfield says that, when using Windows SIM, you should copy over the install.wim file from a Windows Vista or Server 2008 DVD onto a local drive when you start an OS deployment.

Third-Party Tools
Third-party deployment products have a price tag, whereas Microsoft’s deployment tools are free, but third-party products offer the benefit of customization, and some products handle deployments of non-Microsoft OSs, such as Linux, in addition to Windows—a useful feature for organizations with heterogeneous environments.

Some vendors also tout the fact that their rollouts won’t slow other network traffic during deployment. Peter Kinch, product marketing manager at ManageSoft, an OS and application deployment tool vendor, offers this advice: “When deploying \[OSs or applications\] to your IT infrastructure, know what all the devices are on your network. You can leverage AD \[Active Directory\] to help find devices on your network, but you have to assume that there are devices you won’t be able to find by using AD alone.”

Even if you use a deployment tool, a large OS or application rollout still isn’t a simple operation. Nevertheless, the automation these tools provide is a welcome advance over manual deployments.