With Windows 7 debuting, it's time to once again review how you're deploying OSs to bare-metal hardware. Many times the solution involves some kind of disk imaging technology that lets you make copies of a master hard drive. These proven technologies have been around for many years and generally work well as long as the target hardware is exactly the same as the master computer. However, in reality, network computers are typically a hodgepodge of miscellaneous models from various manufacturers. It's this real world where Prowess' SmartDeploy Enterprise really shines.

How It Works
If you've used disk imaging software before, you're familiar with the process of creating a master image for each hardware platform. With SmartDeploy, no matter how many different computer brands or models you have on your network, you only have to create one master image. A separate file called the Platform Pack contains the device drivers and other hardware-specific files necessary to fill the gap between the vanilla master image and a computer's unique properties.

For example, if your company has eight different computer manufacturer/model combinations, you'd create one master image and have eight Platform Packs. Platform Packs are available for many of the top computer manufacturers and models, but oddly there aren't any Platform Packs for Gateway computers. Fortunately, SmartDeploy's Platform Manager application lets you create custom Platform Packs, ensuring that you can always deploy your master image to any hardware you have.

Installation
SmartDeploy comes as a single-file download from the Prowess website and is licensed by adding a license file to the install directory. The installation is short and sweet, and is supported on Windows XP and later. Note that to use SmartDeploy, you need virtualization software. Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1, Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 SP1, Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V, VMware Workstation 5.5, Parallels Workstation 2.2, and Sun Microsystems' Sun xVM 2.0 VirtualBox are supported.

SmartDeploy in Action
To use SmartDeploy, you first need to create a master image. To do so, use your favorite virtualization software to create a virtual machine (VM). On the VM, install the base OS and any applications you want to deploy to all your computers.

After you've configured the OS and applications just the way you want them, power down the VM, open SmartDeploy, and start the Capture Wizard. This wizard runs you through the process of converting the virtual disk file to a Windows Imaging Format (WIM) file that you can deploy to bare-metal machines. According to the SmartDeploy documentation, you can augment your existing Windows Deployment Services (WDS) infrastructure if you use this file format.

The next step is to download or create the Platform Pack for your particular hardware. Platform Packs can be downloaded from the SmartDeploy Downloads web page. Both your Platform Pack and WIM file should be stored on a network share.

To deploy the master image to a bare-metal computer, boot the computer with the SmartDeploy Preinstallation Environment (SmartPE). On SmartPE's main menu, which Figure 1 shows, click Deploy an image to bring up the Deploy wizard.


Figure 1: SmartDeploy allows easy deployment to dissimilar hardware


This wizard walks you through mapping a drive to the network share that contains the WIM and Platform Pack files. Once connected, you can specify the time zone, language, screen resolution, IP address, and whether you want the computer in a domain.

That's it! In a few minutes, you'll see the PC boot up to your company's standard image.

A Well Thought-Out Solution
SmartDeploy is a well thought-out deployment solution. It overcomes one of the major drawbacks of standard disk-imaging solutions—having to create a master image for each hardware platform—by providing Platform Packs to download at no additional cost. Admittedly, I was surprised that there weren't any Platform Packs for Gateway computers. Plus, I found that the steps to create a custom Platform Pack weren't intuitive. (If you have to create a Platform Pack, I suggest that you contact the company's product support staff for assistance.) However, despite these glitches, the next time one of my customers needs an OS deployment solution, I'm going to take a serious look at using SmartDeploy.

Prowess SmartDeploy Enterprise
PROS: Simple disk imaging solution that lets you reduce the number of master image files; licensed per technician instead of per PC
CONS: Creating Platform Packs isn't intuitive; no out-of-box support for Gateway PCs
RATING: 4 out of 5
PRICE: $1,995 per technician
RECOMMENDATION: If you have to deploy Windows to various hardware models from different vendors, SmartDeploy is the smart choice.

CONTACT: Prowess • www.smartdeploy.com • 888-733-7569