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I have a small training establishment in which I offer MCSE training. In my lab, I have four PCs: a Pentium 166, two Pentium Pro 200s, and a Pentium II 233. Each PC has a different hardware configuration--different adapters, sound cards, network cards, and memory. I bought 12 caddies and twelve 2GD hard disks for the lab, so students have their own configurations to use for training. When students come into the lab, they insert their caddies in whichever PC they’re using, and they’re up and running on the network.

After the first month’s operation, I ran into trouble with troubleshooting and repairing student installations¾ it was taking up all my time. My training consists of a mix of CD-ROM-based exercises, brainstorming events, classroom exercises, and tests. I use LearnKey CD-ROMs, and I typically have some 25 CD-ROMs that I have to install on each PC. On top of this, I run Office 97, Microsoft Outlook as an Exchange Server client, and other third-party utilities for evaluation. Installation for the entire lab was taking up to 8 hours.

I tried unattended network installations, but installing the applications and drivers, which were spread out among the CD-ROMs, was becoming more and more complex. Having had some experience with Ghost in a Novell/Windows 95 environment, I decided to try it out with Windows NT, but I immediately ran into the SID/domain problem. So here’s what I came up with:

1. I installed NT on my source PC with no networking and no sound card, leaving the

default NT display drivers as is.

2. I installed NT Service Pack 4 (SP4).

3. I installed Office 97 and all additional third-party applications.

4. I installed all the training CD-ROMs.

5. I copied the Workstation I386 directory and SP4 to the source machine.

6. Once I had the source configured exactly as I wanted it, I made a DOS network disk and used Ghost to create an image of the source PC to send to the server.

7. I created a bootable CD-ROM and burned the image to it.

8. On the remaining space on the CD-ROM, I burned the following utilities: Norton’s Tools for DOS, Partition Magic, Loformat, DOS 6.22, DOS Command Center, CD Installer, Ghost, and the drivers needed for the final configuration of the PCs.

9. I created batch files on a floppy for use with the bootable CD-ROM, letting me access the utilities from a boot menu. The CD-ROM loads its own drivers on boot. I used the generic ATAPI drivers and MSCDEX.

I can now use the CD-ROM to load each PC in approximately 6 minutes, and the image works on all PCs in the lab. I am left to install sound, video, and network drivers, which are available from the CD-ROM. I then create accounts on my PDC for the workstations and connect to the network. (If the Server service doesn't start, I reapply SP4.) The total installation time is now 30 to 60 minutes. If a student bungles an installation and I can't troubleshoot it, I delete the workstation from the domain, reinstall the files from the CD-ROM, and create a new account on the PDC¾ all in about 15 minutes.

For any additional changes I need to make (e.g., changing Microsoft Word file locations), I use a script and Kix95 to add or modify the appropriate Registry keys. For backup purposes, I use Ghost to create a completed image of my PDC, which also has Exchange Server 5.5 installed. Recovery time is approximately 15 to 20 minutes for one 2GB drive. And now that I’ve configured each PC to boot from the CD-ROM, it has become my most important toolkit.

I still have approximately 100MB of space on the CD-ROM and am always looking for DOS-level utilities that I can include on it. If anyone has any suggestions, send them my way. I’m looking for a utility that detects and installs network cards. I would also like to hear of any experiences anyone has had with the Microsoft System Preparation Tool or any third-party SID walker applications.