Automated Windows Deployment

Recently we have been installing many new servers at the office. Most of them have been new virtual machines on our VMWare cluster. Installing windows on de server has become a little pain in the ass. It is not difficult to do. But it takes some time. Time we prefer to spend on other things. Because after installing the operating system you have to install the latest patches, change some configuration settings and more things.

So I started to look for a solution to automated most part of the job. Luckily Windows Server 2008 (R2) comes with Windows Deployment Services. Because it is included in Windows you don’t need to pay extra for it. Of course there are also many paid third party solution around but I decided to focus on WDS. Because we don’t have an unlimited budget and WDS looked like a good solution for us. This will be the first part from a series of articles about WDS I will do. So lets get started.

Before you install the Windows Deployment Services role you need to make sure that you have met all the requirements.

  1. A functioning DNS Server
  2. A Functioning DHCP server
  3. Lots of disk space

Most people that will want to use WDS already use Active Directory for their office network. So there will already be one or more DNS server and a DHCP server in place. Having enough disk space speaks for it self I think.

Installing the Windows Deployment Services Role

Installing WDS is very simple. Go to the server you want to use for WDS and follow the steps below.

  1. Open Server Manager.
  2. On the left side click on roles.
  3. On the right side click on Add Roles.
  4. On the Select Server Roles screen check Windows Deployment Services and click Next.
  5. Click Next again and then check the role services Deployment Server and Transport Server.
  6. Click Next and Install.

When the wizard finished installing WDS you will see that the WDS role is added to the Role section of the Server Manager.

Configure the Windows Deployment Services Role

Before we can use WDS we need to configure it. Which is an easy task to do. In Server Manager go to Roles –> click on Windows Deployment Services –> click on Servers –> right click on your WDS server –> click on Configure Server.

The configuration wizard will start now. On the first screen it shows the requirements for WDS. Just click Next here. On the second screen the wizard will ask where the Remote Installation Folder is. The partition where you place the Remote Installation Folder should be big enough and it should be an NTFS partition. Choose your location and click Next. On the third screen it will ask about how WDS should respond to PXE requests. You have 3 choices:

  1. Do not respond to any client  Computers.
    You want WDS to respond so you will never choose this option.
  2. Respond only to known client computers.
    This option tells WDS only to respond to client’s who have an account in the Active Directory and who’s GUID is known. This is also know as Pre-Staging. More about this later.
  3. Respond to all client computers (know and unknown)
    You don’t want to respond to all computers. Only to the computers you know and trust. So make sure you check the checkbox for the option Require administrator approval for unknown computers.

Personally I prefer the third option ‘Respond to all client computers (know and unknown)’ but with the administrator checkbox checked. Click on the third option and then click Next. The wizard will do its job, when it is almost done it will ask if you want to add images to the server. We want to do that know so leave the checkbox checked and click finish. You will see the Add Image Wizard next. Browse to the location of the setup files of Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows 7. And then click Next. The next screen ask you the new for the new image group it will make. You can give it any name you want. I prefer to name them after the OS the images are from. After you have typed a name click on Next and again Next. The wizard will start adding the imagine. The Boot image and Install Image(s). This can take some time. Click finish when the wizard is done adding images.

Installing Windows from WDS

Now everything is in place for a semi-automated install of windows. To test this PXE boot from a computer you want to install. For testing a virtual machine is very useful. So start the computer and make sure it does a network boot. And press F12 when it asks for it. When you do that you will see the message Pending Request ID: 1 appear. When you see this it is time to move to WDS Console on the WDS Server. On the left side go to Pending Devices. On the right side of the screen you see a request waiting to be approved. Right click on the request and then choose Name and Approve. This will approve the request and gives you the ability to give the computer a name that will be used to add it to the Active Directory. Type in a name and then click OK and again OK.

You will see that after the approval the computer you want to install continued with loading the boot image. When it is loaded you are presented with a wizard. The first screen ask for the language you want to use for GUI. After you have selected your preferred language click Next. You will see a login screen then. Fill in your credentials and click OK. The next thing you need to do is choose the Windows version you want to install. Make your selection and click Next. Then choose where you want to install Windows and click Next. Now the installation will start. Take a cup of coffee and relax. After some time you will have a fresh installed Windows on your computer.

Where is the automation?

Well it is not there yet. We still needed to make some choices. Almost the same questions as we normally we would get when installing with a DVD. In the next part I will tell you how to automate the setup. But this is it for now.