So you need to improve your imaging and want to figure out where to start. The first thing to realize is that as computer professionals, we like clear answers. Click this box, use this option and it works. Don’t set this setting, only use option A if you have condition B in place. Unfortunately, PC imaging is not always 100% cut and dry. What might be perfect for you might mean a load of nightmares for someone else. As a KACE Engineer and KACE Systems Deployment Appliance (K2000) specialist, I have seen all sorts of image methodologies and seen different things work for different environments. In this blog, I want to outline not exactly what you have to do, but rather what things you need to think about to have successful image deployments in your environment.
While the KACE SDA (K2000) can image devices using scripted installs OR the more traditional system images (gold master image), I tend to favor the system image for production imaging. There is still a place for scripted installs but for most, the system image is the best path to choose.
Step 1: Start with a Fresh Image
All too often we try to take recycled images or take things off of existing devices and make things work. Starting fresh in most cases can help you get rid of some bad habits from previous imaging practices and will give you a clean slate to start your image from. In the KACE SDA (K2000) we use scripted installations to build out a new system from scratch. Personally I like to use VMWare or other virtual machines to create my master images. This way we can snapshot the image before we use sysprep so we can revert to that snapshot and update the image easily when needed.
Step 2: Plan for the Master Image
OK, here is where people have differences of opinion. Some folks like to keep the OS separate and add applications later. Some like to have everything in an image and be done with it. And some of us fall in between these methods. Here is what I have been successful with when working with my customers. First patch the OS as much as you can. We want to make sure our image will be as patched as possible so our images are not so out of date when we deploy them. So far, everyone is usually on the same page here.
Now that we have a patched OS, we need to figure out what else we might want in the image. There may be applications that have tricky installations and multiple steps. Some may not script easily if we wanted to add them after the fact. There may be applications that everyone will get (PDF reader, Java, etc.) so we might decide to include those in the master. Then we have to figure out what applications update frequently. We may choose to leave these out of the image and layer them into the deployment as a post installation task. This is where I see a lot of different opinions. There is no right answer and you may go through some trial and error to get the right mix for your environment.
Step 3: Sysprep
OK this is Windows so Mac people…move along. So working through step 2 you have developed the best master image you can. Your apps are in there, it is patched up and ready to go. If using a VM for creating an image this is where you take a snapshot of the VM. Next we need to run sysprep. I like using Sysprep for my join domain functions. It is very reliable and we don’t have to edit any scripts. Use the KACE Sysprep Creator tool to create the sysprep answer file and run sysprep to seal the image. Don’t go grab coffee here, because we want the system to reboot into the KACE SDA (K2000) server so we can capture the sealed image. I will typically set my BIOS to network boot first in the boot order so I don’t have to worry about hitting F12 to force the network boot. Capture all of the image partitions and you should have your Core image.
Step 4: Maintain Drivers
(OK Mac people…move along again….) Probably goes without saying but make sure you have drivers for your models. Use the KACE Driver feed for Dell models. Use the Driver Feed Builder tool to harvest drivers from other models.
Step 5: Manage Post Installation Tasks
Your post installation tasks will depend on how much work you did in Step 2 above. If you have applications that can be scripted easily then they are ideal candidates for post installation tasks. Things that update often might be good here too since we can update the post installation module easily and update with new versions without having to update the image frequently. Once you have your post install tasks created, we can easily drag and drop them into deployments. Typically, I keep the core image as a baseline. I will use the duplicate function to create a new deployment of that core image and then drag the necessary applications/scripts into the new deployment and leave the core image unchanged.
While there are many more considerations that we have to think about, the basic principles outlined here should be fairly consistent across any platform.
Some things to keep in mind as you develop your imaging processes…
- Hardware (Legacy vs. UEFI). You will need separate images for each architecture.
- Is the OS supported on your hardware? (Windows 7 and 8 will not be supported at all on the upcoming Intel Kaby Lake processors)
- Disk drives on different models. NVMe drives on some newer systems might not work with Windows 7 since there are no native Win 7 drivers for that hardware
Hope this guide helps you develop a sound imaging strategy and gets those machines out the door quickly. Happy imaging!!