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For years, IT departments have been searching for a method to maintain a perfected Operating System image which can be quickly and easily deployed to the majority of the computer models supported throughout the organization. This 'golden image' should contain all the necessary OEM drivers for the hardware to work without any secondary steps to manipulate the device manager or otherwise update drivers after the initial image deployment. I have personally experienced high levels of frustration from hours of development time trying to design the correct scripts to conduct INF file injection PRE or even POST SYSPREP for an elusive 'golden image' because the payoff would be well worth it. Finally, there is a product on the market which achieves the perfect image end game. By leveraging the scripting and single-instance storage available in SmartDeploy Enterprise (SDE) I now have the 'golden image' at my proverbial deployment fingertips. In the past, my methods were tiresome. I would get a new model computer and visit the vendor site only to download, extract, and install each individual driver for the hardware components then move on to other add-ons. The alternative is to use the vendor baked-on image, but in IT circles that is blasphemy to most professionals due to the unnecessary add-ons, trial software, and general sluggishness of vendor supplied images. There are several advantages to adopting the SmartDeploy Enterprise software to serve as a new model for your Operating System image management. First, you are able to use the Platform Manager component within the SDE software to create single-instance storage files of all the drivers you need for a specific computer platform or model. These are known as Platform Packs. Secondly, Prowess the makers of SDE host a freely accessible database of Platform Packs that can be quickly queried to deliver a fully functional driver pack for each of your computer models. Each contains the collection of needed drivers and INF files needed for your model and conveniently organized by Windows version. The process is simple. Download the Platform Packs from the website for the supported models in your organization. When you open the pack with the SDE Platform Manager component you can quickly make additional customizations to the driver sets if desired. For example, I downloaded a pack for an Optiplex 745. Then opened it with Platform Manager. The drivers are organized logically by OS and then by hardware device as you can see. In this example, I needed to add an additional high-end audio driver for a specialized sound card that we use. To make the changes to a platform pack: I start by extracting the driver files for the manufacturer and model that I need to modify to a new folder on my computer. Then I delete the operating system that I just extracted and subsequent driver files (from the Platform Manager console). Next, I make audio driver file additions to my new local folder. Finally, I re-import the folder containing the updates into my modified platform pack file and re-save it. For exact steps on how to do this follow the Smart Deploy Enterprise User's Guide below. Add or remove drivers in a platform pack 1. Go to Start > All Programs > Prowess > SmartDeploy Enterprise > Platform Manager. 2. Click File, and then click Open. Browse to the platform pack (.ppk) that you want to modify, and then click Open. 3. Expand the tree to the manufacturer and model you want to modify. 4. Right-click the operating system you want to modify. Then click Extract. 5. Browse to an empty folder or create a new folder for the extracted drivers. Then click OK. The device drivers are extracted to the folder. Caution The next step deletes the entire operating system tree under the selected manufacturer and model. This includes all custom filters, tasks, and settings for the device drivers and supporting software. Make sure you are working from a copy of the original platform pack, and take a few minutes to note this information so that it can be easily re-entered when needed at the end of this section. 6. In the Platform Manager, right-click the operating system you just extracted, and then click Delete. Click OK. 7. Open Windows Explorer to the folder where the drivers were extracted. Do one of the following: To add drivers, add the desired files and/or folders. To remove drivers, delete the desired files and/or folders. 8. In the Platform Manager, expand the tree to the manufacturer and model you want to modify. 9. Right-click the computer model, then click Add. The Add new software dialog will appear. 10. In the Target operating system list, select the same operating system you just deleted. 11. Click Browse, and then select the platform folder that contains your device drivers. Click OK. 12. Browse the device driver tree and confirm your device drivers have been added. 13. Go through the device driver tree, and re-create the custom filters, tasks, and settings. 14. When you have finished your changes to the platform pack, click File, and then click Save. As I mentioned, this process is simple. You can even import one Platform Pack into another if you need a single pack to contain drivers across multiple chipsets if desired. Below are the instructions from the Smart Deploy Enterprise User's Guide. To combine platform packs into a single file: 1. Go to Start > All Programs > Prowess > SmartDeploy Enterprise > Platform Manager. 2. Click File, and then click New. Browse to where you want to save your combined platform pack. Type a name for the combined platform pack; for example, Default.ppk, and then click Save. An empty platform pack will be created. Note If the platform pack is named Default.ppk, and it is located in the same folder containing your images, it will automatically be processed by the Deploy Wizard at deployment time. 3. Click File, and then click Import. 4. Browse to the place where you downloaded the platform packs. Select a platform pack. Then click Open. For each platform pack you want to include in the file, repeat steps 3 and 4. When you are done importing platform packs, close the Platform Manager. Our 'golden image' attainment is closer than ever before. Next, we will choose to deploy our Operating System with the desired Platform Pack to our destination computer. I plan on discussing how easily image deployment occurs in V2V or P2V environments in my next post. Aaron Lines IT Consultant
In almost ten years of Windows Operation System image deployment experience, I have been chasing an easier way to manage the OS image development process or OS image life cycle. Most of us in the industry have grown tired of the antiquated process of building a reference Operating System image on driver specific hardware only to have the dreaded Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) appear when the manufacturer changes chipsets or other components on common corporate-class models. Many organizations have been tied to a specific make and model of computer for all of their employees. This over-standardization is hampered by long and often delayed computer refreshes which are driven by keeping the computers 'the same' to simplify OS image administration. IT Professionals can agree on the varying level of negative outcomes that they have experienced when trying to make their newly 'minted' standard corporate OS image work on different hardware that just arrived from the vendor who conveniently changed chipsets unannounced. IT offices everywhere have been forced to maintain dozens of copies of the same basic corporate image because of hardware component differences, device driver inconsistencies, and the beloved out-of-warranty computer models that are still supported within every organization. Then....along came virtualization. Several years ago, I started experimenting with VMWare Workstation to test scripted application installs with Windows XP. The beauty of a virtual machine (VM) resides in the ability to take a snapshot of the any current 'state' of the VM before you apply changes to the OS image such as an application install. For the first time, I could easily test and re-test changes to the OS image without having to re-image my computer or delete the Windows user profile in order to un-do system modifications. My initial excitement around virtualization was placed in the time that I would save, no longer needing to re-image computers for testing. Instead, utilizing a virtual environment for testing scripted applications and undoing OS image changes by easily reverting to a clean ‘snapshot’ of my VM reference computer. My thinking easily expanded to comprehend the advantages of using desktop virtualization for the entire OS image life cycle from beginning to end. For example, Microsoft's SYSPREP process is notorious for requiring a rigorous testing of the logic in an unattended file. By using virtualization technology to develop the reference computer image, IT Professionals can easily capture a 'snapshot' of the pre SYSPREP state of a VM for rapid testing while avoiding time consuming physical machine re-images and image re-captures that would normally be required during the SYSPREP testing phase. Now my only roadblock was finding a product that supported Virtual Machine OS image capture and coordinated OS image deployment to physical machines. First, I tested Norton Ghost to capture the VM of my sypreped reference computer image by booting the machine into a Ghost PXE environment, capturing the image, and storing it on the network. However, when I tried to apply the image to a physical disk it failed at boot with the dreaded Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). I realized my folly: my images would always fail to transcend the virtual to physical deployment process unless I could manipulate the device drivers for specific hardware. Fortunately, I had been following the development of an upcoming trial release of SmartDeploy Enterprise which heralded a new driver injection process that could avoid BSODs by managing device drivers as a package called a platform pack (collection of drivers). So, I captured an image of my reference computer image by booting the machine into a SmartDeploy PXE environment, capturing the image, and storing it on the network. Then I booted my Dell Latitude with the SmartDeploy PXE media, launched the deployment wizard, selected the captured image file, selected the platform pack for my Dell Latitude, and deployed the image. For the first time ever, I had successfully captured a virtual machine of a reference computer image and deployed that image to a physical computer which booted correctly with no Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). Furthermore, the Windows device manager looks clean with plug-n-play detection working seamlessly with the pre-compiled drivers from the SmartDeploy Platform Pack were injected correctly during the imaging process. Aaron Lines Email me IT Consultant