SCCM Windows deployment troubleshooting – Part 1: Log files

This is Part 1 of a four-part article for beginners to System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) wishing to troubleshoot Windows deployment, primarily using SCCM’s own log files.

Mike Taylor By Mike Taylor - Tue, December 4, 2012 - 0 comments

Mike Taylor has been working in IT for 12 years. He is a Windows administrator, scripter and OS deployment engineer based in London.

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SCCM Windows deployment troubleshooting

When you begin deploying any Microsoft Operating System using SCCM you soon learn that things often go wrong and you don’t know why. Worse still, SCCM simply confronts you with arcane task-sequence errors, advising you to “please contact your system administrator or helpdesk “. Since that will be you, it’s not much help. Fortunately Microsoft also provides plenty of help through log files. There are two minor challenges here: Firstly, there are lots of different log files, and secondly SCCM puts them in different paths depending on what phase the deployment is in.

Since the core thread of deployment is the task-sequence, we need to find the log for that. The name betrays its age: it is called smsts.log. This log is always the first step to troubleshooting any deployment issue. If you have an issue, look in here first! Unfortunately, SCCM can put smsts.log in one of seven places, depending on the stage of the build and the architecture of the OS, as per Table 1 – SCCM task-sequence log paths.

SCCM task-sequence log paths

Phase Path
WinPE, before HDD format x:\windows\temp\smstslog\smsts.log
WinPE, after HDD format copied to c:\_SMSTaskSequence\Logs\Smstslog\smsts.log
Full version windows, before SCCM agent installed c:\_SMSTaskSequence\Logs\Smstslog\smsts.log
Full OS, after SCCM agent %windir%\system32\ccm\logs\Smstslog\smsts.log or %windir%\sysWOW64\ccm\logs\Smstslog\smsts.log (64-bit)
Full OS, build complete %windir%\system32\ccm\logs\smsts.log or %windir%\sysWOW64\ccm\logs\smsts.log (64-bit)

Debugging essentials

The two obligatory steps to do, to help you troubleshoot are modifications to your WinPE boot image. Firstly “enable command support” which lets you use F8 at any point during a task-sequence to open a command shell. Microsoft thoughtfully added “testing only” to remind you to turn the feature off when your task-sequence (TS) is ready for production. The second is to add a log viewer from Microsoft called trace32.exe to the boot environment. It is part of “System Center Configuration Manager 2007 Toolkit V2”. Download the file “ConfigMgrTools.msi” from here, and then install it on your admin machine.

Enabling F8 is a simple matter of ticking a box on the WinPE tab, but adding trace32.exe is slightly more involved. It is easiest if you have integrated MDT into the SCCM console, at which point you get a field “extra files”. Otherwise the only way is to mount the WIM as writeable, add the file manually and then save the changes to the WIM.

How to enable command shell (F8) support in OSD

  1. Under “Operating System Deployment, Boot images” right-click your WinPE boot image and open properties
  2. Click the Window PE tab and tick “Enable command support (testing only).
  3. Update the distribution point

That’s the end of the good news. The bad news is that Microsoft still persists in using arcane error messages that shed very little light on what is wrong, such as this:

“Task Sequence: <Task_Sequence_Name> has failed with the error code (0×80070070). For more information, please contact your system administrator or helpdesk operator.”

The next parts of this article translate the many arcane error messages that SCCM inflicts on you, into plain English, organised into relevant sections.

Series Navigation - SCCM Windows deployment troubleshooting – Part 2: Disk related issues

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