Windows Deployment Services (WDS) is the successor of Remote Installation Services (RIS), and can be used to deploy Windows Vista and older Windows versions. In this review I'll be discussing the experiences I had with WDS.
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Installation of WDS is very easy. Basically, it is an update of RIS. Therefore, you have to install RIS first, which comes with Windows Server 2003. Then, you start "windows-deployment-services-update", which is part of the Windows Administration Kit (WAIK). At the moment, the WAIK belongs to Business Desktop Deployment (BDD 2007). You can download it at Microsoft Connect. Maybe, Microsoft will offer a download for WAIK again later.
You can configure WDS on the command line using WDSUTIL or by using WdsMgmt, which is an easy-to-use GUI tool. For this review, I only tested WdsMgmt. The first step is to add WIM image files to WDS. All you have to do is to tell WDS in which folder your images files are located. WdsMgmt will find all WIM files and its images. I used the WIM files that come with the Windows Vista Beta 2 DVD. The tool recognized seven images in install.wim which represent seven different Windows Vista editions (There are seven editions in Europe because of the Media Player issue.)
The boot.wim contains Windows PE 2.0, which was recognized automatically as a so-called Boot image. WDS distinguishes between Boot and Install images. An Install image contains the Windows Vista installation you want to deploy. Before applying the install image, you have to load Windows PE using PXE (Pre-Boot Execution Environment) from the WDS server.
Windows PE is not installed on the target PC's hard disk; it only needs a RAM disk to start. Windows PE then loads a menu which shows all Install images available on the WDS server. Then, it will download the Install image you chose and apply to the target PC. By the way, WDS has legacy mode where it works like RIS server.
You can also work with unattended installations. For this you need two answer files; one for the Boot image and one for the Install image. This way the whole installation process runs more or less automatically. You need someone to turn the computer on and hits F12 to start PXE, though. You will also have to specify the computer name at the end of the installation.
If the target computer doesn't have a network card supporting PXE, you can create a so-called Discover image which is used to create a boot DVD containing Windows PE, the Discover DVD.
You can also use WDS to capture images. First, you have to configure your Windows Vista installation and install all applications. Then, you start the good old sysprep to prepare the PC for imaging. The business editions of Windows Vista already have sysprep installed.
Then, you create a so-called Capture image which is a WIM file containing Windows PE. The only difference to a Boot image is that the capture wizard will start after Windows PE has booted up. All you have to do is to choose the volume you want to capture and whether you want to store the image on the local computer or on the WDS server.
When Microsoft released RIS some years ago, I was quite disappointed first time i tried it. It took me quite a while to figure out how it works. WDS really is a great improvement. I didn't even have to read the manual to get my first image installed. OK, I had some experience with the SMS 2003 OS deployment feature pack which is quite similar. But WDS is really easy-to-use. For detailed step-by-step guide I can recommend this Technet article.
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WDS certainly has its limitations, though. It doesn't support scheduling, LAN Wakeup, bandwidth control and if you want to deploy Windows thru routers you will get problems with PXE. WDS also doesn't offer any kind supervision or monitoring features. If you have to deploy a large number of Windows machine this might be a big problem. So, bigger companies will continue to use to Systems Management Server or a third party deployment solution. For small and mid-sized companies, however, WDS is an interesting option.