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I absolutely love SCCM, but it is a program that has never been called simple. It almost always requires a full-time sysadmin just to manage it correctly. Small and medium size organizations, one-person IT departments, etc., do not have the resources (or the time) to maintain Configuration Manager. Yet these shops still need to image computers, deploy applications, and effectively manage their machines.
If you are in an environment like this and find yourself going mad with management issues, SmartDeploy can help. It is easier to set up and easier to maintain than traditional management suites. SmartDeploy is optimal for 50–1,500 device organizations and is designed for anything from single buildings to dispersed offices, remote workers, and offline office connections.
In this product review, we will explore three unique features that make SmartDeploy stand out. First, we will cover the simplified setup for OS deployments, including remote imaging and imaging over wireless networks. Next, we will test the application and OS distribution model, which includes content storage on common cloud providers. Finally, we will dive into the driver management features and see how they work in a multi-hardware-model environment.
Five-step OS Deployment with SmartDeploy
Imaging in a Microsoft-only environment can lead to an acronym alphabet soup. There are a dozen methods for imaging a machine, and each is complicated to set up. The cornerstone feature of SmartDeploy is the operating system deployment model. It is a simple five-step process, and I would bet that their support receives more questions about building the reference virtual machine than the remaining four wizard-driven steps combined.
Each step has walkthrough videos directly linked in the console. The steps begin with a quick summary of what’s required, best practices, and how much time you should expect it to take. In this process, the Download Platform Packs and Create Answer File steps stand out for their time-saving value and ease of use. Platform Packs provide the driver management feature that was mentioned earlier, and we will focus on Platform Packs at the end of this review.
The Create Answer File wizard allows you to customize what appears or what is automated during the imaging process. If you have ever monkeyed around with MDT INI files, you will appreciate how easy it is to toggle on/off or to automate different prompts during setup. Even the advanced options are dead simple to use. Want to enable clients to wirelessly image, even in a pre-installation environment? Just check a box and provide the connection information.
App and OS deployment with cloud storage
The feature that impressed me most was the cloud deployment option. By using SmartDeploy’s client and custom pre-installation environment (SmartPE), you can push images and applications to clients without requiring an onsite connection.
Like all the other features, enabling cloud content storage requires a single selection (pictured below for an OS deployment), choosing your provider (OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, etc.), and entering the credentials for that storage provider. Content is synced, shared, and made available anywhere for clients that have an internet connection.
This model provides some amazing deployment opportunities. For example, you could deploy an operating system with all the content in cloud storage to a wirelessly connected company computer in a home office half the globe away!
Application deployments can utilize this same framework. With SmartDeploy, applications are stored inside modular Application Packs. These instruction files can easily be shared and imported into your environment. You can create Application Packs for any software that you need to deploy or use the pre-built applications and updates that SmartDeploy provides.
It is awesome that we live in a world where a few clicks can push out a prepackaged application to any client (remote or local) across any type of network connection!
Intelligent driver and BIOS management
The final feature that I want to explore is driver management and, by extension, the BIOS management tools. In SmartDeploy, drivers are also stored in modular packs – known as Platform Packs. Like Application Packs, Platform Packs are pre-built by SmartDeploy and can be downloaded in a single click.
When available in a Platform Pack, BIOS updates can also be deployed. Because these updates are repackaged and tested by SmartDeploy, they already contain any required logic (such as requiring a prerequisite update first). Right now, BIOS updates are only available during an OS deployment; hopefully, this feature will be expanded to standard deployments in the future.
Saving time with SmartDeploy
As sysadmins, some of our most time-consuming tasks are managing different types of hardware, packaging applications, and driver updates. Even environments with management suites like SCCM are still doing these repetitive tasks.
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SmartDeploy automates these tasks and does so in a way that is simple. Without having to configure extensive infrastructure or implement hacky customization, you also get access to advanced features like application/OS deployment through cloud storage and imaging over wireless. If you would like to try out SmartDeploy or see a demo, you can do so here.