When you grow up, your parents always tell you (or mine did), be careful what you say or what you wish for…Well, last week I made a posting on SmartDeploy, stating I was going to check the software out and find out what it had to offer in comparison to other imaging products or what in fact made it so unique…That’s what my mum meant when she said, be careful what you say or what you wish for…The guys from Prowess saw the post and they’re keen on the follow up. Good news is they’re open to feedback good or bad, so at any rate, here goes what I’ve found out and what might be interesting to you.
That Golden Image
The thing we all have a problem with isn’t necessarily knowing what we want in the “golden” image, rather it’s figuring out what is best to make the golden image around. You’ve seen it and if you’re in IT, you probably still do it or live by it…You know what I’m talking about…You make the deal with your vendor to try and ensure you have the same hardware delivered each and every time. In the days of past when Compaq (before HP bought them) made components, we could ensure for a few years, the chipset, the innards, all the bits surrounding our “DeskPro EN” were all the same. Well, not anymore and for that reason, most IT departments have (secretly stashed) a “reference machine” that the golden image is made from. It’s got the OS (including drivers), it’s usually got most of the latest patches and updates and quite often it has the basic Line-Of-Business (LOB) apps…
Well, with SmartDeploy, that’s where the similarities begin and also where they end.
As with the “secret machine” in most IT departments, there is also some flavor of desktop virtualization software. It might be VMware, it might be Sun Virtual Box, it might be Virtual PC, it might be Hyper-V (ok, technically this isn’t a desktop virtualization software…), but any rate, a virtualization software of some type exists in the IT room.
This is where SmartDeploy really “works” in my mind. You build the “golden image” with your virtualization software. No reliance on drivers, no reliance on hardware, you simply build a virtual image and that’s what it really is. In fact, most IT departments have these around for the “golden image” anyways as they probably do regression testing on new software on these images, right?
For my first test with SmartDeploy, I used Sun’s Virtual Box, for my second test I used VMware and both worked flawlessly…In fact, like I said above, I’ve already had images along the “golden” sort from my regression and stress testing of software I often deploy. “Golden” images ready to be captured, the next part was a breeze, it was just waiting for the progress bars that took the most time…
Capturing (a.k.a. rezipping)
Once the reference machines were ready, the next step was as simple as finding the virtual hard disk and having a Starbucks. Fire up the capture wizard, point to the .vmdk, .vmx, .vhd, tell it what .wim file you want created to or appended to (we’ll talk more about this in another topic I think)…, name it and this is where Starbucks comes in…Go get a coffee, because it will a bit of time to “regeerate” the new .wim file and when you get back, you’ll need the power of the coffee to figure out the platform packs or how you want to best try and utilize them…
The Platform Packs
The fun part of making an image is doing just that, making it…Now that the fun part of creating it and capturing it is complete, what is left is usually the most tedious process and the one that makes people lose hair and go grey much earlier in life than planned – the deployment stage.
If you’re using a technology to deploy .wim files already, such as SCCM, you can simply use the .wim you created above as part of the capture stage, however the platform pack stage, whilst a bit complex, is one of the more powerful features of Prowess’ SmartDeploy offering. Now, in lieu of going grey in 5 years of being in IT, you’ll add an extra 3 years to the process (essentially the timescale between this deployment and the next OS release 😉
If the machines you plan to deploy to are fairly standard, you’ll probably have the chance to pull a “Platform Pack” from their website. If your machine isn’t on the list, you can mail their support team and work through it with them (they’re really good and quite responsive) – this is what I did for non-standard machine 1, or alternatively you can go about creating your own platform pack. One thing to note though if we take one of these platform packs at random – let’s say the Lenovo ThinkPad T500 – the pack is 207MB! Caution: These packs are very powerful but also can be very bulky. The bulkiness though and the flexibility of these packs is what make the Prowess tool so powerful.
With SCCM or other technologies, you have to rely on putting the drivers in to the image or hoping plug and play detects the drivers. With the Platform Packs, you simply generate an iso containing not only the image itself (the WIM we just created), but the files you want “injected” at build/deploy/image time (the platform pack). With SmartDeploy, it sends the image down vanilla, but as part of the first boot sequence, it injects the files from the Platform Pack in to the image, so that the next reboot (well two if you have it joining a domain), all of the drivers are installed … all without your interaction. This brings up an interesting discussion we’ll continue on later – Platform Packs 101…
Welcome Windows 7
So, after all of the above, you’ve got your new image and for the most part the deployment was fairly hands off. You can automate it as much or as little as you want. You can deliver it using many mechanisms but the idea is fairly simplistic:
- Build your image in a virtual environment
- Use SmartDeploy’s Capture Wizard to extract the contents of the virtual machine to a .wim
- Bundle the new .wim with a platform pack containing the destination driver set(s)
- Distribute how you’d like (SCCM, WDS, Burning DVD’s, USB)…
From what I can see, there’s major benefit in being able to make the “golden” image in a virtual environment…It’s so much easier to keep a virtual image up to date and not have to worry about physical hardware nor drivers…Like stated earlier, most likely you’ve got the virtual images anyways for UAT and regression testing, so build on what you’ve already got and use the tools for what they’re worth.
I’d be interested in any feedback you’ve got and also the team at Prowess wouldn’t mind your feedback either