Archive for category Deployment

Dear SeaTac, I upgraded your kiosk for you

So the other day I flew in to SeaTac thinking, wow, I haven’t seen any blue screens or problems recently (ok, I did see a few but didn’t have my camera), when BANG. At that moment, walking to catch the bus (yes I take the bus to and from the airport), I came across a kiosk and it had a dialogue box up. Most of the time when I come across a kiosk with a dialogue box it is usually stating it needs a reboot, however this one, strangely enough wanted to upgrade…something I don’t think should/is/was supposed to be a consumer task. At any rate, here is the kiosk:


and the close up of the kiosk:


so, I went ahead and clicked update for the version update for SeaTac. Not sure if you’re now out of EULA or your license allows you upgrades to LogMeIn or not, but hey, you gave me the chance/option to upgrade and as we all know, the newer the better and with software always use the latest and greatest, right?! Smile

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Reflections of a Bus Trip

It’s been almost one month since my last blog post and for that I apologize. For those of you who know me will know that I was on a bus for two weeks down the entire east coast of the USA followed by a week at TechEd and then a two week stint (back again) in Montreal.

Flying home from Montreal, I’ve had the chance to reflect on it all and I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences with you Smile

Everyone asks, how was the bus trip. Most one word verbs could easily describe it…Exhausting, fun, tiring, busy, stressful, intense, hard work…the list could go on and on. In the end though I could easily sum it up with the phrase “an experience of a lifetime”.

We met over 3,000 IT Professionals from various walks of life all with differing jobs and backgrounds. Ones that manage environments with 10 computers to those in charge of over 10,000 devices. Some had cloud services implemented, some still had Exchange 2003. Many of them ran Office 2003 and most of them still were hanging on to Windows XP, but wondering how to magically get to Windows 7. Lots wanted to know about the idiosyncrasies of Office 2010, while others were more interested in seeing how to deploy a new OS.

In the end, I hope most of them learned something new or took something away from the stops we made along the way. I know each city challenged me in thinking “outside the box” and also gave me a completely new perspective on the same tasks I do every day and for that I thank them.

If you didn’t know about the bus tour, here are some of the highlights of it. We had a videographer with us so we could capture the best bits of each city, and of course on the overlapping weekend, we had some fun too. If asked to do it again, would I? I’m not sure, but I can strongly say if you’re ever given the opportunity to do something like this, don’t think twice and jump on it immediately.

If you talked to us along the way, leave your comments. If you didn’t see us, here’s just some of what you missed!


Get Microsoft Silverlight

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SmartDeploy – Part 2

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:

  1. Build your image in a virtual environment
  2. Use SmartDeploy’s Capture Wizard to extract the contents of the virtual machine to a .wim
  3. Bundle the new .wim with a platform pack containing the destination driver set(s)
  4. 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 🙂

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Deploying with a Twist – SmartDeploy

cds For many years I was a principal consultant with Altiris (in the US and EMEA) and when XP was released I oversaw more deployments than had hot dinners. I got deployment burn out and went to work for a smaller IT company to try to gather my thoughts (and get of the IT radar) only to find myself now 6 years later faced with the same scenario I had back then, deploy and stay up with the times (i.e. Windows 7) or potentially go unsupported (XP SP2) – and getting off the IT radar, yeah I’ve only involved myself more…

At any rate, enter the imaging and deployment contenders – all names we’ve heard of before, right? Altiris, Acronis, and SCCM – the big boys.  That was until I did a bit of research and came across a product called SmartDeploy from Prowess. From the outside what it seems you do is create a VM and then take an image of that VM, which subsequently makes a .wim file you then deploy, the twist being that it injects the drivers at boot time in it’s own version of WinPE, giving you added flexibility. Pretty cool. There seems to be a scripting environment too, but I haven’t gotten that deep yet…

Altiris as we all know builds images and they do that really well, but their images are akin to trying to kill a mosquito with a cannon ball, they not only want to do imaging, but they also want to do inventory, system management, anti-virus, essentially be the one stop shop, which – don’t get me wrong, one vendor is good for some things, but all your eggs in one basket in this arena…I’m not too sure. Plus, their images are still a big and bulky format – not .wim files – which with today’s hardware means a minimum of two images (an x86 and and x64), not to mention a larger pipe for deployment and more disk space to save these images…

SCCM and the Microsoft deployment tools, they’re great too, but they’re more focused at the big league. To get the most benefit from anything Microsoft you have to be either really good at it and focus 110% of your time and efforts on it, or be an enterprise organisation with an EA SA VL and a few other acronyms, ensuring you get the licensing you need when you need it.

Acronis, personally I’ve never used them but every time I look at their marketing efforts or see them mentioned, it seems they’re focused at helping John Doe make an image of his home PC so in case it breaks he’s got a backup…I could be wrong, but that is what their marketing seems to give me the impression of…

Now, here is where SmartDeploy seems to fit in. From what I can gather their licensing model is based on IT head count that will use the product rather than desktop deployments and their sweet spot is the SME market which other guys tend to leave behind or don’t fully address. Often, I find the SME market seems to include government and schools too, which it seems SmartDeploy have a few case studies on, so I can’t be too far from wrong 😉

At any rate, over the next few days (ok, weeks) I’m going dust off the deployment gloves and see what Prowess has to offer because we all know that the Windows 7 migration and imaging jobs can’t be avoided too much longer and a new contender to the market is always welcome as is a fresh set of ideas, not to mention yet another alternative to add to my imaging tool belt…

If you’ve used their tool or know any more about it, please let me know too as I’d be interested!  Watch this space…

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