Ramblings From The Litter Tray of Life

Posts Tagged ‘imaging’

Tips on making standard corporate PC images

Posted by graycat on 22 May 2008

As with many companies nowadays, we use standardised operating builds for our PC’s and laptops. Due to the size and way we’ve grown this has been taken up in some offices more rapidly than others but we’re making headway. After using the same base process for the last few (four or more I think) years, I thought I’d jot down some notes about how we’ve been doing things and maybe a few tricks I’ve found along the way.

Firstly, lets talk a bit of history. Now the previous method would be to build a standard base image on a clean install of the OS using one of your standard desktops or laptops and then use Ghost and sysprep to copy it onto other machines. The only problem with this is that it’s very specific to the hardware you’ve built it on and indeed drivers have to be declared in the sysprep file. If you’re in a company like mine where things have grown “organically” then standardisation, like documentation actually, is a very dirty word. This basically means that in an office of thirty computers you could quite easily have fifteen different PC hardware if not manufacturer then definitely models. Understandably this could prove tricky to do with one base image and making multiple images just adds to the overhead.

So how do you get round this? A very good and valid question. Thanks for paying attention at the back. 😉

After a lot of research I found a “little” application called Universal Imaging Utility (or UIU for short). Funnily enough, this was written by the guys that created Ghost before selling it on to Norton and then Symantec so they know a little about the cloning process at a guess. You can find their website here if you fancy a look.
Basically this software doesn’t do anything too technical but what it does do, and do incredibly well, is shoehorn in about 15 million drivers! This means that you can make one standard image and apply it to different hardware.

Let me run that one past you again slowly incase you missed it. You can build one image and then apply it to all manner of hardware.

Cool, huh?

So basic kit you’ll need for this: 1 x PC for base image, 1 x Ghost, 1 x network and network boot disk, UIU, some storage space and some coffee. Ok, the last one is for me but you can use the rest.

So the basic principles are like this:

  1. Bare metal install the OS from volume licensed CD’s
  2. Customise OS install to your needs but keeping it as light as possible.
  3. Update and patch as far as humanly possible …. ok, as far as you dare then.</li?
  4. Reboot and use your favourite network boot CD to launch Ghost and take an image off. This is your fall back image so keep it and look after it
  5. Boot back into Windows and run UIU. Just like Dorothy, follow the wizard!
  6. Reboot into ghost and take an image off
  7. Deploy and test …. if it works, you can bask in your godlyness. If not, drink more coffee and get back to work!

That’s about as much as there is to it but as with everything in IT – if it works, it’s easy. If it doesn’t then you could be in for a very long night! 🙂 lol

Anyway, here’s a few tips to go along with that:

  1. Use a dedicated machine. This will make creating base images a lot easier. I would suggest you do the initial install and then ghost off before running UIU or sysprep-ing the machine so if something goes wrong you can always go back to before you messed it up
  2. Don’t use the latest machine but one model back if possible. Third party drivers always lag behind what you can get from the manufacturer. If you’re using UIU then you’re pretty much stuck with their driver pack as you can’t add to it. I will say their support guys are great and will do their best to add in anything you request into the next update. Can’t recommend them enough really.
  3. If you’ve got USB only desktops floating about, use a similar base machine. This one took us a while to try and trouble shoot deploying a PS2 image to a USB only one. We managed it but the easiest way is to start with a USB one as it’ll go onto a PS2 machine just fine.
  4. Keep the base image as light as possible. Tune it by removing all the bits you won’t use and add in the bits you will. In our case we take out IM and outlook express sections amongst other things and add in printing services for unix and a few other choice things. The important thing though is to keep it to just Windows and as little in it as possible. This way if you deploy something like Java or Flash, then you don’t be fighting the base installation.
  5. Change the machine type to “standard PC” after you’ve sysprep’ed the machine but before you take an image. This is a tricky one to find by trial and error but by working with the support guys we managed to find out that this will help on different BIOS’s and hardware types. This gets round a few issues with SATA drives and newer BIOS settings that have caused images to fail.

wow, that’s an epic post! So I think I’ll leave it there for the moment. I’ll probably pick up the details I’ve missed out regarding network bootdisks and troubleshooting image installs.

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