Microsoft OS deployment tools get broader role with new server

Deployment tools for Microsoft's OSes will accommodate Windows Server 2008. Expect to see more features coming in early 2008.

With the release of Windows Server 2008 just around the corner, Microsoft has expanded its suite of operating system installation tools to accommodate more than the Vista desktop.

Business Desktop Deployment 2007 was originally aimed at desktop operating system installations.

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Under the hood: Microsoft's desktop and server manager

Microsoft revamps OS deployment toolset
But Microsoft Deployment, the new moniker for Microsoft's package of OS deployment planning guides and tools, will have an expanded role.

"[Microsoft Deployment] is a better representation of the soup-to-nuts guidance tools we now have for both the client and the server," said Shanen Boettcher, general manager of product management in Microsoft's Windows client group. The installation tools give IT managers a means to automate the packaging of server OS images for Windows Server 2003 R2 and available beta versions of Windows Server 2008, for example, Boettcher said.

Microsoft also shared a roadmap for future Microsoft Deployment feature releases, the latest of which supports client-side integration with Microsoft's desktop and server manager, Configuration Manager 2007. Server Manager, a tool in Windows Server 2008 that guides IT managers through server role configurations and installations, now also supports the Active Directory server role.

Support for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is expected to be added next March. And Microsoft expects integration between Configuration Manager and Windows Server 2008 to be ready in the first half of 2008.

The goal is to eliminate many of the OS migration hurdles standing in the way for IT shops, such as hardware and application incompatibilities with Vista. The cumulative approach Microsoft is taking with Microsoft Deployment may just help nudge some corporations closer to actual OS installations, said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm.

The fact that the Vista SP1 release will coincide with the release of Windows Server 2008, both of which are scheduled to be released in early 2008, may alter corporate installation plans, however, Cherry said.

"Organizations that may be waiting for Vista SP1, or that haven't done anything yet with Vista, may decide to go ahead and deploy the server first," he said. "You often need the server infrastructure first for the client. There are fewer servers and it tends to be less disruptive to an organization than a client deployment."

Also, corporations often have an either/or decision with major deployments because of resource constraints, said Cherry.

Features previously in BDD can still be found in Microsoft Deployment, including Zero Touch installation of desktop OSes using Systems Management Server 2003 with the Operating System Deployment feature pack as well as Light Touch for minimal manual installation.

Tools for getting started

Many tools in Microsoft Deployment focus on the assessment and planning stage, which is where most enterprise customers are right now in terms of their Vista and Windows Server 2008 deployments, Boettcher said.

The planning stage starts with tools like the Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) 5.0, which helps IT manages determine which applications will and will not work with Vista, and the Windows Vista Hardware Assessment solution accelerator. Both have some added features.

ACT 5.0 now lets IT managers create data collection packages faster by putting the collected data in Microsoft installation packages rather than executable files. IT shops can then deploy the packages across machines using Group Policy.

The Hardware Assessment tool automates the process of determining which hardware can handle an OS upgrade. The tool now lets IT managers check hardware to see if it's ready for virtualized applications and server components that support virtualization, Boettcher said.

"In the virtual world, looking at hardware requirements is different," Boettcher said. "Multiple instances of the OS are being created and we need to take into account the requirements of the virtualization layer in addition to the core [OS] requirements."

Also new is the ability to do OS migrations remotely using User State Migration Tool 3.0, while being able to preserve a given PC's files and settings during an operating system upgrade.

Microsoft's tools are meant to be used in conjunction with its System Center line of management products, such as Configuration Manager. The deployment tools work with third-party systems management products as well.

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