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Examine the top Windows 10 deployment tools

With the general release of Windows 10 drawing near, admins can choose from a bevy of tools to help install the new OS.

With the general release of Windows 10 coming next month, many administrators have been testing the Windows 10 preview and planning the most efficient way to deploy the new OS. There are several tools that can ease the process of deploying Windows 10 in larger environments, such as the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK), the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT), System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) as well as a few third-party tools.

It's important to note that enterprise customers who have a Windows business edition license can get a Windows 10 Enterprise upgrade through the Microsoft Software Assurance program. At the consumer and small business level, upgrading to Windows 10 is straightforward and doesn't require any special deployment tools. Those with a qualifying version of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 should notice a Windows icon on the right side of their taskbar. Clicking the icon reserves a free upgrade to Windows 10 Home or Pro. Customers will be contacted later this summer to schedule the installation at their convenience.

Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit

Windows ADK is a collection of tools to help enterprise admins prepare for and launch image-based Windows on a large scale. Although the tools may change by the time Windows 10 is available, the set currently includes:

  • Windows Imaging and Configuration Designer (Windows ICD)
  • Windows Assessment Toolkit
  • Windows Performance Toolkit (WPT)
  • A host of other deployment tools

The Windows Assessment Toolkit lets admins use software, drivers and hardware configurations to ensure systems can handle Windows 10 and applications. The WPT is a set of performance monitoring utilities with graphs and tables that display a plethora of data about a Windows system; the data helps admins determine how to tweak and improve system and application performance.

Windows ICD lets administrators create OS provisioning packages that provide for device customization and don't require wholesale device reimaging. The tool lets admins view image settings and policies, and add third-party drivers. Microsoft will still support traditional wipe-and-load deployments using the Windows ADK, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit and System Center Configuration Manager.

The Windows ADK and other Windows 10 toolkits are available for download from the Download kits and tools for Windows 10 webpage.

Microsoft Deployment Toolkit and System Center Configuration Manager

For organizations running Microsoft System Center, Windows 10 can be delivered as a new installation or upgrade to clients via SCCM. The MDT is a set of tools for automating deployments of desktop and server OSes (again, image-based), and provides configuration management capabilities, security and more.

MDT uses the Windows Imaging File format (.wim) and Windows Pre-installation Environment (Windows PE), and lets admins customize and configure installations as they like. For example, with MDT and Configuration Manager, administrators get a host of enterprise deployment options, such as lite-touch, zero-touch and user-driven installations.

But more options often lead to more head scratching, so look online for updated information and complete documentation on SCCM and MDT.

Third-party offerings: SmartDeploy and ENGL Imaging toolkit

Admins of smaller environments who don't want to mess with the complexities of the Microsoft tools can use third-party products to deploy Windows 10.

SmartDeploy is disk-imaging software that lets admins deploy a single OS image to various devices. Like MDT, it uses Windows PE and the .wim file format, but provides a simple interface and wizards to help deploy Windows more easily. It also integrates with SCCM, which may be a plus for enterprise admins looking for a straightforward option for specific types of Windows installations.

The ENGL Imaging Toolkit, a similar product from the UK, combines Windows system discovery, driver management, and image creation and deployment. The software supports SCCM and ZENworks Configuration Management as well.

For more information on images and tools, see my grooming Windows images for deployment tip, which highlights Microsoft Deployment and Optimization and the Microsoft Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool.

The bottom line

Knowing that admins have to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time, Microsoft strives to make large-scale deployments of Windows 10 efficient and flexible with its Microsoft ADK and MDT. However, SmartDeploy and ENGL Imaging Toolkit work with Microsoft technologies and attempt to streamline Windows installation by replacing complicated processes with easy-to-use interfaces and wizards. Although these third-party products are ideal for small to midsize environments, even enterprise admins should test these utilities while preparing for a Windows 10 live environment deployment.

About the author:
Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer who specializes in IT Certification, Windows operating systems, information security and markup languages, who occasionally works as a consultant and expert witness. He blogs three times a week for TechTarget at Windows Enterprise Desktop, and blogs weekly for (IT Certification Success), Tom's IT Pro and GoCertify.

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