Problem solve Get help with specific problems with your technologies, process and projects.

Setting up workstations with Remote Installation Services

In larger companies, there are two popular options for streamlining the task of manually setting up workstations: disk imaging and Microsoft's Remote Installation Services (RIS).

Setting up new workstations can be a particularly time-consuming network management task. Manually setting up one...

machine is no big deal – it might take a couple of hours -- but what happens if you have to set up 100 new machines? The other problem with manual set-up is that it's easy to forget to deploy an application, a patch or a print driver.

In larger companies, the administrative staff often uses disk images as a shortcut. One PC is configured in the desired manner, then an image is made of that PC's hard drive. That image can then be copied to the hard drives of other new workstations, thereby expediting the configuration process.

But even disk imaging has its drawbacks. Usually, you can only use a disk image if the PC that the image is being copied to has hardware identical to the one the image was taken from.

There's an even more serious issue involving disk imaging. In Windows, every computer on the network must have a unique security identifier, or SID. If you simply make a disk image off one PC and copy it to another PC, you're also copying the original PC's SID as well. Now neither PC has a unique SID. You can usse an SID randomizer program, but this will increase the cost and time involved in managing disk images.

Another option for automating the task of setting up workstations is to use Microsoft's Remote Installation Services (RIS). With RIS, which ships with Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003, you can deploy a disk image to new PCs in such a way that the uniqueness of SIDs is preserved, and hardware discrepancies aren't as much of an issue.

RIS also gives you the option of setting up workstations by using standard, scripted or image-based installs. In each case, the new workstation performs a Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) boot by using either a PXE-enabled NIC or an RIS boot disk. Once the workstation acquires an IP address, it attaches to the RIS server and begins the operating system installation.

A standard installation is similar to booting from a Windows installation CD. The workstation reads the Windows Setup files off the RIS Server in a manner similar to the way it would read the Setup files off of an installation CD. I don't recommend using this method, because the installation process is still manual. Someone has to sit at the workstation and enter the product key and answer the other prompts. The only advantage of a standard RIS-based installation over a CD is that multiple workstations can be set up at once (assuming you have someone available to answer the prompts on each machine).

A scripted deployment works exactly like a standard deployment, except that an answer file is used to automate the setup process. The answer file provides Windows Setup with the answers to all the questions that Setup would normally prompt the installer to answer.

A scripted deployment also has downsides. First of all, each Windows workstation on your network must have a unique computer name. It can be difficult to construct an answer file in a way that assigns a different computer name and a different product key to each workstation. The other disadvantage is that a scripted deployment is typically only used to install and configure the Windows operating system, not applications that reside within Windows.

I will cover image-based deployments in a separate article, which will explain how to create an RIS image and configure RIS to deploy that image to new workstations on your network. But for now, I want to talk about the process for preparing the RIS server.

There are a few prerequisites to the RIS server installation process.

  • Your RIS server must have at least two hard disk volumes. Why? Because RIS can not be installed onto the boot drive or onto the system drive; the volume that's going to be hosting RIS must be formatted as NTFS.
  • An RIS server can not be multihomed – it can only have one active NIC.
  • Your RIS server must be a member of an Active Directory domain.
  • You must have a DHCP server on your network. If you don't have a DHCP server, the RIS server can be configured to act as a DHCP server.

The procedure for installing RIS on your server is fairly simple.

  • Open the Control Panel and select the Add/Remove Programs option.
  • When the Add/Remove Programs dialog box appears, click the Add/Remove Windows Components button. Windows will now launch the Windows Components Wizard.
  • Select the Remote Installation Services check box and click Next. When you do, Windows will copy the necessary files. (You may be prompted to insert your Windows Server 2003 installation CD.)
  • When the installation process completes, you will have to reboot your server.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server, Exchange Server and IIS. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. He writes regularly for and other TechTarget sites.

More information on this topic:

Dig Deeper on Windows Server troubleshooting