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Windows 2000 Deployment: Building Windows 2000 Disk Images with Ghost

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Windows 2000 deployment expert Jerry Honeycutt discusses Sysprep and disk-imaging software such as Symantec Ghost.
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In the last few articles, you've learned about answer files and how to automate the Windows 2000 installation process. Answer files are good for deploying Windows 2000 from a network share, whether you're deploying to hundreds or even thousands of computers. They have their drawbacks, though. The first is the amount of bandwidth that running the setup program on each individual computer consumes. The second is that adding other applications to the computer gobbles up even more bandwidth and is difficult to control.

The ultimate solution is disk imaging. It has the benefit of using less bandwidth, especially if you use multicast to install multiple computers at a time. It also has the added benefit of including other applications on the image, configuring them, and deploying them along with the operating system—two birds with one stone. How does disk imaging work? The process goes something like this:

  1. Wipe out a lab computer and install Windows 2000. Use a well-tested answer file to install Windows 2000 so that you can duplicate the same configuration time and time again.

  2. Install any applications you want to deploy with the image. Make sure you install only per-machine applications. These are applications that will work properly for every user who logs on to the computer. You can verify whether an application is per-machine or per-user by looking for its Start menu shortcuts. If the shortcuts are in the All Users user profile folder, then it's a per-machine application.

  3. Create a Sysprep folder on drive C. Put Sysprep.exe, Setupcl.exe, and Sysprep.inf in this folder. You get Sysprep.exe and Setupcl.exe from the Windows 2000 Resource Kit. You make Sysprep.inf using Setup Manager (see ”Deploying Windows 2000 Using Answer Files”) or manually using Notepad. More on the purpose of Sysprep.inf in just a minute…

  4. Run Sysprep.exe, which will prepare the hard disk for duplication and shut down the computer. Then, duplicate and deploy the disk image using software such as Symantec Ghost.

After you deploy the image and the first time a user starts the computer, the mini-Setup Wizard runs. The mini-Setup Wizard uses Sysprep.inf as an answer file. Note that Sysprep.inf is a subset of a normal answer file; it supports many, but not all, of the normal answer file parameters. The easiest way to make an answer file is using Setup Manager and then editing the resulting file with Notepad.

A best practice for building disk images is to choose your battles carefully. In other words, install Windows 2000 and install the applications you want to deploy. Don't configure and don't run those applications, though. Keep your hands off. If you want to customize user settings, use one of the many other methods available for doing that rather than making your images volatile.

Symantec Ghost Console

Building disk images is really a bit more complex, particularly if you use Symantec Ghost Console. Here, I'm going to describe the proper method for deploying disk images using Ghost Console. The result is that Ghost allows you to reconfigure any computer on the network without actually touching the computer. In other words, from the Ghost Console, you can wake up a computer, reconfigure it with a new image, and shut down the computer. You can also do this for entire groups of computers using multicast. This is the way to deploy Windows 2000 in a large enterprise.

When building your Windows 2000 images, this is the process you should use if you want to use Ghost Console to its fullest:

  1. In the lab, install Windows 2000 and per-machine applications on a computer. Make sure one of those applications is the Ghost client.

  2. Boot the computer using a Ghost boot disk, which you create using Boot Wizard, and dump an image of the computer to the server using Multicast Server.

  3. Create a boot partition using Boot Wizard, and load that boot partition on the computer using Multicast Server. Note that you are wiping out the entire disk and creating a small Ghost boot partition in the process.

  4. Restart the computer.

  5. Using Ghost Console, create a task that installs the Windows 2000 image on the lab computer. Execute this task, and Ghost will create a new partition for Windows 2000 using the remaining unused space. The result is that the lab computer will contain two partitions: one for Ghost and one for Windows 2000. In Windows Explorer, you will not see the Ghost boot partition, though.

  6. Using Ghost Console, dump an image from the lab computer that contains both partitions: the Ghost partition, as well as Windows 2000. This is the image you'll deploy. After deploying this image, you'll have remote control over each computer on the network.

You can also deploy the boot partition separately from the Windows 2000 partition. In this case, you manually deploy the boot partition to every desktop. That means physically walking up to each desktop, starting it with a Ghost boot disk, and using multicast to write the boot partition to the computer. Then, you can remotely load each computer with the Windows 2000 partition using Ghost Console.

Ghost works well with Windows 2000, but there are a few things you should know before using it:

  • Ghostwalker, the program that changes each computer's SID so that it is unique on the network, does not work on native-mode domains. That also means that you can't use Ghost to join a computer to the domain. This is a bit of a spoiler, preventing you from gaining the benefits of using Ghostwalker to completely automate deployment on native-mode domains. Suggestion? Stay in mixed-mode if you can.

  • According to Symantec, Ghostwalker doesn't catch all of the SIDs in Windows 2000. Although I've not been able to verify that this is a problem, Symantec states that it very well could be a problem. No easy answers for this one.

The only solutions for the preceding two problems is to not use Ghostwalker with Windows 2000. Instead, deselect SID Change when you create your tasks in Ghost Console, and then build your images so that they use Sysprep. Sysprep will handle the SID change properly in Windows 2000, even with native mode.

In my next article, I talk a bit about deploying user settings. There are many different ways to deploy user settings, and some are better than others. See you there.

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