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System Center Configuration Manager 2007 : Operating System Install Packages and Image Packages (part 1) - Automated Image Creation and Capture

2/13/2013 3:58:18 PM

Deployments are based off imported Windows source files or a captured image. You import the source files for Windows into ConfigMgr to create an Operating System Install Package or import a captured image to create an Image Package.

1. Automated Image Creation and Capture

The intent is to automate image creation completely, ensuring the process is repeatable and requires little or no manual intervention. The image you create can make or break the entire process, and this image greatly depends upon the system where you build it.

The reference computer, unlike the software you load on it, should be the least common denominator in your organization. The best system to choose is one that requires no additional third-party drivers (or only one or two at the most); this has become more difficult with Windows XP because its built-in set of drivers are aging but should not be an issue with Vista.

Real World:: Using Virtual Machine Technology for the Reference Computer

Sometimes finding a free system to use as a reference computer is difficult; many organizations do not like to keep spare systems on the shelf. Even if you do have a spare system sitting around, it might quickly be cannibalized or have parts that fail just because it has been sitting in a corner doing nothing! A perfect solution to this dilemma is to use a virtual machine (VM); whether it is hosted on your local desktop or laptop or in the data center on a server does not matter. This system is a VM with a small footprint; it rarely contributes any load to the host system. Additionally, the system is portable, easily reproducible, and has little or no associated hardware costs. You can even have multiple VMs running simultaneously to test variations of a specific scenario in parallel.

VMs created on Microsoft Hyper-V and VMWare virtualization products require no additional drivers. Each product line has optional integration components you can install that do include some drivers, but these drivers are not required for basic functionality of the VM. This helps because it keeps the image free from drivers, adding to the reasons for using a VM to build and capture an image. 

The easiest and recommended way to create an image is to use a ConfigMgr task sequence, built using the Build and capture a reference operating system image option available with the New Task Sequence Wizard. The next sections discuss these steps.

Preparing for the Task Sequence

There are a series of things to prepare before creating and using the task sequence. Perform the following tasks:

Create an Operating System Install Package. You can use this package to perform a full automated installation of the operating system to the reference system using the source files provided, and it is based upon the source files from a Windows CD (XP or Server 2003) or DVD (Vista or Server 2008). Generally, it is best to use installation media that has the latest service packs slipstreamed into it or manually integrate the latest service pack into the source files. Additionally, you can integrate most XP patches directly into the XP source files, eliminating or reducing the need to install them during the deployment process.

Unfortunately, there is no supported way to slipstream Vista SP 1 or SP 2 into the WIM distributed on the RTM Vista DVD. You must either obtain a DVD from Microsoft containing Vista with the desired service pack already integrated or deploy the service pack as part of the post installation process.

As with all software packages in ConfigMgr, deploy the resulting package or image to the applicable distribution points using the New Package Wizard; because these packages and images tend to be quite large, you should plan accordingly to minimize any impact on the network. Also, allow the appropriate amount of time for these to actually be copied to the proper distribution points before trying to use them.

Import drivers and create driver packages. The “Image Deployment” section covers drivers in detail.

Create software distribution packages. The basic Build and Capture task sequence requires several packages, along with some optional ones. The New Task Sequence Wizard prompts you for each of the package types.

Adding Packages

The first required package is for the ConfigMgr client. Create this package with the Package from Definition Wizard, using the Configuration Manager Client Upgrade package definition, as highlighted in Figure 1. Set the package to Always obtain files from a source directory. The source files for this package are located at \\<Site Server>\SMS_<Site Code>\client.

Figure 1. Choosing the Configuration Manager Client Upgrade definition in the Create Package from Definition Wizard

The second required package is actually for Windows XP/2003 only. This package is for the sysprep files; no programs are necessary. Sysprep is included as part of Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, and thus a separate package is not necessary to deploy these two operating systems.

Optional packages include any baseline software deployment packages that you want to include in your image and one for your unattended setup files. Here are the unattended setup files:

  • Unattend.txt and/or sysprep.inf for Windows XP/Windows Server 2003

  • Unattend.xml for Windows Vista/Windows Server 2008

OSD modifies these setup files to include configuration items specified in the task sequence including the product key, username, organization, time zone, domain or workgroup to join, Administrator password, and licensing mode. If you do not supply a package with unattended setup files, ConfigMgr builds them on-the-fly using default settings and settings configured in the task sequence. Packages used for unattended setup files or Sysprep should not have any programs defined in them. These packages are strictly used to make the files available for OSD’s use during the deployment.

Creating the Task Sequence

When the packages are in place, you can launch the New Task Sequence Wizard from the Task Sequences context menu and create a Build and Capture task sequence. The wizard prompts for the following information:

  • Task Sequence Name— This is purely aesthetic.

  • Boot image— The boot image is the WinPE image, which delivers the task sequence.

  • Operating System Installation Package— Previously created package containing the OS source files.

  • Product key— Not required if using Vista because this can be supplied after the installation is complete using a KMS (Key Management Service) or manually.

  • Administrator Account Status— You can set the local Administrator account to be disabled by default.

  • Join a workgroup or domain— If you choose a domain, you must supply credentials. For a typical build and capture sequence, this must be set to workgroup because Sysprep will fail on a domain joined system.

  • Configuration Manager client package— This is the ConfigMgr client package previously created.

  • Software updates installation— Specify all, mandatory only, or none.

  • Software deployment packages— Packages to include in the image.

  • Sysprep package— Sysprep is not required on Vista and Server 2008.

  • Image Properties— These are descriptors of the task sequence including the creator of the package, its version, and a description.

  • Image Destination— The Universal Naming Convention (UNC) path and filename to the image you create. You must supply credentials for an account capable of writing to the UNC path.

    Be aware that this path and filename are static; if you run the same capture task sequence multiple times, it overwrites the same image file. This might be the desired result and should be taken into account.

After creating the task sequence, you can modify it by right-clicking and choosing Edit. It is always a good practice to open the task sequence to verify all steps were created automatically, enter any other optional information, and change the default settings as appropriate. Some things that typically are changed or added include the time zone, the disk format type (by default a full format of the destination volume is performed) and the addition of the unattended files package.

Formatting the Destination Volume

Leaving the disk format type as the default full format can add significant time to deploying the image. A full format of a typical 80GB hard drive takes around 10 minutes. If you have systems with larger drives, this time is increased. To change the format type to Quick, edit the Partition Disk 0 task in the task sequence. Update the volume properties at the bottom of the dialog box by highlighting the Default (Primary) volume and clicking the properties button. From the resulting dialog box, enable the Quick format check box and click OK (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Selecting the option to quick format a partition

The End Product

The result of these processes is a baseline image containing an operating system, applications, and customizations you can deploy to any system and layer on top of with further applications and customizations. If set up properly, the image creation process on average-performing hardware should take around an hour for XP/2003 and about 90 minutes for Vista/2008; it will also be completely automated other than turning the reference system on—although this could also be automated using Wake On LAN. Modifying the image in the future is just a matter of updating the task sequence and kicking it off again. This process minimizes the hands-on time involved to create or update your images and ensures that multiple image builds are consistent with each other—making this a completely repeatable process.

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