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Windows Server 2008 R2 : Managing Active Directory with Policies (part 4) - Deploying Software Packages Using Domain Group Policy Objects

3/26/2011 7:02:56 PM

Deploying Software Packages Using Domain Group Policy Objects

Domain Group Policy Objects can be used to deploy Windows Installer compatible MSI software application packages. Many software vendors provide their desktop and sometimes even their server applications as MSI packages, which can make deploying these applications using domain policies very easy. Some applications, however, are not so nicely packaged and require the use of a third-party MSI packaging product or must be deployed using a different method. Software deployment with domain policies is functional but does not provide very flexible configuration and deployment options, such as those included in Windows Server Update Services for Windows and System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2, formerly Systems Management Server, for all types of applications and several other third-party software vendors that provide software deployment software suites. Deploying a software package using Group Policy requires the following steps:

1.
Define the parameters of the installation and locate, create, and customize the Windows Installer MSI package.

2.
Place the MSI package on a network share that allows the necessary Active Directory computer and/or user accounts to read the package and any other necessary files during installation. This includes configuring the share and NTFS permissions as required and, in many cases, selecting the Authenticated Users group works well unless tighter security of the software application is required.

3.
Add the software package to a new Group Policy Object to apply to users or computers and define the deployment options. Deployment options can be defined when the package is added to a policy, but after the software package is deployed to a system, any changes to the configuration of the software package will not be picked up by that system unless the package is then configured to reapply the package, which can cause some undesirable results.

4.
Link the GPO to a test organizational unit that contains only one or a few computer and/or user accounts to test the policy.

5.
If the software package is being deployed to computers, including Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 systems, configure Group Policy settings to force these systems to perform Synchronous Foreground Refresh, which forces the system to wait for the network to start before attempting to process Group Policy Objects. Windows servers wait for the network before processing group policies by default.

6.
Verify GPO application and software installation results and, if necessary, update the GPO settings as required to achieve the desired installation configuration and behavior.

7.
After the software package has been verified or updated to run correctly, remove the link from the test OU, and link the GPO to the desired domain, site, or organizational unit(s).

Creating a New Software Installation GPO

Deploying software applications using a Group Policy Object is a simple task after the package is created and any necessary customizations to the installation behavior are defined. In many cases, the desired deployment option is to deploy the application to computer objects. When applications are deployed to computers, the applications are installed during the startup cycle of the system. This, of course, requires that the system starts while connected to the organization’s network over a fast link and waits for the network to start before attempting to process group policies with the software package.

To deploy a packaged MSI software application using a domain group policy to a computer, perform the following steps:

1.
Log on to a designated Windows Server 2008 R2 administrative server.

2.
Locate the MSI package that will be deployed using the new Group Policy Object and copy it to a network share. Ensure that the Authenticated Users group has at least Read Share permissions and Read and Execute NTFS permissions in the shared folder.

3.
Open the Group Policy Management Console from the Administrative Tools menu.

4.
Expand the domain to expose the Group Policy Objects container and select it.

5.
Right-click the Group Policy Objects container and select New.

6.
Type in a name for the new GPO such as CorporateSoftwareGPO and click OK to create the new GPO. Do not select a starter GPO as this GPO will only contain the software package and does not need to have any prepopulated information.

7.
After the GPO is created, right-click on the new GPO and select Edit.

8.
When the Group Policy Management Editor opens, expand Computer Configuration, expand Policies, and double-click on Software Settings.

9.
Right-click on the Software Installation node and select New, Package.

10.
A Browse window opens. Locate the MSI package and click OK to add the package to the GPO. The package must be available on a network share and should be referenced using a UNC path.

11.
When the Deploy Software window opens, select the Assigned option button, and click OK to complete the process.

12.
After the process completes, which can take a few minutes, the package will be listed in the right pane. Right-click the new package and select Properties to open the advanced property pages.

13.
In the property pages for the package, review the settings on the Deployment tab to determine if the package should be automatically uninstalled if the computer is removed from the application of this policy, as shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10. Configuring autouninstall of software packages with GPO removal.


14.
With the property pages still open, review the settings on the remaining tabs and make any required changes to the way the application package will function.

15.
After the package is configured, click OK to close the property pages, and close the Group Policy Management Editor.

16.
Return to the Group Policy Management Console, and link the GPO to an organizational unit that has a few test or pilot systems on which the package can be installed.

17.
Locate and log on to a system in the linked OU and reboot it to attempt to apply the new GPO and install the software package.

18.
Troubleshoot and repair the GPO and package as necessary to achieve the desired functionality.

19.
After the GPO is working as desired, link it to the intended site, domain, or OU.

20.
Back up the GPO and log off of the test system and the administrative workstation.
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