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System Center Configuration Manager 2007 : Operating System Deployment - Tools Overview

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11/8/2012 4:40:37 PM
Although it is completely integrated into ConfigMgr, OSD uses and takes advantage of multiple separate tools. Knowing how OSD uses these tools and each tool’s function is beneficial when setting up a deployment and troubleshooting problems. Microsoft also provides complementary tools that can enhance your deployment experience. The following sections discuss a number of these tools.


Sysprep, short for System Preparation, is one of the primary tools used for unattended setup of all flavors of Windows. Essentially, when used for imaging, Sysprep removes the unique Security Identifiers (SIDs) specific to a particular installation of Windows. Sysprep then configures the installation to run a brief, GUI-based, mini-setup when the system restarts. This mini-setup provides the following benefits:

  • Generates new and unique SIDs for the system

  • Enables the input of a new Windows product key

  • Reruns the plug-and-play hardware detection

  • Reruns the driver installation process

Sysprep in OSD

OSD fully automates the mini-setup process with a configuration file. The name of the file varies based on the version of Windows used:

  • Sysprep.inf for Windows XP

  • Unattend.xml for Windows Vista

OSD either builds the appropriate file on-the-fly or uses one supplied to it, inserting the information automatically into the Sysprep configuration file. This information includes the product key, organization name, networking information, and domain credentials. Incorporating this functionality adds to OSD’s flexibility by eliminating the need to maintain multiple sysprep files supporting multiple deployment scenarios.

Version-Specific Flavors

Each version of Windows has its own specific version of Sysprep. For versions of Windows before Vista, you must make Sysprep available to the setup process separately by creating a package or placing the files in %SystemRoot%\sysprep. You can find these files in the deploy.cab compressed file located in the \Support folder on the installation media, or you can download them from the Microsoft download site, www.microsoft.com/downloads.

For Windows Vista and later, the sysprep files come with the operating system and are located in %windir%\System32.

User State Migration Tool

You can then import this archive onto another system, restoring the user data and settings. USMT’s default configuration captures all known Microsoft-centric settings and data, such as wallpaper, color scheme, Microsoft Office documents, favorites, and all files in the \My Documents folder. You can customize these defaults based upon the requirements of your environment. Microsoft provides further documentation on USMT at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc722032.aspx.

Incorporating XML Capabilities

The information USMT captures from a source system is highly customizable by modifying or creating a series of eXtensible Markup Language (XML) configuration files. These XML configuration files describe the files, folders, and Registry entries that USMT captures; you can either specify exact filenames and Registry locations, or perform wildcard searches to locate data or settings in these XML configuration files. USMT then uses these configuration files to capture all specified data and settings and put them into an archive for later use in restoring to a destination system.

The Tools in USMT

USMT actually consists of two tools:

  • LoadState.exe

  • ScanState.exe

As their names imply, ScanState.exe captures the data and settings whereas LoadState.exe restores them. Although the use of these two tools is mostly hidden from OSD in ConfigMgr 2007, it is worth noting.

Microsoft Deployment Toolkit

The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) is a separate, yet complementary, set of tools for OSD. The MDT is available in one of two ways:

  • As a completely stand-alone solution for deploying operating systems in a similar manner to OSD

  • As an add-on to OSD

The Microsoft Solution Accelerator team developed the MDT, and MDT 2008 is the latest revision of the Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) Toolkit.

When installed as a complementary tool to ConfigMgr, the MDT provides a wizard that helps create the multiple packages required for OSD. It adds ten new tasks available for task sequences , and adds a Preboot eXecution Environment (PXE) filter supporting unknown computers when deploying an image. The MDT is not required for ConfigMgr OSD but is a potentially valuable addition.

Windows Automated Installation Kit

The Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) installs as part of your ConfigMgr installation and is available as a separate download from Microsoft. The version you use depends on the version of ConfigMgr you run:

  • Version 1.0— Installed with ConfigMgr 2007 RTM (Release to Manufacturing)

  • Version 1.1— Installed with ConfigMgr 2007 Service Pack (SP) 1

The primary difference between the two versions is that Microsoft updated the Windows PE (Windows Preinstallation Environment) boot images to Windows PE 2.1.

The WAIK is a set of tools designed to automate a Windows installation. ConfigMgr 2007 automatically uses some of the WAIK tools such as Sysprep and ImageX during the deployment process. The WAIK also includes user guides on how to use these tools, reference documents on the various unattended setup files, and Windows PE.

Using OSD fully automates and completely integrates the many details of using the tools in the WAIK. You can also manipulate images outside of OSD using WAIK tools; this was not allowed in earlier versions of OSD.


ImageX is a stand-alone tool that creates and deploys Windows Image Format (WIM) files from a Windows volume; because the tool is completely integrated into ConfigMgr, you do not need to install additional software. ImageX is also part of the WAIK and can be installed and used separately by installing the WAIK. Because of the tight integration, you can seamlessly use images created using ImageX outside of ConfigMgr in OSD; the opposite is also true.

Additionally, ImageX can “mount” previously created WIM files for read or read/write access. This allows you to access the files and folders stored in a WIM using a previously existing empty folder on the system. You can then add or modify files using Windows Explorer or any other tool, just as if they are part of the host system.

WIM files are the next generation of Microsoft’s proprietary archive Cabinet files (often referred to as .CAB files). Using WIMs adds the ability to store metadata about the files and directories it contains; this capability allows you to restore a complete volume. Here are the advantages WIMs have over alternative, sector, or bit-based imaging tools:

  • File system independent— You can capture WIMs from or deploy them to either NTFS (NT File System)- or FAT (File Allocation Table)-based file systems.

  • Volume size independent— WIMs do not store any information about the volume from which they are captured. You can deploy WIMs if enough room is available on the destination volume.

  • Processor architecture independent— ImageX works identically on x86, x64, and Itanium processors. The WIMs created on each are the same format and interchangeable.

  • File-based compression— Files are independently compressed inside the WIM; this often leads to better compression ratios than bit-based images.

  • Multiple images in one file— Multiple distinct volume images can be contained in a single WIM file.

  • Single instancing of files— Multiple identical files are stored only one time. This leads to huge space gains when a WIM contains multiple images.

  • Nondestructive image application— Images can be applied to a volume without destroying existing files and data.

The WIM file has proven to be so useful and versatile that Microsoft chose to drop the previous method of installing Windows with a file copy and instead uses a WIM file! Installation media for Vista and Windows 2008 contain single WIM files, taking advantage of all the items listed in this section.

System Image Manager

The System Image Manager (SIM) is part of the WAIK tools. SIM is a new GUI tool that builds unattended answer files for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. Instead of having to worry about the syntax of the answer file (particularly because the Vista/2008 answer file is now stored in XML), this tool graphically presents all available options and generates the unattend.xml file for you. This same file format is utilized for Sysprep equivalent files (sysprep.inf in Windows XP) used by the mini-setup to complete the setup of a Vista system when Sysprep is used.

SIM also allows you to service a Vista WIM file by adding drivers and published updates from Microsoft.

Windows PE

The Windows Preinstallation Environment is a mini-operating system currently based on Windows Vista. It includes support for networking, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), VBScript, batch files, and database access. Most things that run on a full-blown Vista system also run in Windows PE. The advantage of PE is that it is much smaller than the full-blown OS (typically around 100MB), and runs from a read-only disk. This makes PE suitable for booting from a CD/DVD, or over the network using PXE. OSD uses Windows PE as a boot environment, ensuring the native operating system will not interfere with the deployment process.

Many competitive imaging products traditionally used a DOS-based operating system for their boot environment. Using a DOS-based OS leads to several issues:

  • Most hardware vendors no longer create or distribute DOS network drivers.

  • DOS does not natively support advanced scripting languages, such as VBScript or Jscript.

These two factors greatly limit what you can accomplish during a DOS-based deployment. In contrast, Windows PE not only uses all Windows-based network drivers but also uses scripting languages, such as VBScript or JScript.

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