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Friday, August 9, 2013

Managing Windows Imaging By Hand - Tales of Cloning

Recently I have been working on resolving The XP Conundrum for the agency before it's staring over my shoulder. This involves a lot of OS rebuilds and new machine deployment. I came across a vendor who offered a more automated, networked, remote-enabled method of managing these images nd their application. Although it was, as expected, way out of our budget to even implement, let alone maintain, I had a chance to hash out my current build and image management approach. 

I maintain 3 "gold" images: XP Pro 32-bit, Win 7 x86, and Win 7 x64. I have not used or updated the XP image in a long time, as any new machine I purchase now is quite capable of running the W7x64 OS. The W7x86 image is used on older machines being upgraded from XP at this point (upper end Pentium 4s with 1 GB of RAM). The product I use for applying those images is Acronis Backup & Recovery Workstation (v10) with Universal Restore. The Universal Restore feature allows the application of these images across disparate hardware vendors (I build all our machines from whatever DIY kits are on sale from Newegg). 

Generally, it takes about 20 minutes to apply an image, and another 15 to finish configuration at deployment time (not counting data transfer from old machines or printer setup). We don't have any configuration variance to speak of, which makes it less of a headache to manage from my end. Everyone uses pretty much the same software compliment, and any special apps they need they install themselves (except for a couple machines for accounting and payroll). 

On average, I am building or rebuilding one or two machines a month. With this push to retire XP, I am hitting a rate of about 5 machines a week til I'm done (about 70 machines at this point).

My situation is not especially involved in terms of machine configuration management, so doing builds "by hand" is not cumbersome. I am not running a domain, and the only unique configurations are in the form of staggered backup and app update schedules. Our only 2 enterprise server instances are 2 Windows Server 2008 machines; one for VPN and one for central backup repository. 

The burden of being the solo computer guy is balanced by the fact that I am in complete control of the process and decisions about how to execute a strategy. I do what I can to centralize my operations (using Batchpatch for centralized Windows Updates management, NiniteOne for core application updates, and psexec with batch scripts for everything else), but my decisions to implement any tool or framework is driven by both budget and a desire to "keep it simple". 

I have to measure the efficacy of implementing any new tool against the learning curve and effort to maintain any associated configurations and server components. I can't afford to dedicate too much time to any one piece of my job, because I am doing it all. You can get a sense of my scope if you visit my LinkedIn page here.