Buyer’s Guide: Third-Party Deployment Tools for Windows 7

Don't waste precious time suffering through manual OS deployments

The process of manually rolling out an OS across a network can be extremely time-consuming and complicated. Fortunately, if you’re thinking about deploying Windows 7 across your organization’s network, the manual route isn’t your only option. There are many OS deployment tools available from third-party vendors that can help automate this tedious task, making it simpler and more convenient.

In addition to the ability to deploy Windows 7, these deployment tools provide an array of supplementary features that can assist you. Some of the features to consider include virtual machine (VM) deployment, management system integration, remote management, Active Directory (AD) integration, and Group Policy integration.

The key to finding the right solution is determining the perfect mix of features that your organization needs. To start your decision-making process, refer to the accompanying buyer’s guide table, which outlines various Windows 7 deployment tools


Key Considerations

Of course, Microsoft’s System Center tools can greatly help with your deployment. It’s likely that you already license some System Center products. However, System Center can be complex and its capabilities might be too limited for your needs. This is where third-party deployment tools are effective in providing solutions that are tailored to your needs. Deploying non-Windows OSs is another situation in which System Center might not provide all the functionality you desire, so be sure to determine whether System Center, or any third-party tool, will help deploy the OS that your organization requires.

If you're deploying only Microsoft OSs, Windows Deployment Service (WDS) might be a good choice for you. WDS is extremely useful because it lets you deploy Windows OSs remotely. Another useful WDS feature is its ability to set up clients over a network instead of installing an OS via CD-ROM or DVD. For more information about WDS installation and deployment, refer to Rhonda Layfield’s article "Windows Deployment Service in Server 2008 R2".

Before choosing a deployment tool, ask yourself how your organization will be using virtualization. There’s a good chance that you'll have to pay more for virtualization capabilities. However, it might be worth the additional cost, as virtualization is becoming an important and necessary tool in IT infrastructures. The ability to handle thin clients, application virtualization, and client virtualization can prepare you for the future by squeezing more out of your hardware now. Plenty of solutions that include virtualization support are available.

AD integration might be a worthy feature, providing all your deployment settings in a central database. AD is useful for both small and large operations, thanks to its ability to scale up or down easily. Another consideration is whether the deployment tool offers Group Policy integration. Group Policy management can be especially difficult to manually maintain.

If your organization is planning to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7, you have migration functionality to think about. There isn’t an easy solution for this particular upgrade. One option is to reformat your hard drive and install Windows 7 on a clean new slate. However, you can save user data and settings through migration, making the process much easier. Many third-party solutions can migrate user data, application settings, and configuration settings. However, each deployment tool is unique and might offer only a fraction of the migration capabilities that your organization requires. Therefore, it's critical to determine whether your needs correspond with the deployment tool’s migration offerings.


The Right Mix

Choosing the right deployment tool often depends on the size of your business. A small business might be able to manually deploy its OSs with little hassle. However, if you're looking at a large enterprise deployment, a third-party deployment tool could be worthwhile. Although these third-party deployment tools might be a more expensive prospect than deploying your OSs manually, it might be worth those extra dollars for the convenience of an automated rollout. Refer to the buyer’s guide table for a comparison of various Windows 7 OS deployment tools that will help you decide which one is right for you.

Editor's Note: Information in this buyer's guide comes from vendor representatives and resources and is meant to jumpstart, not replace, your own research; also, the table isn't necessarily comprehensive, as some products might have been left out due to the writer's oversight or a lack of vendor response.

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