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Q: What's the Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) OS Deployment Feature Pack?

A. Traditionally, Microsoft's desktop deployment strategy has been Microsoft Remote Installation Services (RIS), which is basically a full installation of the OS that delivers the installation files over the network instead of through a CD-ROM and includes some built-in unattended functionality. The RIS process is slow because it takes a full installation path each time. For faster installations, you can use third-party imaging tools to capture the image of a built reference system and copy it to multiple other machines.

Microsoft first introduced imaging technology in its Automated Deployment Services (ADS); however, you can use the ADS technology only with server builds and it requires that you run Windows Server 2000, Enterprise Edition.

The SMS OS Deployment Feature Pack is an image-based solution that lets you deploy Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, and Windows 2000 Server from your SMS infrastructure. You must run SMS 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1) and install the SMS SP1 client throughout your enterprise to take advantage of the OS upgrade and refresh options that let you deploy OS upgrades to existing machines.

You can download the OS Deployment Feature Pack at The feature pack includes a great installation guide that walks you through all the configuration steps, so I won't delve into the steps here.

The OS Deployment Feature Pack uses Windows Imaging Format, which will likely be the format that all Microsoft's imaging technologies use from now on. Currently, you can't mount and edit .wim files, but Longhorn, the next Windows version, will add this support (Windows Imaging Format is a core part of the Longhorn deployment strategy.) Windows Imaging Format is file-based rather than sector-based, which means that the disk image can use Single-Instance Storage (SIS) technology. SIS reduces the amount of space that data requires because duplicate files are stored only once. Windows Imaging Format also uses a very high compression rate, which reduces image size to about one-third of the original content size, and you can deploy .wim files to partitions without first deleting a partition's existing content.

The OS Deployment Feature Pack uses the following technologies:

  • Sysprep--prepares the reference computer before its capture. The tool removes machine-specific settings so that you can deploy the disk image to other machines without System Identifier (SID) or globally unique identifier (GUID) clashes.
  • Microsoft Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE)--helps you capture and deploy the computer images. WinPE is included in the OS Deployment Feature Pack, so you don't need to worry about WinPE licensing. The SMS Management Console has options to build both the Image Capture CD-ROM and the Image Deployment CD-ROM based around WinPE. You can avoid using a deployment CD-ROM by using RIS to deploy WinPE. You also don't need a deployment CD-ROM if you're performing an upgrade or refresh of an existing SMS client. The OSD Feature Pack copies WinPE locally to the client-machine disk. (Because of this setup, complete disk wipes aren't supported; however, the next version of the OS Deployment Feature Pack might support running WinPE in RAM to avoid using the local disk.)
  • Diskpart--partitions the disk
  • User State Migration Tool (USMT)--used in computer refresh scenarios in which you want to preserve users' profiles. The OS Deployment Feature Pack copies the profiles (all profiles, not just the current user profile) to a specified location and then restores them after delivering the refreshed OS using the USMT.
  • The OS Deployment Feature Pack is a "light-touch" product, meaning it requires minimal user input. However, Microsoft provides another technology, the Business Desktop Deployment pack, which is a "zero-touch" technology that builds on the SMS OS Deployment Feature Pack. For information about this technology, visit To capture a disk image, first configure the reference machine with required service packs, fixes, and applications; install the SMS SP1 Advanced Client, and copy Sysprep into the C:\sysprep folder. The machine must be configured to boot from CD-ROM before it boots from the hard disks. The reference machine must also be a member of a workgroup rather than a domain, and you shouldn't have renamed the Administrator account. Insert the SMS Image Capture CD-ROM into the reference machine and select Capture from the main menu. The capture process will run Sysprep with the parameters you provide (although default settings will be suggested based on the detected OS) then resets the SMS Advanced Client site membership if required. The machine will boot from the SMS Image Capture CD-ROM and launch WinPE. The capture process creates the .wim image and stores it on the remote server via the UNC path specified. Next, use the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) Systems Management Server Administrator Console to create the image package and deployment settings, as the figure shows. You then send the image package to your typical SMS distribution points and advertise it to machines that require the OS upgrade.
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