Is it always beneficial to employ partially or fully-integrated add-on software with your deployment solution? Well, it depends on your process, and your process depends on the capabilities of your selected OS deployment solution.
Third-party applications can be useful in assisting in the management of drivers, application packaging, and patch management, among others. Your solution may include these functions, yet sometimes a third-party vendor, dedicated to one function, may do it better/offer more granularity/better features, etc.
If you have a process that does not include OS images derived from installation media, and you wish to employ third-party software to augment the preparation of your final deployed OS, you'll find that stand-alone add-ons are your best if not only option. You may also find that the selection of available stand-alone applications is not plentiful. The design of stand-alone applications must take into account the state of the operating system and be executed (usually manually) at a specific time during the OS deployment process, either prior to the image capture or after image deployment.
One of the big draws of solutions that utilize imported OS images is the capability to make changes to OS configurations during the application of a raw image when the OS is offline and able to accept changes to files and registry entries. Many of these solutions, such as Microsoft SCCM or MDT, not only allow for development of integrated applications though the support of software development kits (SDK), they also support the creation of automated answer files (with varying granularity) to assist in the configuration of the deployed, raw OS.
Integrated applications, when given access to sufficient features of the deployment solution, can execute the design of the add-on with great efficiency, using standardized, approved methodologies. This enables a high degree of stability and consistency, often reducing associated troubleshooting efforts.
So, if you're selecting a new OS deployment solution or considering a more efficient process, be sure to research what third-party applications are available and potentially useful in your environment. Save yourself some time and effort!
How important are third-party integrated applications within your deployment solution?
What are your favorite plug-ins?
One of the more beneficial features of the Microsoft SCCM Administration Console is that it can be installed on a network computer to facilitate the use of SCCM without requiring access to the Primary Site Server (PSS). Unfortunately, for the Universal Imaging Utility System Deploy Plug-in (UIUSD) to operate, you must configure the Operating System Deployment (OSD) Task Sequence directly on the PSS.
At least, that's how it used to work. Not anymore.
Introducing the SCCM Remote Console
Beginning with UIUSD version 126.96.36.199, the SCCM Remote Console allows you to configure and execute an OSD Task Sequence from an Administration Console that is not installed on the PSS.
The SCCM Remote Console is a great enhancement for anyone who does not have convenient access to the PSS Administration Console, such as those working in a lab environment with access only to OSD operations within SCCM. It also benefits those whose PSS is located in an off-site data center that includes limited or inefficient access.
Currently, the UIUSD Remote Console can operate with only one PSS, a limitation predicated by the FQDN, associated with the connection to the PSS and required during the setup of the SCCM Administration Console. Future releases, however, will be able to connect to multiple PSS instances simultaneously.
When you install the newest version of the UIUSD, the installer automatically detects whether the PSS is located on the resident machine. If the PSS is not found, the Plug-in Only Installation (Configuration Manager Console Only) Setup Type option is automatically selected, ensuring that you have remote access.
The rest of the UIUSD setup process occurs as prescribed in Section 9 of the UIUSD Installation Guide
Please note that the Plug-in and UIUSD Package Installation (Primary Site Server) Setup Type is only available if the UIUSD is installed on an SCCM Primary Site Server.
Some device drivers used in hardware include executables along with hardware drivers. Some devices (graphics and audio) include them more frequently, particularly drivers that have been modified and re-branded by major manufacturers. These executables can prove problematic when utilized during a full, unattended installation of an operating system by a PC imaging process. Some drivers insist on the use of their included installation program, which can usually be circumvented, and almost all of them are useful, applicable, or compatible with only one make or model configuration of PC.
If a business is applying a uniform image to PCs with disparate make or model configurations, the installation of the driver's executable will either:
At best, this wastes PC resources with an unnecessarily running program. At worst, it can generate faults and deviate valuable human resources in its remediation.
Some of these drivers actually require an associated executable in order to be configured properly and completely. Their number is very small and if the driver is prepared well, will include instructions for the installation of the executable in its INI file, and the driver will be installable in an unattended fashion. Many of these executables take the form of a CPL or control panel add-in and possibly an associated system tray icon.
Are these hardware-specific applications necessary? Many of these types of applications relate to options for graphics controllers, Wi-Fi connectivity, sound controllers and hotkeys on laptops. The vast majority of the time, they supplant functions already represented by the operating system, with branding opportunities and user-friendly graphical interfaces. In a business setting, they are almost never necessary to operate the hardware, even if they may be desirable. For IT managers, it is favorable to minimize the quantity of applications that may require support, balanced with the actual benefit that those applications provide.
So, how should these hardware-specific applications be applied in the context of an operating system deployment (if they are necessary or sufficiently desirable)? The answer is simple even if the process can be complicated.
Use a bona-fide application deployment methodology. Most modern OS deployment packages either include or work with a separate application deployment feature. Products such as Microsoft's SCCM or Symantec's Ghost Solution Suite include such functions natively. As mentioned, there are third-party options available and many allow application packages to be generated in a several different styles for application to a Microsoft OS natively (such as MSI) or to utilize some installation method (such as EXE).
The bottom line is this: Don't try to force your operating system deployment methodology to do something that it's not designed to do well.
Supporting the PC imaging and deployment needs within a managed services provider or PC repair shop environment poses various challenges. It's one thing to manage computers that have the same operating system and configuration, but what about IT groups that must take care of clients with a diverse range of devices, all with different models and drivers? Add to that machines that aren't necessarily owned or scheduled for regular re-imaging and the challenges are significant.
To address this growing problem, Big Bang is introducing the Universal Imaging Utility Per-Deployment Instance (UIUPDI). This new deployment licensing model is available in November. The UIUPDI will help organizations that offer individualized driver support and imaging services to a diverse client base with a wide range of devices, operating systems, and configurations, but may not have perpetual access to or even ownership of hardware to be imaged.
Who's the UIUPDI for?
Put simply, the UIUPDI with its per-deployment license fee is the perfect model for any company or educational institution supporting computers and devices it doesn't own, that don't have one set configuration, or aren't scheduled for regular re-imaging.
That's why the UIUPDI is great for organizations like universities, PC repair shops, value-added resellers, and managed service providers. A college campus offers a perfect example: The IT group at a university provides a diverse group of student devices with intranet connectivity, antivirus protection, networking, and OS maintenance. The IT team can use the UIUPDI to standardize driver updates. With a special cost-per-deployment license that can be included in the students' fees, the use of UIUPDI will greatly simplify the universities IT workload while providing a consistent, supportable OS image.
The UIUPDI also works well for computer repair shops where users bring in various device makes and models, with a wide variety of software configurations. With the UIUPDI, the repair shop can use the UIU imaging solution to reinstall the customer's software and drivers.
UIU vs. UIUPDI
Whether you support a group of computers that have the same configurations or a more diverse group with a wide range of configurations, Big Bang has a deployment-licensing model that suits your needs.
Universal Imaging Utility (UIU)
UIU Per-Deployment Instance (UIUPDI)
Licensed PCs can be re-imaged as many times as necessary with the same license.
The license can be used on a new PC as long as the image is removed from the retiring machine.
Licensed per deployment of a UIU-prepared image to a PC.
Purchased licenses are valid for one year and cannot be renewed.
The first year of licensing includes driver updates, product upgrades, and support. Annual subscription renewal fees are a percentage of the initial purchase price.
Fee per license at a reduced rate over the UIU.
No matter your needs, give Big Bang a call to discuss your options. As devices diversify and computer configurations get more complicated, it's important to have a solid imaging support solution to turn to — and UIU or UIUPDI will meet your needs.
Founded in 2001, Big Bang is a software development and training company located in Milwaukee, WI. Our many years of training IT professionals to use Symantec Ghost led to the development of our flagship software application—the Universal Imaging Utility.
Since its release in 2004, our customers have used the UIU to deploy Windows operating systems to millions of PCs throughout the world.
We'd love to hear from you.