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Imaging Process Overview - How I do it.

posted Sep 25, 2010, 2:19 PM by Michael Wilson
I thought I'd start out by giving a general overview of how I go about the process of building and deploying a new Windows image where I work.

Step 1: Pick a template PC. 
    Generally speaking people will tell you to make your image on a relatively generic or older PC. I don't. Instead, I always build my image on the most common model of PC the image will end up being used on. When you get down to it, I don't think it matters much what you pick, but I always look at the most common model as the one that 'has' to work so I might as well start there.

Step 2: Setup the PC.
    Start with a piece of Windows volume license media and install Windows on your template PC. Then update, and install software, and update that, and basically setup the PC so it is ready, or almost ready, to be put on an end users desk. Quick note, some software can't be included in the image. In particular, keep an eye out for software that requires activation, is custom from PC to PC, or is otherwise cataloged and unique.

Step 3: Setup a sysprep.inf or unattend file.
    The specific name of the file will depend on your version of Windows. This file should contain things like your Windows Product key, credentials to join a domain, and a bunch of generic system settings like what language pack to use and what time zone  you're in.

Step 4: Make an Unsealed image.
    This step is crucial. Once you actually run Sysprep and generalize your template PC you can't go back. By taking an image of the PC before you run Sysprep you'll be able to go back and make corrections if anything goes wrong without completely starting over. And believe me, things WILL go wrong. This is also helpful becuase in a few months when a new update or piece of software comes out and they want you to make a new image you can just throw your unsealed image on a box, add the new stuff, and make a new unsealed image.

Step 5: Run Sysprep and make a Sealed image.
    After you run Sysprep and shutdown the PC it is critical that you make an image of it before it boots even once. Miss it and you'll be starting over with your unsealed image. You did make one, right?

Step 6: Test, test, test
    Install your new sealed image on as many different pieces of hardware as you can get and see what breaks. Take notes, you will be quized on this later.

Step 7: Reload the unsealed image and fix the broken crap you found in Step 6

Step 8: Go back to Step 4 and keep going back through until you squash all of your bugs

Step 9: Deployment
    There are many different ways to deploy an image but if you're like me, and you don't have the resources to do fancy server-based deployments, look at high speed flash drives. Where I work we use the Patriot Xporter and the Corsair FlashVoyagerGT. In my experience a 16GB drive is more than enough, depending on how much crap you put in your image. Expect Windows XP with Office 2007 or Windows 7 with Office 2010 to both weigh in between 5 and 6 GB of space. Loading the image on Pentium 4 based system should take about 10 to 15 minutes. Look for a Core2duo or newer to take less than 10 minutes.

So, there's the broad outline of how I image PCs. It's a little generic, but expect more detailed posts to follow.