Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Converting old Windows XP Ghost images to Microsoft Deployment Services or Microsoft Deployment Toolkit

**Special Note: Please keep in mind that this article does not explain how to prepare or configure your network environment for imaging. There is simply too much information to write and is out of the scope of this article. I could literally write a book on the subject :) Feel free to email me directly at joe@joedissmeyer.com if you are needing more information or simply have some questions on this subject. Thanks!

So, you have decided to move away from the classic Symantec Ghost way of imaging computers (‘ghosting’ or ‘cloning’) and implement the new, big, and awesome Windows Imaging Format (called ‘WIM’) OS deployment solution. Congratulations! But, why on Earth would you want to convert your old images and dump it into the new solution? Also, how do you take your current images and add them into Windows Deployment Services or the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit?

The primary reason why you would want to keep your old images is for archive and reference reasons. Also, maybe you require more than one image per hardware model or employee role. Whatever the reason, you know that you just need to keep your images.

Another reason to move to the new WIM image format is because of how GHO images are built. GHO images are sector based, while WIM images are file based which allows you to shrink captured images by up to 80%. WIM images also allow you to service the images offline; GHO images do not (at least not easily…).With WIM images, it is easier to service the images offline instead of being forced to recapture the image all over again. Think of a WIM like a large ZIP file.  You can unpack a ZIP file, change or add or remove a few things, then repackage the ZIP file all in one sitting. Now think of GHO images like an EXE file. You can’t edit the EXE’s contents and if you could, you can’t do it easily. The EXE file needs to be recreated all over again. The WIM format makes it easier to service images without having to go through an entire process to make a simple or small change. And did I mention that the Microsoft tools are free while Symantec’s software is not? Think about it :)

Now, there are several requirements in order to capture a WIM image. First, the computer must be prepared using the System Preparation Tool (sysprep) and must be in a shutdown state. No reboots after sysprep has been executed or you will need to run sysprep again. Make sure the computer is 100% turned off. If you prepared your Ghost images correctly, your deployment images should already be sysprepped. Second, you need to boot the computer into the WinPE environment. You can do this by setting up a Windows Deployment Services server and configuring PXEBOOT options, or you can build a bootable ISO using the Windows AIK, or you can use the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit to build a deployment share and create bootable ISO images and PXEBOOT network images. And finally, you can only capture WIM images for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Server 2008 operating systems.

I will explain the general steps that I took in order to convert my current Ghost images to WIM:

  1. Deploy one of your Ghost images to a computer. When imaging is complete power off the computer. Do not reboot and do not allow the computer to boot into Windows.

    So what have we done here? We simply deployed one of the sysprepped GHO images to the hard drive of a target computer. We have also NOT rebooted this computer. It is turned off. Why only turn it off? Because after first boot, Windows will apply the settings defined from running the System Preparation Tool (called Mini-Setup) and boot into Windows for the first time. Because capturing a WIM image requires that the computer has been sysprepped and must be in an unused state, we must leave the computer turned off.
    **If your Ghost images are not sysprepped, this is not a problem. Simply deploy the Ghost image, boot the computer into Windows for the first time, run sysprep and shut the computer down.
  2. Turn on the computer and immediately boot into your WinPE boot environment without allowing Windows XP to boot for the first time.

    Again, what is the purpose of this? Doesn't booting the computer allow mini-setup to run? No it does not. See, we are not booting the computer to the hard drive that has the Windows image on it. We are booting the computer into the WinPE environment bypassing the hard disk boot. This leaves the hard disk in an unused state, which is a requirement to capture a WIM image.
  3. Capture the image in WinPE and store it in your imaging solution.

    Now, while inside of WinPE we can now capture the image using ImageX, or Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, or Windows Deployment Services. It all depends on how you have your imaging environment set up. I like to use a Windows 7 Capture Image that I created in Windows Deployment Services, boot to the network, and select the Capture Image from the network boot menu. The Capture Image is a customized boot image that does only one job; Boot into WinPE and launch the Capture Image tool. Like I said in my disclaimer at the top of this article, I cannot tell you how to prepare your environment for imaging. But if you contact me via email (joe@joedissmeyer.com), I would be happy to help you out.
  4. Done.
Well that sounds easy, right?! Maybe a little, but most of it should not. This is just a simple overview of the process. It is truly up to you to understand exactly what is going on during and after the entire deployment process. Your next steps as a Deployment Administrator would be to test every captured WIM image by deploying them and making sure they all work as expected. Remember, Google it or Bing it! Be prepared to get to work as creating images is a major undertaking.
-Joe