10 Questions About MDT You Were Too Embarassed To Ask…

What is this MDT you speak of?

The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit is pretty much the best thing since Ghost. It’s Microsoft’s free imaging, provisioning, and PC deployment software. Think of it as the missing GUI and scripts that don’t come with the  Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK). Unless you enjoy running dozens of commands by hand from the command line to image systems, it’s imperative you have both MDT and the ADK if you’re trying to deploy Windows 7 or 8 to multiple workstations.

So is this MDT stuff new or something?

No, it’s been around since Vista, but the so-called “experts” who refused to learn Vista have been left in the dust since MDT has just gotten better and better with every release since then. In fact, every major release of Windows since Vista has been accompanied with a new and improved Version of MDT. Yes, Vista’s launch was problematic for a few reasons, but half of whining about Vista was people were still trying to deploy a 21st century OS with tools developed in the Windows 95 days. Now that Windows 7 and 8 are out, lots of people are just now playing catch up.

MDT is kind of like Ghost or Clonezilla, right?

No, not even close. Not even in the same ballpark, not even in the same league. All Ghost or Clonezilla ever did was clone disks, and even Clonezilla did that poorly. MDT does so much more, because it’s more than just cloning software. This is an automation framework that sits on top of the low level tools like imagex and other commanline tools that came out with Vista back in the day. MDT can automate the backup of user data, naming of workstations, imaging, application installation, updating, user data restoration and joining to the domain in less than an hour if you know what you’re doing. Again, all Ghost ever did was clone discs.

Why is this any different? I already have and pay for [insert name of disk cloning software here].

If you’re paying for software to do any or all of the things I just listed in the previous question, you’re probally paying too much. It’s not 2001 any more. When Windows 2000 ruled the day, and Windows XP was the OS of choice for those on the “bleeding edge” you needed disk cloning software, but these days, there’s a solution that’s free and makes Clonezilla look like a bad joke, and it fully integrates with WDS which is even better.

How does WDS play into all of this?

Windows Deployment Services is an optional role that can be installed on a Windows 2008 / 2012 Server that allows you to PXE (network) boot systems and muticast deployments across the network. Unless you’re planning on deploying to hundreds of systems a day, this is optional. Sometimes people confuse this for a stand alone deployment solution, but it’s not.

This is confusing, all these acronyms make my brain hurt, can we take a break?

Yes here’s a hilarious video of a little girl. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgKGixi8bp8
Don’t be like her, take a deep breath and focus on the essentials before you start yelling “Go!”

How do I get started?

First off, you need ADK 8.1 and MDT 2013 installed and I recommend getting a VM up and running to accelerate initial testing. Once that’s done, all you need to do is build a what’s called a deployment share. You’ll need one for building images and another for deploying images, but for now, just play with a test share and the generic image from the installation media aptly named install.wim. Once your share is built update it, and MDT will build a boot disc for you to use. Once you feel comfortable automating a basic windows windows installation, then start adding drivers, and applications to the share.

I really just want to build a super slick image, How do I do that?

Easy there young grasshopper, it’s good to have that kind of enthusiasm, but it’s important to not put the cart before the horse here and that you learn to WALK before you RUN. If you’re really new to this “automated installation” thing, do yourself a favour, and just rock the image that comes on the Windows Vista / 7 / 8.x media. Furthermore, its important to learn driver management and how to push applications after imaging, because those two skills will allow you to have “one image to rule them all”.

So I don’t put drivers or applications in my images?

If you like building lots of images and maintaining them, go for it. If you enjoy having one image for every make and model you support, keep applications like Java, Flash, and Firefox out of your image. No drivers either, build the image in a virtual machine, and let MDT install apps and drivers at deploy time. It’s easier than you think. This method helps keeps your total image count down. This is important, reducing your image count to one or two saves you and everybody you work with lots of pain down the road. Having one image that runs on laptops and desktops, Dells and HPs, is a thing of beauty, and the elusive goal of many windows engineers who do this kind of stuff for a living for many years. If you have more than two images, one for 32 bit and one for 64 bit, you may just be making your life more complicated than it needs to be.

Sounds pretty neat, are there free videos or books I can check out?

Yes, there’s tons of stuff out there, I highly recommend checking out the following resources:

If you have some money to burn, I can’t recommend enough “Deployment Fundamentals Vol. 1”