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Last Updated September 10, 2008

How to utilize the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit

The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) is a software package designed for network deployment of Microsoft Windows operating systems, including Windows XP and Vista, as well as Windows Server 2003 and 2008. 
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Configuring operating systems for automated deployment is a fundamental task of desktop management. Over the years, Microsoft has provided some tools and methodologies, and third-party vendors have filled in the gaps. Recently, however, Microsoft has begun to fill in those gaps itself with the development of Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) and User State Migration tools, as well as the introduction of the Windows Image format with Windows Vista.

BDD 2007 was a big step toward bringing those tools together in a cohesive framework, and it has now evolved into the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT). The reason behind the name change was that MDT supports automated deployment of Windows Server 2003 and 2008 operating systems as well as Windows XP and Vista .  Using the tool, you can automate a complicated OS configuration, including custom drivers, patches and applications. You can deploy your OS using this scripted installation or have MDT automatically Sysprep and capture a reference image that can be deployed via Windows Deployment Services, Systems Management Server 2003 or System Center Configuration Manager 2007.

You can install the MDT Workbench on a workstation or server. For a production environment, you’ll want to use Windows Server. The MDT installation is straightforward. The initial download is about 30 Mb, expanding into 130 Mb after installation. Once you launch the toolkit, a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) interface opens into an information center that will walk you through the steps required to configure MDT, introduce you to the documentation, check for news and updates and prompt you to download the components. At this phase, it’s easy to skip the documentation and dive right into the toolkit, as the User Checklist interface walks you through installing the components and loading OS source media, drivers and applications. However, to really understand how to leverage the capabilities of the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit and task sequencer, spending time reading the documentation is recommended.

Step 1

The first step in configuring the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit is to download and install the required components. This includes the Windows Automated Installation Kit, Microsoft Core XML Services 6.0 (MSXML), User State Migration Tool and additional tools. If these components were installed ahead of time, MDT will recognize them and not prompt you to download them.

Step 2

The next step is to configure the distribution share, which includes installing the Windows Automated Installation Kit (if you haven’t already) and creating a distribution share. This share will be where MDT loads the script libraries, components for Windows PE and operating system source media, drivers and applications. When configuring the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit on a server, I typically place the distribution share on a larger secondary drive (instead of the C: drive) to allow the directory size to expand.

Your size requirements will depend on how many operating systems you are loading, as well as the number of applications, drivers and patches. Typically, around 200 MB should be a working minimum for a production server. When the share is created and populated by MDT, you’ll notice that it isn’t configured as a “share” -- just as a folder. Do not configure the share manually at this point, as MDT will configure it later.

After the share is created, upload the Windows Operating System source media. This is as simple as pointing MDT to a CD drive or network path containing the files. The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit recognizes the media and will import the files for you. You can load both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of multiple operating systems.

Step 3

Adding applications is an optional step that uses a similar process. You can import the application source media into MDT’s shared folder or reference an existing directory in another location. Either way, you’ll need to type in the application name, version and specific path to the executable, as well as any installation switches. 

Operating system packages are patches and other files required by the OS that you would like included in the base install. This directory will only work with Windows Vista and Server 2008 updates. If you wish to deploy Windows XP updates, you may be better off using MDT to call a WSUS server or a batch file to install the updates from the task sequencer.

Step 4

The last step is to install drivers. The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit handles this automatically -- simply point it to a driver directory and it imports and segments the drivers for you. You can create custom groups for specific drivers and use WMI queries to install them to specific hardware platforms. These drivers can also be automatically integrated into your WinPE boot CDs using MDT with just a few mouse clicks.

Once the components are configured, you’ll configure a task sequence that tells MDT what you would like to do. Microsoft has built in a number of templates that will get you started quickly, but you can also create a custom sequence from scratch.

The first component is to name the sequence and choose the operating system you’ll be deploying. Next, configure the Unattend file with your organization name and license information. Then, using the task sequencer, you can tell MDT to load specific applications and groups of drivers, capture an image of the workstation, back up the user profile, customize the desktop, restore the user profile, or configure server roles. This area is the most complicated (and most powerful) component of the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, and you’ll need to dive into the MDT documentation to get the most out of it.

Once a task sequence is completed, have MDT finally create the actual deployment share. In this step, MDT shares the Distribution directory you created earlier and configures a WinPE boot CD for you. You can also use SQL Server or SQL Express to create a database for you that can configure workstations automatically based on MAC Address, Asset tag or other criteria. For more details on the advanced capabilities and features of the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, check out the Deployment Guys blog.

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