System imaging allows a computer to be set up with an operating system and standard set of software, so that it is ready to go with a complete application suite. With the vast numbers of client computers to support in the university, there is always a need for system imaging to allow for quick system deployment. Customized operating system images can be created that contains the most common university software and tools, minimizing installation times and providing a consistent user experience. This document addresses client desktops and laptops; another strategy document, Systems Deployment, looks specifically at server hardware.
As technology progresses and new hardware is released, the common problem faced with system imaging on PCs is the specificity of a system image to a particular hardware model. IT Services cannot afford to create and maintain separate computer images for each supported operating system. To add to the complexity, Stanford University does not have hardware standardization and clients are free to choose their own machines. In addition, 64-bit operating system architecture is gaining support by vendors, necessitating additional images.
The primary goal for IT Services is to provide clients with a robust imaging solution. With the availability of vendor-based imaging, Stanford-specific images can be included on factory shipped computers, reducing the time required for system deployment. As a secondary goal, IT Services should leverage factory image integration services from vendors when available.
System images are created using a master image and run a utility to prepare the system for large scale roll-outs. The master image is extracted using imaging software. Images are updated roughly every two months, and changes are documented within IT Servicess' Livespace collaboration website. Pre-install environments such as BartPE, Vista PE and Win7 PE are used to boot computers in preparation for imaging.
IT Services sets up a virtual machine, using VMWare, to create the master image, which removes dependency to a specific machine and allows flexibility of development. Third-party software, Universal Imaging Utility (UIU), is used to provide hardware-independent imaging on Windows XP and Windows 7. A regularly updated driver database is included, which updates images to support newly released hardware. Most, if not all, drivers are installed and require no post-setup driver installation.
After the image is captured, it is applied to a computer using Symantec Ghost or Microsoft's ImageX. Ghost, a widely-used application, is sector-based, and thus destructive since existing data is overwritten when the image is applied to a disk or partition. Another imaging software used is Microsoft’s ImageX, a command-line utility that is included with the Windows Automated Installation Kit. ImageX is a non-destructive, file-based imaging software that allows you to capture and apply images in .wim image format, which can work with other technologies such as Windows Deployment Services and System Management Server.On the first boot-up after applying the image on the computer, UIU will run as part of the Windows setup and begin installing drivers.
As Intel Macs are already hardware-independent, images are created using the newest hardware model's operating system distribution model to allow for backwards compatibility with older models.The built-in Disk Utility is used to capture the image.
As IT Services looks to increase efficiencies, system imaging plays a key role in reducing time required for system deployments. The tools required for system imaging are already in place within IT Services, thus requiring minimal additional investment. As tools become obsolete, upgrade licenses can be purchased at minimal cost.
- Continue to utilize third-party software that facilitates hardware-independent imaging on PCs.
- Encourage upgrades to Windows 7 OS. When compared to its predecessors, Windows 7 is a more universal, image-friendly operating system and requires no third-party software.
- Increase the adoption rate of imaging systems for improved standardization, working towards a better-managed desktop environment.
- Leverage factory-image integration opportunities such as those provided by Dell and Lenovo. Stanford-image-ready computers shipped directly from the vendor provide many benefits, such as reduced workload on Stanford IT consultants, elimination of “bloatware” applications included by vendors, and increased security with the inclusion of security software and settings right out of the box.
- On Macs, work with Apple to set up a hardware loaner program, so that IT Services would have the newest model Macs to create images on, providing compatibility with new hardware as well as older ones.
- Investigate the feasibility of self-service deployments.
- Investigate whether changes to images require going through Change Management or the future CMDB (configuration management database).
- Investigate whether the future CMDB should be updated when making changes to the image.
- Create robust OS images to encourage/increase adoption of imaging systems.
- Investigate other products that can provide hardware-independent imaging at lower costs without sacrificing functionality and robustness.
- When possible, recommend Windows 7 OS to clients who plan on purchasing new hardware. Windows 7 is capable of hardware-independent imaging and can eliminate costs required for third-party software.
- Work with vendors such as Dell and Lenovo to include Stanford-ready images on computers. Investigate factory image integration process.
- Investigate possibility of vendor based-imaging solutions.
- Work with vendors to provide a hardware loaner program.
Measures of success
- Continued reduction of consultant time on client machine setups.
- Client feedback from periodic surveys.