If you’re looking at better ways to automate your Windows 7 deployment, you might want to consider Prowess’ SmartDeploy Enterprise. This is one of numerous tools that enable collections of PCs to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7.
As you probably know, Microsoft doesn’t make it easy to do this: While you can upgrade a Vista PC to Windows 7, you can’t do so with XP and save the various user files, applications and their settings without having to erase the entire hard drive and start from scratch.
SmartDeploy does this using a combination of virtual machine and some other clever technologies. If you have used various other deployment tools such as Symantec’s Altiris or Novell’s Zenworks, you will feel right at home here. And while it can be used to deploy all kinds of Windows OSes, in this review we’ll look at what it takes to go from XP to Windows 7.
Think of SmartDeploy as the reverse of VMware’s Converter program: It takes a virtual disk and turns it into a physical one. To get started, you need to create your target OS, such as Windows 7, inside a VM.
SmartDeploy can be used only to migrate from a VM, but it does support a wide variety of virtual machines, including Microsoft’s Virtual PC, VMware and Citrix’s XenServer. The virtual disk needs to be as clean a copy as possible of the ultimate OS, plus all your apps.
Also, don’t install VMware tools or equivalent; the PC shouldn’t have joined a domain; you shouldn’t have done any image snapshots; and the disk image shouldn’t be split among multiple files. These caveats are necessary for SmartDeploy to do its magic.
Capturing the Image
Once you have set up your VM, you then use the Image Capture tool to convert the VM into a generic Windows Image file by going through the steps here. This is the same kind of file that Microsoft ships on its Windows 7 DVD. The big difference is that with the Capture Wizard, you incorporate all the apps and other customizations that you require to produce your own image file.
Depending on how many different computers you are going to install Windows 7 on, you will want to spend some time with the Platform Manager, which is used to further customize the driver package for these PCs. If you go to the SmartDeploy.com Website, you can get a feel for which packages are available for specific hardware and vendors.
Next, you need to create the boot media, which will be used to boot the new target computers. You use the Media Wizard and walk through steps that are fairly self-explanatory.
Finally, you boot the target PC and attach to your image and load your OS. SmartDeploy uses its own preboot environment to take control of the PC and connect it to the right image (which you can store on a network file share) and load the real Windows 7 OS. The SmartDeploy software will preserve your users’ documents and settings and bring them back to the new PC at this time.
If you don’t hit any snags, it might take you a couple of hours from starting to install a virgin VM to the final boot in Windows 7. Once you have gone through this process, getting it set up on multiple PCs won’t take much additional time at all.
A Painful Process
A Painful Process
SmartDeploy has its own painful licensing process, which detracts from its overall elegance. Why is it so painful? There are a number of endless product verification keys that have to be manually entered at various places before the software can be activated and used.
That’s too bad because the product’s price is very reasonable: $1,995 for each “technician,” which could be considered a site license if you are planning on having one IT staffer perform all the migrations for your PCs across the enterprise. There’s also a complex series of additional support fees, depending on what response time you desire.
Compared with Microsoft’s free Windows Automation Installation Kit, I found SmartDeploy more flexible and easier to learn and use, mainly because WAIK consists of a loose collection of tools, each with its own quirks. In contrast, SmartDeploy’s different modules are better integrated.
WAIK also has some very arcane automation procedures, whereas I liked the way SmartDeploy works with the VM first and then brings it back into the physical OS, which then gets put down on a new PC. WAIK has more moving parts that don’t relate well with each other, and learning how to develop your “golden master” image is easier with SmartDeploy.
However, because of the way SmartDeploy works by converting a virtual machine back into a physical one, it will be a stretch for someone who has never worked with any virtualization products to just dive in and start using this one. For that reason, I would suggest using WAIK if you are new to any kind of virtualization.