As an MSP, deploying new machines is your bread and butter. However, the pressure comes from all sides to optimize and improve the way you complete this essential task. On one side, this is a critical stage in either onboarding a new customer or extending your reach within a current customer environment. That means there is a lot riding on you making zero mistakes. On the other hand, even when you feel you could do the process in your sleep, like with any repetitive task – it’s paramount to find ways to make it happen quicker or more accurately. There are a number of ways to improve your current process, so stay with us while we provide some best practice ideas for deploying customer PCs on Windows!
Try Windows Deployment Services
One great option is to use Windows Deployment Services, alongside the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit. We’ve heard of MSPs who have cut their deployment time down from 2 hours per PC, to around 20 mins a’piece.
How does it work?
With WDS, MSPs don’t need to physically visit clients onsite to deploy new machines. It works like a server role that can be deployed over the network on any computers running Windows Server. To make things even simpler, you can use the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, which is a free tool that automates set-up and deployment, as well as other scripts intended to make the process simpler. For example, one difficulty with the PE booting process is that you need to include network drivers and disk controller drivers, which are intended to work with target hardware. You can automate the addition of drivers to the boot image by selecting the source WIM image and selecting the drivers to install, at which point the WIM image will be updated and added to the boot image section of the repository to be chosen when necessary.
Cons: Takes some time to set up before you can automate the process. May need additional tools aside from WDS, such as added scripts, MDT, or other.
Pros: You can do multiple PCs at the same time, and you can also export preconfigured settings from a database for each PC. It’s also free if you have Windows Server.
Would Azure Autopilot and Intune Work for Your Customers?
Another idea for managing Windows systems is Azure Autopilot and Intune. Autopilot is intended for Windows 10, but Intune can be used to deploy all devices. Autopilot is a collection of technologies, and together they allow you to set up and deploy new machines and devices remotely.
How Does it Work?
You’ll need a Windows Surface, an HP or a Lenovo laptop. Simply put that device ID into the Azure instance in your customer’s cloud environment, and when you turn on the laptop for the first time, you’ll see the customer’s logon screen for their specific customer domain. You now use the Active Directory credentials, and you can set up all of your scripts and configuration as usual remotely to the customer desktop environment.
Cons: Your customer will need to have an account with an Azure AD premium license. Plus you’ll probably need to watch a walkthrough to get started – here’s a good one.
Pros: Zero-touch deployment, and it’s suitable for Macs as well as Windows.
Give Open-source Tools a Whirl
Some tools such as CloneDeploy/TheOpenEm or Clonezilla are popular for offering free image cloning for quick and easy deployment of Windows systems. Let’s look at TheOpenEm, which is a managed solution that has two parts – one on the server side, and another on the client side.
How Does it Work?
You can access the tool from any device that has internet access in your network, and then PXE booting and WOL will be used over the network to load the operating system and complete the imaging. You can also use a standalone client if you prefer to boot the image over CD or USB. From this point, the imaging will happen automatically.
Cons: For the best results, you’re often advised to add all of your clients to the platform which can be time consuming and give you another system to manage. Many of these tools require you to physically use a flash drive or hard drive to start the process, and your features will be limited to what the vendor offers.
Pros: It’s free, and automatic once you’ve set it up.
How to Deploy Applications for Your Client Environment
Of course, any MSP knows that once you’ve set up Windows – that’s only step one. There are so many more things to do on your MSP onboarding checklist, from adding applications and policies, to integrating with contracts and billing and handling data migration.
When it comes to software installation, one way to make it easy for yourself is to use Chocolatey for Windows devices, (and Homebrew for Macs – but let’s stay on topic!)
Chocolatey offers a really simple and critically – a repeatable process that streamlines the critical stage of adding applications to your client environments, whether that’s for new customers or for new machines in your current client networks. There are so many different ways to install software on Windows, but Chocolatey doesn’t care, it offers a universal packaging format, and deploys them all with a single click.
With Atera, you can set up bundles with different software included, such as a default package for new clients, or a specific customer bundle with all the applications they would need for new machines, and then deploy to all with one click, transforming hours or days of manual installations down to just moments of your time. Going forward, you’ll also be able to handle patches and updates through the same single dashboard, offering an automated way to ensure that your client environments are always fresh and shiny.
Atera integrates with Chocolatey and Homebrew to make setting up new client environments as simple as the click of a button. To learn more about the easy API integration, check out this Knowledge Base article.