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Standard Operating Environment design
Planning the environment   Deploying the environment   Request a quote/Contact me  

We all dream of deploying a new machine in minutes, with all the corporate software pre-installed.  We wish we could be sure when trouble-shooting that there was no unknown software, so strange surprises.   It is realistic.  It's what the standard operating environment means.  SOE does not mean we stop people installing software required for our business.  What is does mean is that prior to installing the technology staff analyze the impact on the other software in the environment.  It means we may choose to repackage the application prior to delivery.   It also means we will probably implement slightly more security on the desktop than what we may do in a non-SOE environment.   Of course this extra security may simply be to enforce the SOE!

In return, the SOE offers a much more stable operating environment, fast deployment of software contained in the software library, quicker troubleshooting of problems arising (which will be fewer!), more security on the desktop, & usually happier staff!

The downside to a SOE (there always is one), is a greater initial investment of effort prior to deployment.  This does mean, however, that the impact on the end user is lower & we can provide more accurate information & help to the end user at deployment time.

Planning the environment

The Standard operating environment requires carefull planning.  The planning stage should begin with IT going to the business to determine mainstream computing requirements.  Obviously not all the requirements will be incorporated into the initial build, but it should be possible to determine the core requirements - say applications required by 80% of the company for example.  You'll probably be including an office suite, email client, collaboration software, anti-virus, remote access software to name a few.

Companies will differ depending on their core business so there is no magic formula.   Also, the packages you choose to incorporate into your initial build will be affected by how additional software can be delivered to the desktop.  Do you run a Citrix environment?  You may only include anti-virus & the citrix client itself.  If all your additional software is delivered by hand, you may choose to incorporate much more software simply to avoid the necessity of taking support staff offline to install software.

The method of deployment will also be different depending on the environment.  If you have a lot of disparet hardware, unattended installs would be worth consideration.   If you have been purchasing similar hardware for some time, Ghost or True Image type deployment speeds deployment.

Deployment methodology

Symantec Ghost:

Ghost is a popular method for deploying Standard operating environments.  it's fast & reliable method for deploying an operating system along with the initial application packages.   Deployment can be as short as 30 minutes for a working machine with software packages.

Once the ghost image has been deployed, it is necessary to run a few processes.  If the machine is to be on a domain, the computer SID needs to be regenerated since it will be the same as the machine the image was taken from.  Without regenerating the SID you'll find machines mysteriously dropping off the domain.  Next the hostname needs to be changed - again, it's not possible to have multiple machines on your network with the same name.  Once this is achieved the machine is the added to the domain.

There are a few disadvantages to using Ghost.  It's necessary to have a new image for each hardware type.  Ideally this means you should be buying standard hardware.  None the less, over the 3 year depreciation life of a computer, given how often the likes of HP end of life a product you can collect a large number of images.  You will also need to ensure your software licensing allows you deploy the same license to multiple machines.  If you make a mistake on your image machine, this mistake is imaged to multiple machines!

Given these limitations, if it fits your environment, Ghost is a good choice.

Unattended installs:

All of the Microsoft operating systems provide for unattended installs.  This involes an install point, an answer file, a method of booting the target machine & copying the Windows files onto the machine (for example, Windows PE).  The machine goes through the normal install process, but without any user intervention.  All those fields you have to fill out during install are provided by the answer file.   It's possible to have the machine automatically added to the domain.  The answer file also allows for a post install script, which can be used to start an application install process.

The disadvantages of unattended installs are that the install process requires the normal time to install, there are no applications installed on the completion, it's necessary to slipstream the service packs and drivers with your installpoint.  

The upside is that there is only one set of install files, & provided the drivers are installed on the install point, it works with many different hardware types.

Remote Installation Services:

RIS is Microsoft's Preboot eXecution Environment (PXE) Boot services.  This allows for PXE enabled machines to boot from the network & RIS delivers the initial boot image to the host.   RIS allows either and image based install or an unattended install to be initialized without the necessity of a floppy disk or CD ROM.

I can offer SOE design & deployment services to your company.  I have enterprise level experience with all aspects of designing the desktop environment & ensuring it meets your company requiremensts.   Please contact me to discuss your requirements further.

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