Product Review: Specops Deploy
Product: Specops Deploy
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Although there was a time when it was common for organizations to deploy software manually, doing so is no longer practical. Manually installing and configuring operating systems is a time consuming and labor intensive process that is prone to human error. This is especially true if there are a number of machines that need to be provisioned. Thankfully, there are tools available that can automate software deployments. One such tool is Specops Deploy.
Specops Deploy can deploy operating systems (through Specops Deploy /OS) and applications (through Specops Deploy /App). For the purposes of this review, I decided to take a look at Specops Deploy /OS.
I decided to start my testing by downloading and installing Specops Deploy /OS. Like most server software, there are a number of prerequisites that must be met prior to installation. Typically, if you try to install such a product without first installing the prerequisites, you will receive an error message. Specops Deploy however, not only listed the missing prerequisites, but also provided a link that could be used to download each of the missing components, as shown in Figure A. I really wish that more software companies would do what Specops has done, because having download links readily available makes life easier.
Figure A: Setup provides you with the necessary download links.
One thing that I did discover about this process was that although Setup gave me links to download the prerequisite software, Setup did not recognize that the software had been installed, even after restarting Setup. I had to reboot the server in order to move forward with the setup process.
The installation process proved to be really simple and straightforward with no surprise aside from the previously mentioned reboot. Once the installation was complete, there was a bit of configuration that needed to be performed. Thankfully, the software displayed a Welcome screen that explained exactly what needed to be done. The interface was set up in a way that more or less guided me through the various configuration tasks, as shown in Figure B.
Figure B: Specops Deploy guides you through the initial configuration process.
Going in, the portion of the initial configuration process that I was most curious about was the way in which the software manages operating system images. Over the years, I have worked with a number of different deployment tools and each seems to have its own way of dealing with deployment images. Some will accept ISO files, while others require the administrator to set up a reference computer, run Sysprep, and then work through some sort of export process.
I was happy to see that Specops gives you a few different choices for importing an operating system. These choices include importing an operating system from the original source, initiating an operating system capture, importing a captured image, and importing a language pack.
I decided to start out by trying the option to import an operating system from the original source. I had originally planned to import a few operating systems from my ISO library, but it seems that this option does not support the use of ISO files. That being the case, I inserted a Windows 10 DVD into my server and used it as the image source. I was happy to see that after making my selection, the software prompted me for my product key up front, rather than forcing me to deal with a product key at deployment time. You can see what an operating system image looks like in Figure C.
Figure C: This is how an operating system image is displayed within the administrative console.
Next, I decided to try out the option to initiate an operating system capture. There are a few conditions that the server must meet before a system can be used to create an image. Some of the more notable conditions include that the PC must be a domain member, and RPC and WMI must be remotely accessible.
It is also worth noting that the computer from which the image is captured will be removed from its domain and generalized. This is pretty standard behavior that really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has ever run Sysprep. Even so, Specops Deploy didn’t warn me ahead of time that the computer would be removed from the domain, and that could potentially catch some less experienced administrators off guard.
After successfully evaluating my ability to capture operating system images, I decided to check out some of the software’s advanced features, starting with the Test Driver Lookup for Computer feature. This feature, which you can see in Figure D, asks you to select a computer and then specify the operating system that will be installed. This is because the hardware IDs for the computer must match those listed in the driver repository. This repository has to contain the required drivers for all of your target computers and operating systems. The Test Driver Lookup for Computer feature lets you verify that the necessary make / model structure in the driver repository matches that of the target machine.
Figure D: Specops Deploy is able to perform a test driver lookup for a specified computer.
The next thing that I decided to check out was the Policies feature. The Policies feature does a lot of different things. For instance, it allows you to set a naming policy for your computers. You can also use it to add various operating systems and / or language settings. There is even a button within the console that you can use to access the Group Policy Management Console. You can see some of the available default policy settings in Figure E.
Figure E: Specops Deploy gives you the ability to apply policy settings to computers as a part of a deployment.
Before moving on, I spent a few minutes making some modifications to the default policy. In doing so, I chose the operating system that should be deployed to client computers, specified the administrative password and localization settings, and set the time zone. There are a number of other settings that can also be configured.
The next thing that I decided to try was a bare metal deployment. In doing so, I chose the option to pre-stage a computer and was met with a screen asking for the computer’s GUID. To be perfectly frank, I had no idea what to do next. Even so, the software was there to help me. Any time that the software launches a wizard, a text block on the wizard’s right side explains what the wizard is doing. If you hover over an input field, the text box explains what the selected field does and what is required of the administrator. As such, I was able to figure out exactly what I needed to do, without having to break out the manual. This was quite a testament to the software’s usability.
Incidentally, the bare metal deployment worked perfectly. You can see the early stages of this process in figures F and G.
Figure F: My VM was able to connect to the Specops Deploy Server.
Figure G: This is the early portion of the OS deployment.
Another thing that I really liked about Specops OS Deploy is that it keeps the administrator informed of what is going on with deployments. The Deployment tab, provides a real time view of what is going on with deployments. This information can be displayed in an icon based live view, as shown in Figure H, or in a text based grid view, as shown in Figure I. Administrators can use the Deployments tab to view details about the target PC, view the installation log (as shown in Figure J), or to open the log directory.
Figure H: This is Live View.
Figure I: This is Grid View.
Figure J: This is the Log Viewer.
Needless to say, the Deployment tab can accumulate a lot of information, especially in large environments that deploy lots of operating systems. It is possible to reduce the clutter by removing deployment information, but as an alternative it is also possible to filter the view by state or by deployment server. It is possible to view the list of PCs by pending deployments, deployments that are currently in progress, failed deployments, or successful deployments. Having this information readily available could prove to be invaluable should a deployment fail because the log data could help with the troubleshooting efforts.
Incidentally, the live view and grid view aren’t just available for PCs, but also for the servers that are involved in the deployment process. Specops Deploy OS can be deployed as a distributed application with components spanning several servers, or it can be deployed to a single server.
It has become customary for me to assign the products that I review for this site a numerical score, ranging from zero (the worst) to five (the best possible rating). As such, I am giving the software WindowsNetworking.com Gold Award with a score of 4.5.
Overall I really liked this software. I found it to be easy to use, and it did exactly what it claimed to do without me running into any significant glitches. My only complaint is that I think some of the descriptive text could be slightly improved, especially with regard to what the software does when capturing an image from a computer. Even so, any shortcomings in the onscreen documentation are relatively minor.
MSExchange.org Rating 4.5/5