Deploy Windows from the cloud to on-premises hardware? Yes, you can

A little over three years ago, I was privileged to interview respected deployment experts Johan Arwidmark and Mikael Nyström here on TechGenix on the topic of deploying Windows 10 in business environments. Johan is currently a technical fellow with 2Pint Software and is an industry expert on systems management, operating system deployment, and Microsoft infrastructure in general. Johan also runs a popular blog called Deployment Research and has developed a video training platform called ViaMonstra that focuses on systems management and OS deployment using ConfigMgr/SCCM, Intune, and MDT. Mikael is currently principal technical architect at TrueSec and is also a well-known expert in deployment and many other areas. Johan and Mikael have also written a terrific series of books together called “Deployment Fundamentals,” which you can find here on Amazon. I recently caught up with Johan when some recent posts on his blog caught my attention. The posts are from an ongoing series he’s doing called Cloud OS Deployment, and they explain how you can now deploy Windows 10 onto on-premises systems without the need for any local on-premises deployment infrastructure. This wasn’t possible the last time I talked with him, so I was keen to know what had changed in the meantime that now makes this possible — even onto bare-metal systems. So, without further ado, here is my interview with Johan about this topic.

Deploy Windows from the cloud

MITCH: Thanks, Johan, for agreeing to let me interview you about deploying Windows 10 from Azure/AWS, which is a subject I’m sure that many of our readers are interested in. Let me start by looking back at the previous interview we did with you and Mikael Nystrom four years ago. At that time it wasn’t possible to have Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) running on a virtual machine in the cloud and use it to deploy Windows from the cloud onto on-premises hardware, but now it appears at last that we’re edging towards such a solution as demonstrated by your series of articles on Cloud OS Deployment on your website Deployment Research illustrate. Why has it been so difficult in the past to deploy Windows from the cloud?

JOHAN: Shorthand: the various deployment solutions from Microsoft did not have support for deploying Windows 10 via HTTP or HTTPS without access to on-premises infrastructure. And this is still true today, even though we have found ways to work around that.

MITCH: What’s changed in terms of technologies and thinking that have now begun to make cloud OS deployment possible?

JOHAN: For a start, I and some good friends decided on extending one of the existing deployment solutions, the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, to give it capabilities for imaging via HTTP and HTTPS without the requirement of a local infrastructure. In other words, you can deploy your machine while sitting at a Starbucks. Secondly, Microsoft has been adding more capabilities to ConfigMgr (so far in preview only) to do something quite similar — allowing clients to get imaging content from Azure instead of from a local server.

MITCH: As you’ve worked to develop the scripts and procedures employed by your series of articles, what challenges were you faced with that needed to be overcome?

JOHAN: As always, when trying to invent new solutions, you stumble across many unforeseen issues. We thought, for example, that we could rebuild MDT to use PowerShell instead of VBScript, and then add the cloud imaging scenarios in just a few weeks of solid coding. That was about 18 months ago, and now we have finally released something that works well and been tested on a larger scale.

MITCH: Where do things stand today with deploying Windows from the cloud? What’s possible and what’s not possible? What’s easy to do, and what takes some fiddling around to make it happen?

Deploy Windows from the cloud

JOHAN: With the release of PowerShell Deployment (PSD), the open-source MDT extension, cloud imaging is available right now. For now, however, you still have to jumpstart the deployment from a USB stick. Still, we are very close to releasing an option to also add support for PXE booting over the Internet via DHCP options, as well as through local PXE referrals. So, keep an eye out for that in the upcoming weeks.

MITCH: What still lies ahead regarding cloud OS deployment? What challenges do you hope to be able to overcome in the coming days as you and your team further extend their efforts in this direction?

JOHAN: I’m really hoping the ConfigMgr team will make deployment via the cloud management gateway (CMG) available outside of the preview builds, and remove the current requirement of having line-of-sight to a local management point before starting the imaging process.

MITCH: Who will benefit most from being able to deploy Windows directly from the cloud? Will it change the way IT handles provisioning new PCs? Or is there still going to be a place for building images in-house or for leveraging OEMs to provide ready-to-use PCs?

JOHAN: Any type of recovery scenario. For example, say a machine breaks down, or your company gets hacked, and you need to spin up a new infrastructure super-quick. It can also be very useful for Windows Autopilot scenarios, where you can provision a machine to be managed by Microsoft Intune. Another scenario would be for satellite or temporary offices that don’t have VPN routers in place to the corporate network, but they do have Internet access.

MITCH: Any other thoughts you have on this exciting subject that you’d like to share with our readers?

JOHAN: I would love to get feedback on the PSD extension we developed for MDT. You can find it here.

MITCH: Johan, thanks very much for giving us some of your valuable time!

JOHAN: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure, as always!

Featured image: Shutterstock

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