3COM Makes RIS a Viable Tool

Saturday Oct 7th 2000 by Jerry Honeycutt

The inflexibility of Remote Installation Service (RIS) for Windows 2000 Server is only skin deep. With RME, you can use RIS to deploy anything you can put on a boot disk.

Remote Installation Service (RIS) is a Windows 2000 Server feature that allows a computer to boot from a network and then automatically install Windows 2000 Professional from it. RIS works well for companies that use Professional but not for those that use a variety of other desktop operating systems.

A well-known fact is that RIS can't deploy Windows 98, right?

RIS' inflexibility prevents most companies from adopting it as their primary deployment tool. As shipped, it only deploys Windows 2000 Professional. (The Knowledgebase article Q214794 documents a hack for deploying Server.) That leaves us with a long wish list, at the top of which is the ability to deploy Windows 98 and Windows NT using RIS. Somewhere in the middle of that list is the possibility of performing other maintenance tasks with RIS, such as booting from the network and automatically upgrading the computer's BIOS.

Inflexibility, it so happens, is only skin deep with RIS. RIS already gives us everything on our wish list; it just doesn't provide a user interface for them. It can deploy Windows 98, for example, but doesn't provide any way for you to add this operating system to the Client Installation Wizard. This is where 3Com's RIS Menu Editor (RME) makes RIS a more viable deployment tool. RME is the missing user interface for RIS, and we're going to show you how to use it. It's free, and it's at http://www.3com.com/managedpc.

Getting Started With RME

You can install RME only on a computer running Windows 2000 Server, and RIS must be installed on the server before RME can be run. These and about 1 megabyte of disk space are all you need in order to get going. Download RME101_install.exe from 3Com's Web site and double-click it to unzip it. RME doesn't have a setup program, so drag Risme.exe to the Start button if you want a shortcut on the Start menu.

RME is a simple program that's easy to use. The user interface is intuitive, with two tabs in the main window that correspond to the Automatic Setup and the Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools menus in the Client Installation Wizard (CIW). Adding an item to either of these menus is as easy as clicking the tab that corresponds to the menu you want to edit, and then clicking Add.

Once RME is installed, you must configure RIS so that the CIW displays the items you add to it. RME can change two RIS menus: Automatic Setup, which is for automatically installing operating systems, and Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools, which is for automatically running diagnostic and management tools. By default, RIS enables the Automatic Setup menu but not the Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools menu. To enable this menu so that the items you add are visible to users, you must allow it in Group Policy:

  1. In Active Directory Users and Computers, right-click the domain name located at the top of the left pane and click Properties.

  2. On the Group Policy tab, click Default Domain Policy and then click Edit.

  3. Double-click User Configuration to open it, followed by Windows Settings and then Remote Installation Services.

  4. In the right pane, Double-click Choice Options.

  5. In the Tools area of the Choice Options Properties dialog box, click Allow to enable the Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools menu.

You've installed RME. You've enabled the Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools menu in CIW. All that's left is to add the images to RIS that you want to deploy. This makes boot image files the next topic to tackle.

Creating Boot Image Files

RIS doesn't provide an operating system (OS) environment for you to run programs, so it has to download an OS to the client computer in order to start it. You include the OS in a boot image; along with any other files you need in order to start the computer and complete a task such as logging on to the network and running a setup program from it. MS-DOS is the likely OS for a boot image.

Boot image files are actually binary images of bootable floppy disks. They have the IMG file extension. RIS downloads the entire file to the client computer; the client mounts it as a virtual disk, and then boots it. Straightforward stuff, really. In fact, the first step in creating a boot image file is creating an actual, bootable floppy disk that you assemble and test to suit your needs. For Windows 2000, this turns out to be the most challenging part of the process, however. Windows 2000 provides no way to create a boot disk, and the operating system certainly doesn't have Windows NT's Network Client Administrator.

At a minimum, a boot disk will have the system files Command.com, Msdos.sys, Io.sys, Config.sys, and Autoexec.bat. You'll want to add any programs and drivers required to connect to the network. You might have an old Windows 98 boot disk or even an MS-DOS boot disk handy. If you don't have either, here are a few suggestions (some more elegant than others):

  • If you have a Windows 2000 CD handy, you can run Makedisk.bat in Valueadd\3rdparty\Ca_antiv. On the resulting disk, edit Autoexec.bat so that it doesn't start the virus scanner.

  • Use the RIS Boot Floppy Generator (Rbfg.exe) to create a boot disk, and then edit Autoexec.bat to start the computer properly. Rbfg.exe is the program you use to build RIS boot disks for computers that don't have PXE-enabled network adapters. You find it in the Reminst share.

  • Try the Web site http://www.bootdisk.com. It has links to dozens of different boot disks, including one for connecting laptops with PC Card network adapters to the network.

  • If all else fails, take a look at the Knowledgebase article Q119467 for instructions on manually creating a boot disk.

The second step is to take a snapshot of your boot disk with RME. That snapshot is your boot image file. In RME, you create the boot image file when you add a menu item to CIW. Click the tab that corresponds to the CIW menu you want to editMaintenance and Troubleshooting Tools or Automatic Setupand then click Add. Follow the instructions to create a single menu item and image file based on the boot disk you created. Here are more complete instructions for creating the boot image file from a bootable disk:

  1. Click on the tab that corresponds to the CIW menu you want to edit.
    • Automatic Setup is for boot images that automatically install an operating system such as Windows 98.
    • Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools is for boot images that run utilities such as virus scanners and BIOS update programs.

  2. Click Add to add an item to the menu.

  3. Click Single Menu and Image File, and then click Next.

  4. In the Friendly Description box, type a brief description of the boot image the way you want it to appear on the CIW menu. In the Help Text box, provide more information about the boot image. Click Next.

  5. On the Boot Image File dialog box, click Create. Insert the boot disk you created earlier in drive A, and type a name for the file in the Boot Image File Name box, and then click OK.

  6. Click Finish.

The result is your boot disk deploy through RIS. That is, rather than walking around the office, starting computers with a specialized boot disk in order to install Windows 98; you can do the same thing with RIS.

Put It On a Disk and Deploy It

A few examples will show why RME is a must-have addition to RIS:

  • Deploying Windows NT with RISYes, you can. Set up your share and create your answer file. Create a boot disk that logs on to the network, maps the installation share to a drive letter, and then run Winnt.exe from the i386 directory. You'll want to test the boot disk in your lab to make sure it works properly. Once you can use that boot disk to install Windows NT automatically, you're ready to create a boot image file from it using RME. Make sure you add this boot image file to the Automatic Setup menu in CIW.

  • Scanning for viruses with RISInclude a virus scanner on your boot disk, and then add the command that runs the scanner to the boot disk's Autoexec.bat. You can add to the boot disk the files required to log on to the network, and then direct the scanner's output to a network share, allowing you to see the results remotely. Once you've tested that the disk works in the lab, use RME to create a boot image file from it and add the menu item to the CIW's Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools menu.

  • Installing Windows 2000 Service Pack 1Once again, share the service pack and then create a boot disk that logs on to the network and runs Update.exe. After you've verified that the disk works properly, create a boot image file in CIW's Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools menu.

  • Upgrading a computer's BIOSUpdating a computer's BIOS unattended can be a bit tricky and requires testing in your lab. Make sure that the BIOS updater is capable of running unmonitored; some aren't. To be cautious, you might also test that the BIOS updater fails properly when you try to update the wrong BIOS. Once you've created a boot disk that successfully updates the computer's BIOS, create its boot image file in the Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools menu.

If all this is sounding a bit repetitive, well, it is. The idea here is that you can use RIS to deploy anything you can put on a disk. If the disk works as planned when you start a computer with it, then you can create a boot image file from that disk. Once you've created the boot image file, you can deploy it using RIS.

Final Thoughts on RIS

Prior to RME, my opinion was that RIS isn't ready for prime time. It's not a tool that can efficiently deploy 10,000 desktops, and it's not flexible enough to support the needs of anything but the simplest deployment requirements. My opinion of RIS changed only a little after learning about RME.

RME solves the flexibility problem. With RME you can use RIS to deploy anything you can put on a boot disk. That's handy.

It doesn't solve the efficiency problem, though. RIS still offers no capability to optimize bandwidth (as does, for instance, Norton Ghost's multicast feature). It also offers little or no ability to manage and schedule deployments, relying on an actual person sitting at the client computer to kick things off. Thus, RIS is still little better than walking around the office with a stack of floppy disks in your pocket. And RIS still supports limited infrastructure and won't even talk to laptop computers.

With that said, here's the bottom line:

  • As a secondary deployment method, or in small to medium-sized businesses, RIS is a workable solution that beats passing around the boot disks.

  • As a primary deployment method or in large businesses, I wouldn't kick something like Norton Ghost out of the bed just yet. RIS isn't sophisticated enough to support large-scale deployments.


Jerry Honeycutt is an author, speaker, and technologist with over 25 books to his credit. He successfully uses RIS in his own small office.

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