Cloning Vista SP1 OEM? Questions inside...
August 25, 2008 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Cloning Vista SP1 OEM? Questions inside...

I just bought a bunch (30) of computers from Dell. They all came with OEM licenses of Vista/Office 2007/Acrobat 8.1. Everything is activated. As you can imagine, I have quite a CD collection now!

I would like to make a single bootable, pre-configured image (on a USB drive or DVDR) that I can use on these computers just in case I have to reformat them. My ideal configuration would have Vista SP1, Office 2007, and Acrobat 8.1 already installed on the image with any specific configurations and updates. Is this legally possible (the fine print has always confused me)?

If so, my follow-up questions:

1. What software would you recommend to make the image? I'm leaning towards vLite + Acronis TrueImage Home.
2. Between the 30 computers, there are 3 different hardware sets. Would it be best to make an image for each hardware config?
3. How would you go about making such an image so that there aren't any activation issues? I'm perusing this thead for any potential "gotchas." I'm assuming that I would make an image that isn't activated or has any serial numbers in place. The Vista key appears to be modified with ease (Control Panel/System), but maybe there are some repercussions I don't know about. I think I can install Office 2007 and Acrobat 8.1 without entering serials.
4. DVDR or USB? I'm assuming DVDR is faster.

Some notes:

1. I don't need any fancy network deployment software. I would only be doing this when needed
2. I don't need to automate anything unique to the machine such as serial numbers/computer names/passwords. Just eliminating the installation time is good enough for me.

Thanks for any assistance!
posted by colecovizion to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Think about size restraints - DVD-R and just about any USB drive out there won't hold a large image. There are some apps out there that will compress the image, but even compressed a system image may take up many gigs of space.

An external hard drive would be the way to go for me. You could keep all three different images in one place, won't have to fret over scratched dvds, etc.

As for software... Ghost is pretty painless, fast, and designed specifically for what you're trying to do. I'd avoid Acronis - I've had nothing but bad luck with it in Vista environments.
posted by wfrgms at 4:07 PM on August 25, 2008

If you find a Wiki or IT related forum for this kind of stuff, please let me know, because this is the kind of thing that should be automated if it were not for fine print (which I ignore if I have valid licenses and do whatever is easiest for me, MS et al will not fine paying customers). But to answer your question:

I have been told by my account rep that this is not technically legal and that you must be an an enterprise customer with Vista Enterprise to do this, legally. They might have been full of it, but that is what I've been told. Reading through the fine print I doubt it is enforceable even if they came after you and you had to go to court, at least hypothetically. That said I've had good luck with vLite and Ghost, I tried Acronis and couldn't make it work. And yes you pretty much need to do a separate image for each hardware config, at least in my experience, especially for such a small deployment.

BTW in the future I'd seriously consider going to VDI or some sort of virtualized deployment. It literally changed my job from over-payed fixer to business development.
posted by geoff. at 4:45 PM on August 25, 2008

Disclaimer: I haven't cloned a drive.

You can do cloning from outside of windows (i.e., you could use a linux cloning tool), as you're just manipulating bits on the drive. You might give Clonezilla (free Norton Ghost work-alike), or you I think you could use the unix dd command-line tool to do what you want.
posted by zippy at 5:25 PM on August 25, 2008

2. Between the 30 computers, there are 3 different hardware sets. Would it be best to make an image for each hardware config?

Yes. I'd be inclined to try using gparted (with it's standalone ISO) to copy your final working config from one each of your possible configurations to a couple of external hard drives.
posted by rodgerd at 5:41 PM on August 25, 2008

Regardless of what software you use to do the image, you need to read about Sysprep which you might need to use here. Here's a pointer for this with Vista.
posted by mge at 7:44 PM on August 25, 2008

With 30 workstations to admin, reformatting will definitely be a "when" thing, not an "if" thing.

Because it's your time that's valuable, and not so much the computer's time, you might actually be better off avoiding the whole imaging thing altogether and putting a fully unattended installation process in place instead - there are several to choose from, both free and commercial.

On the other hand: I look after about 60 workstations, and I rolled my own rebuild system, and it works well for me. What it's evolved into involves one Windows image per machine model, plus a fairly simple-minded automated software installation and update script that runs at computer startup. This means that all I have to do to build a new Windows image is make a 20GB partition on the new box, install Windows and any required drivers, make sure Automatic Updates is turned on, defragment it, then grab an image (which typically occupies well under 1GB on our file server, provided I remember to delete pagefile.sys and hiberfil.sys right before taking the image).

This has turned out to be a good balance between various kinds of effort. Although I do have to keep several images because we have several different kinds of workstation, I don't need to update them very often. These little images only take about 10 minutes to deploy; much faster than a silent Windows reinstall. And because the latest app versions are all installed silently once the image has been deployed, using the same automatic script that runs on all workstations to keep them up to date anyway, I don't need to worry about keeping imaged app installations current.

I use the Trinity Rescue Kit and my own scripts (save-image and load-image) to do the imaging. I don't use Sysprep; Windows is licensed and activated and ready to go before I image it. NewSID deals with generating unique machine security ID's after image restoration. I've always found Microsoft support utterly worthless anyway, so cutting myself off from it by using an unapproved deployment method bothers me not a whit.

This site has a volume license key available for Windows XP Pro, which avoids illegality and activation issues. If you were going to use the same approach, you'd probably want to be doing your base Windows install using Dell's generic OEM license key rather than any of the individual keys from the stickers on the boxes. I don't know whether you, as a non-Dell entity, are legally entitled to do that but I* can't actually see any basis for a reasonable objection to it, given your intended use case. Best bet from a technical perspective would be to try doing a fresh Windows install using the key retrieved from one of your existing boxes and see if you can use it without re-activation.

*speaking as some random guy on the Internet - let's all take the usual disclaimers as read
posted by flabdablet at 10:27 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for the advice! There are lots of good resources here and I really appreciate the help. It's nice to see so many different recipes. I'll post back when I get a working setup.
posted by colecovizion at 8:59 AM on August 26, 2008

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