Sunday, February 10, 2019

Free Imaging Server for Deployment

Free is always nice. All businesses love the idea of cutting costs. Sometimes the free stuff can even offer more and better options. Will that be the case here? I don't know. What I do know is that at work we cut costs in almost any way imaginable and this is one way.

FOG Project

This is a very nice solution for the mass deployment and management of operating systems. It is compatible with Windows, Linux and Mac OSX, which is rather impressive. So let's get into a broad overview of the installation and features.

For setting up the server, it's fairly straight forward. I have had the best luck with CentOS, but we have also ran it on Ubuntu. When I tried doing another Ubuntu install when upgrading some things, various issues popped up. I would also recommend that when you create an /images folder for it to store the images that you make it a separate partition or hard drive. I had an issue with some folders using too much room and leaving the OS in an unbootable state and if I had the files separate, recovery would have been easier.

The setup also offers for the server to function as a DHCP and/or DNS server, so making a standalone for a deployment when the necessary server infrastructure might not be there is a good thing to have. This can let you create a quick and easy deployment environment with out too much work. There is also a way to set up multiple servers where others act as storage nodes, which can increase the deployment speed.

The IPXE boot menu for Fog offers a lot of options to customize it. You can change the colors and styles. You can also change the boot method after between options in GRUB or to boot to rEFInd.

There are the basic deploy and capture image options. You can also register a host, will take an inventory and allow for you to manage it in many ways. This can include changing the name, joining a domain, debugging, memory tests, hard drive checks, file recovery, reset local passwords, wake on lan, virus scanning, hard drive wiping, and snapins. It can also deal with printers, keep a login history, schedule powering off, auto-logouts, and this is all just some surface level overview.

There is an ability to group together computers for mass deployments and managing. I use it when setting up computer labs or any group that I could potentially need to install the same software on all of them.

The image management is fairly straight forward. Of course it resizes the partitions for you to take up all the space necessary.

Snapins are very useful. You can create Batch scripts, Bash scripts, Powershell scripts, VB scripts, and send out MSIs. You can essentially create a nice base image, then add extras or tweak with snapins.

After that, there are options for managing printers, printing out reports, and lots of settings you can tweak.

As a basic example of what I would normally do, let's assume I need to deploy an image for a computer lab. After registering each computer to Fog with a name and adding it in a group together, I would then deploy an image and have it join to the domain. After that is all set up, I would then deploy a snapin for the Lanschool MSI for the students. The teacher computer would be kept separate, but I can use snapins to install the Lanschool teacher console and any extra software. In cases where the installer is not an MSI, I would use a batch script with a Samba share that hosts the exe.

With all of those hots registered, I can then use the wake on lan feature to turn them on when needed to remote into them and work. I can also use snapins to deploy simple batch scripts to do various things (personally, I prefer to use PsExec for simple things).

It's a nice tool with lots of features and instructions how to do almost anything you could want.

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