Windows Server 2012: Master Windows Deployment Services

Using WDS, especially in concert with other deployment tools, gives you a powerful and flexible solution.

Johan Arwidmark

Windows Deployment Services (WDS) has been available in Windows Server since the Windows Server 2003 time frame. Even though the core functionality has stayed the same, you’ll find many new features with the release of Windows Server 2012. WDS plays an important role in modern deployment solutions like Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2012 Update 1 and Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager.

WDS isn’t a deployment solution in itself. It’s a critical infrastructure component used by real deployment solutions such as MDT and Configuration Manager. Even though WDS technically can deploy an OS image—and even supports a limited driver-injection mechanism—WDS on its own doesn’t have the OS deployment features that are needed for deploying Windows clients and servers in the enterprise.

It’s when you combine WDS with MDT or Configuration Manager that you get a superior deployment solution (see Figure 1). This combination supports the following key features:

  • Starting MDT or Configuration Manager boot images via network boot (Pre-boot Execution Environment, or PXE)
  • Client and server deployment of all currently supported OSes
  • Management interface to build and manage the solution
  • Flow control throughout the entire deployment process via task sequences
  • Real-time deployment monitoring
  • Superior driver-injection mechanisms
  • Dynamic settings for OS deployment
  • Automatic deployment of Windows updates, including all needed restarts
  • Deployment of applications for all versions of Windows, even Windows 8

Using Windows Deployment Services with Microsoft Deployment Toolkit is a powerful combination.

Figure 1 Using Windows Deployment Services with Microsoft Deployment Toolkit is a powerful combination.

New WDS features

The full list of new features in the Windows Server 2012 release of WDS is lengthy, but here are some of the new WDS features related to its role in enterprise deployments:

  • Updated setup wizard for standalone setup
  • Added wizards and properties for managing pre-staged devices
  • Enhanced multicast performance
  • Enhanced boot image download performance
  • Support for new ARM and Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) x86/x64 platforms (architecture)

Updated Setup Wizard When configuring the WDS role, you now have an option to select either Active Directory integration and standalone mode. It’s now easier to deploy and manage a WDS server even when running on a Windows Server 2012 machine configured for a workgroup (see Figure 2).

The new install option in the Windows Deployment Services Configuration Wizard.

Figure 2 The new install option in the Windows Deployment Services Configuration Wizard.

Added Wizards When using MDT or Configuration Manager, often you’ll have the deployment solution create the computer account in Active Directory as part of the deployment process. However, some organizations use the pre-stage device option to create the computer accounts in Active Directory in the correct organizational unit before starting deployment.

In Windows Server 2012, you have a new node for managing pre-stage devices (see Figure 3). You can even use pre-staged devices when using WDS in standalone mode. The difference is that if you’re using WDS in standalone mode, the pre-staged devices are stored in a local database, instead of Active Directory.

The new node for pre-staged devices.

Figure 3 The new node for pre-staged devices.

Enhanced Multicast Performance Multicast isn’t for everyone, but can be a powerful ally when deploying to many machines simultaneously or when you have limited network bandwidth available for deployment. The multicast feature used by WDS uses Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP) version 3. Your network switches will need to support this, and you’ll need to configure them for multicast.

Basically, you need to be friends with the network group in order to use multicast. In Windows Server 2012, you’ll find the multicast deployment performance has increased compared with Windows Server 2008 R2.

Enhanced Boot Image Download Performance When using the Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) 4.0 (which is part of the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit [ADK]) and new UEFI-based hardware, you can use multicast even for the boot images. Most companies still don’t deploy Windows to UEFI-enabled hardware. That means most boot images are still downloaded via unicast.

Therefore, the most critical component in terms of download speed is related to Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) block size (see Figure 4). In Windows Server 2012, you can configure this directly within the UI. There’s also a new feature called variable windows extension (enabled by default), which lets WDS learn how well your network is running and adjust the window size accordingly.

The new Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) options in Windows Server 2012.

Figure 4 The new Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) options in Windows Server 2012.

New Platform Support With the release of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, Microsoft added support for new platforms. WDS has also been updated to support them. Currently there’s limited hardware available that supports UEFI 2.3.1 (the UEFI version required for full Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 support), but you can expect hardware that supports UEFI 2.3.1 to be available from most vendors by early 2013 (see Figure 5).

The new architectures in the Boot menu.

Figure 5 The new architectures in the Boot menu.

Windows Server 2012 WDS remains a critical component for Microsoft deployment solutions like MDT 2012 and Configuration Manager 2012. The performance improvements are well worth running Windows Server 2012 for your PXE servers. You should note that MDT 2012 Update 1 has full support for WDS in Windows Server 2012. For Configuration Manager 2012 you’ll need to wait until Configuration Manager 2012 SP1 is released for the Windows Server 2012 support.

These new features in Windows Server 2012 WDS, especially when combined with full deployment solutions like MDT 2012 and Configuration Manager 2012, make it a powerful ally for customizing and expediting deployment tasks.

Johan Arwidmark

Johan Arwidmark* is a consultant, author and all-around geek specializing in enterprise-grade Windows deployment solutions. He speaks at several conferences each year, including the Microsoft Management Summit and TechEd. He’s also actively involved in deployment communities, including and, and has been recognized as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional in Setup & Deployment. His areas of expertise include Windows deployment tools and solutions, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, Windows Preinstallation Environment, Microsoft User State Migration Tool, Windows Deployment Services, and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager.*