Deploy Windows 8.1 to PCs: A Guide for Education

Applies To: Windows 8.1

This guide provides an overview of the methods you can use to deploy Windows 8.1 to PCs in an educational environment. It looks at manual installation, image-based deployment, and automated installation; the processes and tools involved; and the benefits, requirements, and limitations of each method.

Deploying the Windows 8.1 operating system in an educational environment can be an easy process when properly planned. Educational institutions have requirements (such as classroom and computer labs) that make them unique, but you can deploy Windows 8.1 onto PCs and other devices in multiple ways, depending on the needs of your environment. Although deployment strategies for enterprise typically apply to educational deployments, certain requirements make educational deployments unique. Many educational environments need to provide not only for administrative staff but also for faculty and students, each of whom has special requirements for their computing environment.

At a high level, you can deploy Windows by using a thick or thin image. A thick imaging strategy creates an image with the operating system, applications, drivers, and updates installed prior to deployment. A thin imaging strategy creates an image with the operating system, and then installs applications, drivers, and updates after deployment. A thin imaging strategy is easier to maintain and is the recommended strategy for Windows deployment.

There are three primary methods for deploying Windows 8.1 in an educational environment:

  • Manual installation

  • Image-based deployment

  • Automated installation

Manual Windows 8.1 Installation

Installing Windows manually typically involves the retail media, such as a DVD copy of Windows, and requires a technician to select options during installation, enter a product key, and perform post installation configuration, although an IT pro can also create an unattended installation file based on the expertise within the organization and the needs of the deployment. As such, this method of deployment is also called a High Touch with Retail Media deployment, because it requires a lot of interaction to complete the deployment.

You can use a manual installation of Windows when you are deploying only a few computers, such as reference computers, or when you want to create a test computer. However, when installing Windows onto more devices, it quickly becomes evident that a more automated means of deployment will be necessary.

Image-based Windows 8.1 Installation

Using the retail media to install Windows, and then installing applications and performing postinstallation configuration become less viable as you deploy more and more computers. With this in mind, you can create an image that contains Windows along with your applications and customizations. An image-based installation saves time for configuration and is appropriate even if you don’t have previous deployment experience, as might be the case if you have students involved in the deployment process. This method of deployment is sometimes called High Touch with Standard Image.

Automated Installation

As you deploy more computers, automating the installation process becomes increasingly important. Behind the scenes, automated deployments use images and can involve little or no interaction by an IT pro. However, fully automated deployments have some prerequisites that make them less appropriate for low-volume deployments. For example, small institutions may not have Microsoft Volume Licensing (VL), which is necessary for an automated deployment.

Automated deployments, whether they require little interaction (Lite Touch, High Volume) or no interaction (Zero Touch, High Volume), are easier than ever thanks to a powerful set of tools available to assist across the entire deployment process. The infrastructure you will use with the two automated deployment types is the primary difference. For example, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager and Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) are required for a fully automated deployment.

See Choose a Windows Deployment Strategy for Education later in this paper for more information on each of the automated deployment methods.

In this guide:

Additional resources

See also