Whenever I start a conversation about imaging, people always assume that I am talking about photos. Well most people. If you are talking to a bunch of social media folks, they probably assume I am talking about my online persona. It's true, image can have a lot of different meanings depending on who you are talking to.
In my case, I am talking about computer imaging. When you work in a large environment like I do and you buy 100 computers at a time, it doesn't make sense to install all of the software you want on them a single program at a time.
For that reason and a handful of others, large businesses use images to put new desktops in a state that makes them ready to go for the end user. If you work for a very large company with lots of money, the main manufacturers or resellers will sometimes take care of the imaging for you.
That means you buy a computer and as soon as it hits your office and gets opened, it is ready to go.
In my case, we don't have those kinds of funds, so we have to do the imaging in house. For the longest time we have been using a piece of software called FOG. It's an open source piece of software that runs on a Linux server with a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) configuration. It's pretty easy to get setup and running and it has been really solid for me over the past ten to fifteen years.
As you probably read in this post, my main server died a short time ago. Since I was able to get a new server, I have started to look into new ways of imaging my computers.
The method FOG uses for imaging requires you to install the operating system and all of the software on a single computer. Then you take a full image of that machine and you can deploy it to your other computers. There's a couple more steps involved, but I am not going to get into that.
The way that most of the newer solutions work like Microsoft SCCM are that you simply install the OS, then you apply the software packages you want after the fact based on the user/machine. I was looking at a program called SmartDeploy that follows this model.
However, since I already have a license for SCCM, I didn't see the point of paying for a redundant system. Instead, I spent most of the day the other day getting a new SCCM server up and running. There are a lot of moving parts to SCCM and I am still trying to learn everything.
I'm actually still on the fence about what I am going to do moving forward. FOG still works, but it hasn't been updated since 2020 and that has me a little concerned that it is going to be able to handle the new hardware that is coming in computers as well as the new software that Microsoft is putting out.
It seems like every generation there is a little tweak that needs to be done to make FOG continue working. Whether it is because of a new network card a certain vendor is using or a new piece of code that Microsoft decided to put in the latest version of Windows.
I did a demo of SmartDeploy and I have to admit I wasn't too impressed with the length of time it took to image a machine. After the base operating was installed and all of the packages applied, it took a good hour to make the machine usable. On the flip side, I can have an image deployed with FOG, joined to the domain and ready to go in just under 10 minutes if there isn't a lot of traffic on the network. I can do a whole lab of 30 computers in just a couple hours or less.
With the advent of Chromebooks, I have far fewer PC's in my environment than I used to. However, I do still have some labs that need to be updated regularly. I need to get working on a Windows 11 image that I can start rolling out to those machines in the next year or so.
Do you work in an environment where they have to image PC's? What solution does your organization use for that sort of thing? I know learning SCCM is going to be a daunting task, so I am open to suggestions.