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Thread: Workstation Deployments

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    Moderator snowyweston's Avatar
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    Workstation Deployments

    This is not about Autodesk software per say, more the whole kit and caboodle, Windows, profiles, drivers, applications, scripts, etc...

    First off; I am not IT. But I should like to swot up on the language of it all so I can talk with IT.

    So this isn't a "WDS, yay or nay?" question kinda-thread, because I don't know enough about WDS to even jump in that quick... no, I should first like to get a feel for the lingo & options i.e. is it:
    a. build a PC, image that, re-image all machines
    b. build a virtual PC, image that, re-image all machines
    c. something else?
    d. something something else?

    ...what the pro/cons of each might be, that kind of thing.



    For some context:

    On the "scale" front, we're talking 50 (mixed spec.) workstations + 10 laptops (all Dell, w/ OEM OSs)

    Frequency of "redeployments" (for new apps & things) could maybe require fortnightly cycles - but fixes & things could be daily.

    We do not (currently) have a pool of OSs.

    (as I understand it) We run servers on 2012 R2 (should that provide OOTB functionality) but aren't adverse to considering/introducing 3rd party (Acronis?) solutions if better.

    Little help?

  2. #2
    Administrator Gordon Price's Avatar
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    So, for a little context, you are around the size I was at the various offices I worked at, where I was BIM Manager and sometimes also IT and CAD Manager. And doing all three roles at once, for an office of 45, was a situation that pretty much demanded I find a way to automate, otherwise I would never have time for doing more important things like content libraries and talking new Revit users down off the ledge.

    First off, I find that imaging (in the sense of Ghost) ONLY works if every single machine is truly identical. Given that this is almost never the case I gave up on imaging about 15 years ago and looked for a better answer. Which is to automate an actual install, so differing conditions are actually handled by the installer. But automated so I can get consistent results. The "down" side is an install based approach will take longer than an image from start of process to usable machine. BUT, if the process is automated that doesn't mean my time is impacted. Also, I would never use an OEM OS. Even Dell, who has cleaned up their act after going private, still forces some bloat in there. I would always, always do a fresh install of the OS from retail media, never OEM media. Yes, it means having a Microsoft OS site license, but that pays for itself in one year of not dealing with vendor bloat madness.

    On the OS install front, I used to use the Microsoft Automated Install Kit (AIK), but these days I like NTLite. In either case you create a custom install, with all the drivers you need for the entire office, plus all the customization of OS. You can then use this image (yes, confusingly also called an image, but not the same as image as used by Ghost and such) to do a fresh install, with all customization, on any machine. You get a consistent install, no matter what drivers are needed, because all drivers are slipstreamed into the "image", but only those that a particular physical machine needs are actually installed.

    Then, I use my own automation tool to do the same thing with programs. The idea is the same, define what the results are, i.e. what needs to be installed, then let the automation make sure that happens, consistently, in the right order. But it is still a real install, not an "image" that may or may not work on machines that are slightly different.

    As for process, when doing big rollouts I would do 10-14 machines or so at a time. If you can arrange to have a dedicated build bench, with a 16 port switch off of which you have hung a NAS or some such with all your install media, you can do this easily during work hours because the machine build network traffic won't go beyond that switch. The switch also has a line back to your main switches, so you really only get 14 ports for new build machines. And an ideal build bench also includes just two monitor/keyboard/mouse sets, with 2 8 port KVM switches, 7 machines into each. I found that was about the max I needed, because I would never get the dedicated time (or SPACE) to do more machines at once anyway. In a pinch I have used an 8 port switch and done 6 machines at a time, at my desk, with my own machine on the KVM switch as well, and the 6 new build machines under my desk.

    A full install of Windows over the network for 14 machines will take less than an hour. I would do it over lunch, in that I would kick off a PXE install over the network, which takes about a minute per machine, then go to lunch.
    A full fresh install of programs, especially a big suite of ADSK stuff, takes rather longer, maybe 3-4 hours. If 3DS Max is involved add an hour or two. I would kick it off just after lunch (again a minute or two to kick it off is all) and it would be done before end of day usually. In the morning I would spend an hour to break down the first 14 machines and set up the next 14.
    With that work flow, and doing 14 machines a day, I could do as many as 70 machines in a week, and the biggest time sink is the physical machine setup and breakdown.
    BUT, it's like Revit, you can do that because of the upfront time investment. Building and testing and maintaining the OS install, and doing the same with the program installs, is going to take some time. Initial setup and testing could easily take 40 hours to get working. But after that I think it is VERY reasonable to be able to install and test a months worth of updates in a day, and then push those updates to 50 machines over lunch.

    Gordon
    cganiere and elton williams like this.

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    Moderator snowyweston's Avatar
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    I had a feeling you would be the first to chime in Gordon, and thank you for your extensive summary - much to think about.

    To caveat where I'm at; I have pushed away a lot of the "hands-on" IT I used to do - I still get involved in speccing, purchasing and testing, but in terms of actually installing/fixing that's all up to our IT.

    Which leads nicely into the workbench setup...

    Our IT aren't in the building, and even if they were/when they are, our air-conned IT room isn't ideal for sitting/working in, and conversations (so far) have alluded more to a remote-in machine to tinker and test with from somewhere more comfortable (ideally my bed!) - but I get the sense that way of thinking would align us with creating the single exemplar "ghost" build that you otherwise advise against, since yes, our workstations are very much a mix of specs.

    As for the timing of rollouts, I imagine we'd almost certainly be pushing this kind of stuff over-night/weekends - since demand isn't such (or doesn't present itself) to require updates during operation hours.

    Site licenses. Hmmm. Money. We missed the boat on our Windows 10 freebies. And we've just had a SAM audit. More cost factors....

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    Administrator Gordon Price's Avatar
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    Well, it is what I spend my days doing now, rather than just the side gig that you all in the trenches deal with.

    With regards to your "role" and outsourced IT, I think there is actually more need for in house expertise to define the goals, the final conditions if you will. In house IT has a sense of what needs done, but I think outsourced IT, especially if they don't understand Architecture firms, need more direction. Case in point, outsourced IT almost certainly would have installed Revit 2017.1 without any testing, and with no understanding that Revit 2017.1 also installs Dynamo 1.1, and in a way that actually uninstalled Dynamo for Revit 2015 & 2016. They just don't understand the nuances of how Autodesk does things/***** things up, and have a reactionary business model anyway. Solving a problem before it's a problem isn't how they work. So I think we in the industry need to give Outsourced IT tasks that are already tested and vetted, so we minimize created problems. But outsourced IT can still do the heavy lifting.

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    Moderator snowyweston's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gordon Price View Post
    With regards to your "role" and outsourced IT, I think there is actually more need for in house expertise to define the goals, the final conditions if you will. In house IT has a sense of what needs done, but I think outsourced IT, especially if they don't understand Architecture firms, need more direction.
    Oh I hear you dude - I've been beating that drum the day I started - but I challenge you to find me an IT person willing to work in C.London for the same money an Architect would! Oh I know, IT is an essential (perhaps even better) investment than "more hands on deck" but even when persuaded, certain decisions makers don't feel the same.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gordon Price View Post
    Case in point, outsourced IT almost certainly would have installed Revit 2017.1 without any testing, and with no understanding that Revit 2017.1 also installs Dynamo 1.1, and in a way that actually uninstalled Dynamo for Revit 2015 & 2016.
    Perhaps, without guidance, but that is what I am here for. I think you're being a tad unfair with the broadbrushing of external providers, and equally rose-tinted for "the under the roof peeps" - I've seen the latter fuckshitup just as well as the former in my time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gordon Price View Post
    They just don't understand the nuances of how Autodesk does things/***** things up, and have a reactionary business model anyway.
    Does anyone? Do Autodesk?


    The thing is this isn't just about Autodesk - if it were this would probably be more of a conversation via DM. Truth is our Autodesk is but a small slice of our pie, with Microstation, Newforma, Creative Cloud, 365, Rhino, NBS, Max, Sketchup, Project, and a bajillion addins for V-Ray thrown in.... hardly an esoteric software set by any stretch of the imagination; but unless there's an architectural-practice-biased-recruitment pool in the IT industry that I've yet to find (and plunder) my guess is being au fait with ALL of these vendor/platform nuances is somewhat unrealistic, no?

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    Forum Co-Founder Twiceroadsfool's Avatar
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    I didnt read all of the other replies yet, but here is my quick two cents:

    1. Imaging machines as a deployment method, SUCKS. Imaging a machine is fine (for some things) for initial machine creation (like when you hire someone new, or need new machines). I have NEVER EVER EVER seen an IT group use it as a "machine update" method, and have it not suck donkey balls. I hear IT groups all the time say *we wont jack up the users files, or users shouldnt have stuff on the local machines anyway, or if we image them they woll all be perfect.*

    Yeah, never happens. Three of my current clients insisted on Imaging, after i advised them otherwise. They are all miserable now, LOL.

    2. Updates and stuff... I honestly just wouldnt put it in the hands of an IT staff, anymore. Maybe actually running the updates, sure. But not configuring, or deciding what needs to be run.

    3. Getting Firm Management and IT to agree on what a "successful deployment" is. I cant believe this is still an issue (or maybe ive been lucky with the IT groups ive worked with in my career), but there still seems to be a disparity, and for some reason a lot of firms LET the IT group make the call on *what constitutes a successful installation.* I say the hell with that. For each program, i have a LIST of things. For Revit, its: Installation, all current web updates, a certain list of addins, and ALL of my configuration changes. ANYTHING missing on a machine, is a 100% fail. Its not an "almost is good enough" scenario. AutoCAD: Install< Web Update, UDC seeding, custom shortcuts, etc. Same deal.

    For some reason, some IT folks seem to be allowed to tell the BIM Managers "I got some of your **** on there, but not all. The rest is your problem." I dont get that mentality at all.

    If theyre going to do that, id rather just handle it all myself. Let IT focus on "Get Windows on the machine, and give it to me," and i would do the rest, haha.

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    Administrator Gordon Price's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by snowyweston View Post
    Oh I hear you dude - I've been beating that drum the day I started - but I challenge you to find me an IT person willing to work in C.London for the same money an Architect would! Oh I know, IT is an essential (perhaps even better) investment than "more hands on deck" but even when persuaded, certain decisions makers don't feel the same.
    Yeah, Architects are willing to live like animals, or teenagers, to be "in the thick of it". Not many others are.

    Quote Originally Posted by snowyweston View Post
    Perhaps, without guidance, but that is what I am here for. I think you're being a tad unfair with the broadbrushing of external providers, and equally rose-tinted for "the under the roof peeps" - I've seen the latter fuckshitup just as well as the former in my time.
    Did not mean to broadly impugn the outsourced IT folks. More that in house IT has an OPPORTUNITY to glean what issues are in play through daily contact with staff. Not all IT will, or even want to. But OutSourced IT has much less opportunity, since they are not on site as much, and when they are they are there for a focused project. So, the way forward as I see it is a more intentional exercise defining what the results need to be, getting buy off on that from management, and then passing on that information.

    Quote Originally Posted by snowyweston View Post
    Does anyone? Do Autodesk?
    Pretty sure Autodesk has little or no institutional appreciation for what we need in the industry. I have been sharing those needs with them for nearly 20 years. Even told them when I saw the early Desktop App idea what would never work. They implemented it exactly how I said would not work, and those issues have turned out to be exactly the issues I said they would be.

    Quote Originally Posted by snowyweston View Post
    The thing is this isn't just about Autodesk - if it were this would probably be more of a conversation via DM. Truth is our Autodesk is but a small slice of our pie, with Microstation, Newforma, Creative Cloud, 365, Rhino, NBS, Max, Sketchup, Project, and a bajillion addins for V-Ray thrown in.... hardly an esoteric software set by any stretch of the imagination; but unless there's an architectural-practice-biased-recruitment pool in the IT industry that I've yet to find (and plunder) my guess is being au fait with ALL of these vendor/platform nuances is somewhat unrealistic, no?
    The key is, where the rubber meets the road, the HOW of this stuff isn't AEC specific, but it is a mess across all Windows programs because every install builder produces installers with different command line arguments, and chasing them all down is a chore, in any industry. The WHAT is specific, and ADSK stuff even more so, because no other company's stuff NEEDS so much user specific customization/configuration to make it truly useful. And, the volume of WHAT is larger for us. I think you would be hard pressed to find another industry that needs 10-15 discrete programs installed, with addins for those in the high double digits. That is the part I think we need to share with IT, in house or out.

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    Member tuekappel's Avatar
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    I'm hooking on to this thread to ask a simple question: Has anyone of you had any experience with rolling out (Revit) Service Releases, Updates, Fixes, etc. via a central deployment?
    I see some advice at Autodesk Help (link), some of it talks of pushing out an altered *.ini-file, some mentions the application manager. We have IT guys here, i'd love to tell them how to throw together a script for pushing out updates.
    Thing is, my users don't have admin status over their machines, so no one can install **** by themselves. Me and my BIM manager mates would still like to make sure, that everybody is rocking the latest update on all machines.
    Last edited by tuekappel; February 23rd, 2017 at 10:49 AM.

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    Forum Co-Founder Twiceroadsfool's Avatar
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    Yep. Gordons tools from pragmaticpraxis.com handle the service packs and Web updates. Very easy to manage.
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    Junior Member cwasher's Avatar
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    I am currently in the process of doing what your you have identified as your goal for our office and firm. Let me say, I am professionally trained Architect, but always have dabbled in IT and computers. So I tend to gravitate to this type of thing... I am always looking to streamline user experience and efficiencies. Our firm is 30-40 people. Have a cycle of new workstations from Dell on a regular basis. One full time IT person to help manage all the infrastructure.

    My Goal: Fully automate the rollout and deployment of workstations. This would include all software, drivers, autodesk suite, windows tweaks, be fully updated and patched, and joined to the domain, ready for a user to logon and begin working... Part of this was to standardize application sets/installs for types of user Roles. For example, Architect Role, would consist of ADSK, Bluebeam, Office, Adobe Suite... Where as an administrator may only need Office and Adobe Acrobat.

    Big Picture Overview
    1. Receive computer, take note of service tag (we are a dell only shop). Enter service tag into the MDT database with a software role defined (Architect, Interior Designer, Admin, etc).

    2. Network / PXE boot computer. Microsoft WDS loads initial pre-boot image and kicks off the MDT Task sequence.

    3. The MDT Task Sequence is dynamic, so based on the computer model being reported and the application role it installs the appropriate drivers and software specified. It utilizes Gordon's Pragmatic Praxis tools to install ADSK suite and a few other pieces of software. Reboots several times. Joins the computer to the domain. Ready for user. Depending on the amount of software and type of machine, everything is up an running in 30-60 minutes.

    Tools
    1. Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) - This is a free software package that can run on Windows server or desktop and is the main engine behind the OS deployment. Current version is MDT 2013, Update 2. I would suggest reading and watching some youtube videos on the subject. Essentially, you create (2) task sequences.

    First is the "reference/golden image". This image only contains the Windows OS & Updates, maybe some OS tweaks, and maybe Office (if that is standard on everyone's machine). The goal is for this to be lean. This task sequence (TS) is run and the custom image is captured via sysprep and saved.

    The second TS is your "Deployment TS". This is what is actually deployed to user workstations. It utilizes your custom OS image from the previous step and then you add all your steps in it to inject drivers, install specific applications, join to domain, etc.

    The other advantage of all of this. Since all these steps are saved... You can recreate your images over and over. So for instance if MS releases updates. You can fire up your Golden Image VM (say monthly), pull the updates, capture, and re-link in your Deployment TS and any new computers from then on have the updates already installed!

    2. Windows Deployment Service (WDS) - This is the antiquated application for distributing "thick images." It is only used in conjunction with MDT to only load the boot OS. Once the PXE OS is loaded all the MDT steps take over. This is only required if you want network installations. However, you can load the pre-boot OS on a thumb drive and use it to connect and deploy from your MDT server/share.

    3. Hyper-V or Workstation - You will need to test all of this multiple, multiple times in virtual machines. And it is also recommended that the reference image is built in a VM environment to be hardware/driver agnostic to prevent any issues with deployment images.

    4. Powershell & Scripts - You will most likely need some level of learning or hacking together some scripts and snippets of code to make things behave like you want. Luckily, there is a lot of that information our there on the inter webs.

    5. Pragmatic Praxis - Gordon's tools like previously mentioned by Aaron and others are super useful and are really tailored to ADSK stuff.

    Conclusion
    This is a very large rabbit hole and it has consumed me on/off for the past 9 months or more. It is also pretty rewarding. The ability of being able to manage all of this pretty easily, seamlessly in the near future for us is exciting. The days of thick images, norton ghost, etc are long gone.

    Sorry for the wall of text, but this is a ton of information to convey and hope it is helpful. Let me know if you have any specific questions or if you want some resources to start digging that rabbit hole!
    snowyweston and tuekappel like this.

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