Using ImageX for File-Based Image Deployments

By leveraging the Windows Imaging format for your Windows 7 deployments, systems administrators will be able to streamline the process of deploying systems in their environments.

Imaging systems with tools available in Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7 that leverage image-based installations allow for easier initial setup, overall improvements to their systems deployments and their image storage and management.

In a recent article about Windows Image Format I reviewed some of the benefits in leveraging the Windows Imaging format and in an effort to get the most out of your imaging efforts you’ll need to get an understanding of the tools you can use; one of which is ImageX.

In this article I will go over what ImageX is and how you can leverage it for your imaging and deployment needs.

What is ImageX?

ImageX is a command-line tool that can be used to capture, modify, and apply file-based disk images for deployment of systems in an enterprise by leveraging the Windows Imaging format (.wim files). This can be done by leveraging the image files on a network share for a more “manual” / one off deployment of the images scenario or through the use of Windows Deployment Services (Windows DS) in an effort to add a little methodology, process and standardization to your deployments.

On an even larger scale than Windows Deployment Services, you could leverage the Systems Management Server (SMS) Operating System Deployment Feature Pack as part of your deployment strategy to roll out the systems on a larger, more automated scale.

One of the additional tools that you might leverage as part of your deployment strategy is the Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE). WinPE is a 32 bit installation environment in which the installation routine runs for the operating system install and it is effectively a stripped down version of the operating system, loaded from the boot.wim file off the installation DVD.

Gone are the XP and prior days of file based installations run from a disk boot program that leverages files from the installation CD or DVD; when you are running a Windows Vista or Windows 7 installation you are using one image file boot.wim to install from another from the DVD – install.wim.

ImageX allows you much more control over how deployments are handled as it can decrease the amount of time it takes to deploy additional core system installations.

It also allows for better management by leveraging “single instancing” of the saved image files.

ImageX also allows deployments that can be performed by non-destructive methods. Data can be on the existing volume and the image can be deployed without erasing the existing contents of the volume.

Limits of ImageX

While ImageX and the Windows Imaging format offer great strides beyond what was available for use with prior sector based imaging it does have some limitations:

  • ImageX can only be used to deploy full versions of operating systems and software applications; there is no supported way to leverage the tool for standard, in place upgrades to the operating system or existing applications.
  • ImageX is supported leveraging Windows image (.wim) files only. Other types of images created with third-party imaging tools cannot be leveraged.
  • ImageX can mount only the following operating systems (when the correct NTFS permissions are set); Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2), Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1), Windows Vista with SP1 and Windows 7

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] It is safe to assume that as additional Service Pack levels are announced they would be included for this supported use by ImageX. At the time I put this article together these were the only listed, supported operating systems.

There are some additional limitations as well:

In order to mount WIM files successfully you need to have read/write permissions. Additionally, these files need to be housed on a volume formatted with the NTFS file system as you cannot mount an image from a volume formatted with the FAT32 file system.

If you have the read-only permission set via NTFS or if you are leveraging the ISO or the UDF file systems, you are able to mount the image but you would not be able to save any changes that you made.

Dependencies of the ImageX Tool

Just as there are some outright limits to all system tools, Microsoft or otherwise, there are a few dependencies to keep in mind when you’re putting you plans together on how to deploy and manage your images.

  • ImageX is dependent on other tools like Diskpart and Format to prepare the volumes on a system to receive images.
  • Once a reference system is prepared it must be configured for the capture ahead of the duplication process. This means you’ll need to leverage the Sysprep tool to remove all of the user-specific and computer-specific identifiers. This action will also set the stage for the creation of a new security identifier (SID) for the deployed system once it is imaged and restarted for the first time.

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] Syspreping the system will also reset product activation. How this affects your deployments is largely based on the type of volume licensing that you use and the original installation media to a smaller extent.

In this tutorial we reviewed the highlights and information of the ImageX tool and some of its limitations. We also took a brief look at a few of the tool’s dependencies.

Thanks for investing your time in my Windows 7 and the ImageX tool article.

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