Monday, December 31, 2007

Windows Server: The Lazy Method

I'm a huge fan of automation. People typing things into forms repeatedly is to me what scratching nails across a chalkboard is to others. I despise it. It's an exercise in obsolescence. Filling out forms at doctor offices bothers immensely. Stupid. We live in an age where things like this could and should be made simpler and less prone to dumb mistakes and wasted time. How many more times do I have to write down my name, birth date, home address, phone number, insurance info, blah blah blah. Enough already!!! We're obviously still in the stone age.

2008: The Stone Age Continues.

Well, I will make a feeble attempt to save someone some unnecessary work. Here's a semi-compiled recipe for making a fully-unattended, automated, slipstreamed installation disk for Windows Server 2003 SP2. Y ou can use R2 if you prefer, doesn't matter. Some of this was taken from multiple sources, such as and elsewhere. Modified for my own benefit, hopefully yours as well.

Basic Steps:

  1. Make an ISO file from a Windows Server 2003 install disk
  2. Copy the i386 folder from the ISO (or install media) to a local folder
  3. Download and Extract Service Pack 2 to a different local folder
  4. Run the slipstream "update" utility to patch the i386 folder
  5. Add the i386 folder and other files back into the ISO image
  6. Add a WINNT.SIF unattend file to the ISO image
  7. Save the ISO image with a different name

Seven steps to freedom. Not quite, but it's better than nothing. So, let's get started. You'll need some sort of ISO management application to open, edit and save ISO files. I prefer UltraISO, but there are many others that work just as well (to some people).

  1. Open the ISO application and create a new ISO file from your Windows Server 2003 installation disk.
  2. Follow the directions at to slipstream i386 folder to Service Pack 2 (note: Substitute references to SP1 with Sp2 where appropriate).
  3. After you've added the files for SP2 back into the ISO, add a customized WINNT.SIF file (see below) to the I386 folder of your ISO image. Note that you should also make sure you copy the WIN51, WIN51IS, and WIN51IS.SP2 files to the root of the ISO image folder structure.
  4. Save the modified ISO image with a new name (avoid overwriting your original copy)

Now you're ready to either burn the new ISO to a disk, or simply mount it from any VMware or VirtualPC / Virtual Server, etc. guest machine to become the CD drive. Then you can boot, walk away and come back to find a fully installed, ready-to-use operating system. Simply rename it, install the latest patches, configure an IP address and you're ready.

This takes a LOT less time to create multiple servers than manually inserting a CD or DVD disk and walking through the install process. It also eliminates installing SP2 on each one. I think I once calculated this saved me almost two hours of time for each server I installed from a pre-configured installation source like the one described here.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to include a sample WINNT.SIF file. Simply open this in Notepad and edit the items in red to suit your needs. Then save it before adding it to your ISO image. This will setup your server with a blank password on the Administrator account and automatically format the entire partition of whatever drive you install it upon.

Cheers! Happy New Year!


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