Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Deploying AutoCAD with MDT 2010

In my latest book I discuss the various ways to automate the deployment of Autodesk products throughout a Windows network environment.  Among these is "imaging".  This is essentially where you automate the process of loading the base operating system, drivers, updates, and a set of "standard" applications on a new computer before delivering it to the user.  If you're using a network-licensed version of an Autodesk product and the majority of your users use the product, then adding it to the base image might make sense in your environment.

Microsoft provides a free application called Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, or MDT, for creating custom imaging configurations for your various needs.  This can range from various hardware models (drivers and utilities) to various user functions (role-based configurations for various departments or skillsets).  It is also the required component for deploying imaging services within System Center Configuration Manager 2007, where it rolls up into what is known as the Operating System Deployment (OSD) feature.  MDT employs a variety of components and toolkits such as WAIK (Windows Automated Installation Kit), .NET framework and so on.  For more information about MDT visit the Microsoft TechNet MDT web site.

MDT uses a "task sequence" process that allows you to create a custom chain of events to install and configure everything you need on each computer.  Think of it as being kind-of like a giant BAT script, but with a very robust GUI environment to work with.  You configure which operating system, which service packs and updates, which drivers, which settings to customize, and which applications.  You also configure the order in which these things are executed.

Why would you want to use MDT to deploy Autodesk Network-Licensed Products?

It can save on product network traffic overhead compared with pushing the installations out to computers in the environment.  You can easily segment and isolate network traffic between the MDT host server and the workbench where the computers are imaged.  This keeps the traffic off of your production routers and switches, thereby avoiding slowing down your users even during peak production hours.

Why would you NOT want to do this?

This is a bit tricky, and often subjective, but you have to consider how many licenses of the Autodesk product you have available (FLEXlm), compared with how often you max out usage, compared also with what percentage of your total computer user population could use a license at any given point in time.  An example might be if you have 500 computers/users, but only 100 AutoCAD licenses.  If 150 of your employees are potential AutoCAD users, especially frequent users, you may experience the dreaded "No available licenses / try again later" scenario.  If you are in this scenario, then putting AutoCAD on every desktop and laptop might only exascerbate the problem by making it too easy for even casual users or curious folks (non-users) to attempt to launch AutoCAD.

The missing piece

Assuming you're not worried about the downside described above, and you wish to pursue adding this into your base image process, what do you need to do?

You need to create a Deployment share for AutoCAD.  This is not to be confused with the "Deployment Share" referenced within MDT.  That's a different deployment share.  You have to create a network deployment share for the Autodesk product and create the deployment for the product to publish into that share.  This is done from the installation media main setup interface.  You will need to follow the same basic process as if you were creating a deployment for SCCM.  You should make sure you include the installation of .NET Framework 4.0 before the task sequence item that installs the Autodesk 2012 edition of your products.  You may also need to (separately) package the DirectX components.  Last but not least, you need to make sure your command-line for installing AutoCAD includes the /I /Q and /W parameters (as shown in the NAG, or Network Administration Guide).  If you forget the /W parameter, the installation will not pause the Task Sequence until it finishes, and will then create a problem where the next step begins execution before the AutoCAD installation is even partially completed.

If you build a proper AutoCAD Deployment and configure the Task Sequence within MDT properly, you should have a smooth process for including it in all of your newly imaged, or re-imaged computers before delivering them to the end-users.



Dave G. said...

I started playing with 2012 the past two days and ran into the "The Missing Piece" problem on my first test install. After digging into the logs I figured out that it was a .Net 4 issue. What is really strange is that the .Net 4 is in the AutoCAD Admin Image folders. It is in the .ini file as a pre-requisite. So I loaded the .Net 4 and rebooted. Started the install. No problem. So can the .Net be part of the AutoCAD install package or does it need to be seperate and then rebooted before running the AutoCAD install?

skatterbrainz said...

I cover the .NET 4.0 and DirectX prerequisites mess in my latest book, but essentially: yes, you need to make sure .NET and DirectX go before the AutoCAD 2012 deployment itself. If you are using a Wise Script or a .BAT/.CMD script to do the heavy lifting, you could add the command lines into that and make the script as a single package. Otherwise, you would need to treat them separately and control the order they are installed.

I don't understand why .NET 4.0 wasn't treated like MSXML and VC++ and the others. I still don't understand why Autodesk doesn't take 30 minutes to package the DirectX garbage into a .MSI file either. If I can do it, Autodesk can do it and would help their customers by doing it. Makes no sense to me why they don't.

Jason said...


What are you thoughts on using AutoCAD based products on Citrix Servers? I see it as having great potential for working within a private cloud. Therefore less headaches for the IT departments around the traps!


skatterbrainz said...

Hi Jason. That's a tough question to answer actually. First off, verify Autodesk support terms. If you have a mission-critical environment you can't afford to put it outside of supportability. Second, it depends on licensing and how that would/might work with or against the ability to accurately manage license usage and control.

My past experience has been mixed. For most 2D work, a RDP/Terminal pipeline is ok, but for 3D it can suck unless you have the very latest hardware, software and a fat network pipe. Shaded 3D objects with dynamic movement tend to get blocky and ugly and difficult to use for things like Inventor, Mech and 3DS Max.

I know I didn't really answer your question, but like I said, it's very dependent on the environment (from a purely technical aspect). Then there's the licensing/support aspect (attorneys, ugh). Autodesk is taking baby steps in that direction with WS so who knows. They've done some interesting alpha projects in the past that could come back from the dead.

Dave G. said...

Autodesk announced yesterday that 9 applications from their 2012 applications could now be used on Citrix. In was in Shaan Hurley's blog. They did not include Inventor, 3D Studio Max but did include Mechanical and AutoCAD in the 9 apps available. This is a big switch in itself from the years of Autodesk not allowing it. They must have figured out the licensing asspect within Citrix. It will be interesting to see how it tests out. It shouldn't be long before someone decides to fund a test. That would probably resolve alot of our deployment issues of pushing out these gigantic suites every year. Sounds good to me.

skatterbrainz said...

Talk about good timing. :) That does indeed sound hopeful. For years I've felt bad having to tell sys-admins that it can't be done (for whatever reasons), so this is good to hear.

Jason said...


You raise a valid point about the licensing side of the programs. But I believe that Autodesk wouldn't release the Citrix without resolving licensing issues as we all know how Autodesk loves to get paid.

I see the advantage in the fact that you might spend in the order of $6000 on a great machine that might host the program and be able to remote connected up to 5 or so users to that machine (My knowledge on the cost vs performance of the machine may be lacking). Compared to current ways of buying a $2000/user machine for best performance in the AutoCAD MEP rhelm, so you may save some $$ in the long term.

But if that machine breaks down for any number of reasons, you have 5+ people sitting around doing nothing. So therefore a redundancy issue arises.

For the server based programs to work, you will need a very reliable machine. I believe the cloud computing concept is great, and it would suit smaller firms in my opinion such as ours. Once they have the shit in order it may be the way of the future!


skatterbrainz said...

Hi Jason, You also raise some great points. Keep in mind that I posted my first Citrix comment before learning of the official announcement, which left me feeling like a ****ing idiot of course. But hey. The story of my life includes chapters called "I feel like a ****ing idiot" so it works.

As for the single point of failure aspect, you can mitigate that with clustering and load balancing and virtual switching and tiered server farms, etc. which is what that whole concept is aimed at: big corporate data center customers. Everything in IT comes with a price. The challenges are to weigh the costs against the benefits and try to take the most cost effective option.