More on Windows 2012 Templates – answers!

Hello everyone,

I have written on Win2K12 and templates before.  Templates in vSphere are very powerful and important but have started to get complicated in Windows 2008 and frustrating in Windows 2012.  The reason for this is that I like customizing the template with updated Windows configuration settings and utilities installed.  This means turning off features, adding features, but also things like turning off screen savers.  Once I am done with that I copy my profiles to the Default user and that means once a virtual machine is deployed from this template that the newly logged in users gets the configuration I have arranged for them.  This was hard in Win2K8 but you could force it and it become very difficult in Windows 2012.  I have found out how to do Win2K12 (or Win2K8) templates nicely and I want to share that with you.  First, I want to show you the various ways it is possible right now.  All of these are tested – though not all by me.

  • GPO – do no customization of your template, and deploy VMs from it as per normal.  When the VM is joined to the domain – as part of the deploy – it will get all the configuration applied to it.  I consider this a little difficult as you need to know more about GPO than a typical user.  For example, how do I install software (like BgInfo) that has no MSI as part of a GPO deployment?
  • XML – VMware Support helped me with this one.  You produce an XML file with all of the normal information in it like Company Name, PID, etc, and you add one additional feature to it – <CopyProfile>true</CopyProfile>.  Once your virtual machine is customized as you wish, and turned into a template, you will need to create a customization specification.  However, you will import your VML instead of using the wizard.  But, be aware, you will need to answer in the XML all of the questions you would normally answer in the wizard except for networking.  The XML file is a bit tricky with this one.
  • MDT – Microsoft suggested this one – and that is to build each server using the Microsoft Deployment toolkit and you would not require templates in this method.  I think this is tricky due to the footprint of the toolkit and the fact I think it will be more work – particularly the first time.
  • Very odd idea that sucks – I found in several places on the Internet suggestions that you use sysprep with the copy profile option before you deploy the new virtual machine.  Turns out I only got this method to work once and I am not sure how I did that.  Many times it did not work and I know how that worked.  So not good.
  • Chip – thanks to one of my readers – Chip – I have what I think is the best idea.  You do the customization as per normal, and once you are happy you use a utility to copy your profile to the default user.  Than you turn the VM into a template and you are good to go.  I should add I am also using all the customization I can do in the GPO as well.  But this way I have a template I can NOT use on the domain but in the DMZ and it is good to go,  and if I use the template on the domain I am good to go as well.

I will update my detailed article on creating and updating the Windows 2012 template shortly.  I will be using the Chip method in that.

Update: 7/20/14 – I used a different tool – from the same company – that is free and simple.  It works just as well.  It is called Defprof.  So I now have a fully workable solution.  Great stuff!


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