How to Install Clients with RIS

Remote Installation Service (RIS) in Windows Server 2003

My prediction is that RIS will have rosy future.  Like its rival Ghost, RIS installs images of XP Professional.  The ‘killer’ feature of RIS is that right from moment of conceptions, before they are even born; the XP machines remain under the control of Group Policies.

Incidentally, in Vista RIS will live on in the form of WDS (Windows Deployment Services), therefore it’s worth learning about the Remote Installation Service for XP and then transferring your knowledge to WDS.

Topics for Windows RIS Server


Introduction to RIS

Installing RIS will be difficult, therefore, if you are only concerned with speed and easy of installation, stay with Ghost.  I will go further and say that RIS is by far the most difficult service in Windows Server 2003’s Add or Remove Programs.  If you are up for a satisfying challenge, I will guide you through installing and configuring Microsoft’s RIS.

Principle behind the Remote Installation Service

RIS is a Microsoft’s alternative to using imaging software like ‘Ghost’.  What you do is create an image of the XP Professional on the RIS Windows 2003 Server.  Then you boot a brand new machine and press F12, the clever part is that the machine’s PXE* network card finds DHCP.   What happens next is that Active Directory, DHCP and RIS work together and produce a menu at the client, at this point you select the desired image and then the installation completes automatically.

The way RIS deploys its images reminds me of SysPrep.  In particular, the way that both technologies use .sif files to hold the setup information.  As we will, RIS is more complex, than SysPrep, but it provides far more control of the final XP Professional installation.

RIS Server Pre-requisites and Dependencies

Active Directory in general and DNS in particular.

DHCP – to enable the PXE network cards to find the RIS Server.

2GB (+) NTFS partition.  Store the image away from the system files.

Virgin client machines with PXE network cards.

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Overview of a RIS Setup
(Detailed RIS Setup)

One reason that so many people give up with Windows Server 2003’s RIS is that there are so many steps to a successful setup.  Moreover some of the configuration tabs are hidden away.  Paradoxically, once you realize that an installation is difficult it becomes easy, my explanation for this paradox is that you take more time and care when the project is challenging.

  1. Logon to the Windows 2003 Server.
  2. Install the RIS Service through the Add or Remove Programs, then reboot.
  3. Go back to the Add or Remove Programs and complete part two of the install where you will be asked for the XP CD and a 2GB NTFS partition to install the ‘vanilla’ image.
  4. To add more images, create the perfect XP Client, then run RiPrep on the client, I repeat, on the client not the RIS Server.  RiPrep will copy another, more complete image of this client to the RIS server.
  5. A final point, to configure RIS on the server, you need to select the computer object in Active Directory User and Computers, properties, then select the Remote Installation tab.
  6. RIS servers, like DHCP, have to by Authorized before they start servicing clients.
  7. My advice is to investigate Group Policies for RIS, decide on whether to allow the installer to choose setup options, or whether to make the setup silent with no screens and no choices.

* PXE – Pre execution boot.  A network card that boot and then request an IP address from a DHCP server.

See here for a step-by-step RIS setup guide

Limitations of RIS Server

RIS delivers only clean installs of XP Professional, you cannot use this technology to upgrade clients such as Windows 98 to XP.  While you cannot use RIS to install domain controllers, you can have Windows Server 2003 stand alone servers which can then join the domain and promoted to domain controllers.  Old wireless networks did not support PXE network cards, so formerly you could not use the wireless medium to install XP Professional via RIS. 

Ris Wireless Update:
Well I was able to install XP Pro wirelessly using RIS. The caviot was that I did it using virtual box. The clients saw the RIS server and I was able to install XP successfully. I was surprised to see that it took the same time to download the image wirelessly as it did with the wired PC’s.

Yaseen Al-Khattab was happy to share this finding.

See also Windows 8 Hyper-Visor

Summary or Windows RIS

RIS reminds me of DHCP in that DHCP was slow to take off and old timers used to say, ‘I would not trust this new fangled DHCP technology’.  Well, if you appreciate the advantages of DHCP, then investigate RIS.

RIS is Windows Server 2003’s new way of installing XP (and Windows 2000 professional) clients.  Unfortunately setting up the RIS server is tricky, but it worth the effort because RIS will reduce your total cost of ownership.  The final reason for mastering the RIS technology is that this will be the way of the future in Vista, it’s going to take time, but eventually techies will be weaned off Ghost.

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More Windows Server 2003 topics:

Windows RIS Server   • RIS Home   • RIS Install   • RIS Overview

Windows Services   • RIS Configure   • Windows 8 Hyper-V