A Week with Altiris

Last week I had a posse of Symantec product specialists in my office (the WHOLE week) to help me stand up a brand new Symantec/Altiris 7.1 CMS environment.  The goal is to replace four different helpdesk’s CMS solutions (including the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit stuff I am currently maintaining for one of them) with this shiny new Altiris product.

There’s just one problem with last week’s engagement: During the initial install for Altiris, I had a single setting that “wasn’t optimized”. Just that one setting was enough to make the first three days of work pretty stressful for everyone and not nearly as smooth as it ought to be. This was no fault of Symantec but because it took so long to address the individual symptoms, by the time we identified the root cause of the problems we had already fixed all the issues associated with it. Our environment is up and looking good (although we have yet to insert the actual software and deployment images we’ll be using Altiris for). Before the Symantec gang left, they helped to  identify the appropriate next steps that I’ll be working on this next few weeks. All in all, the week was a success and we’re on a good path for fully switching over to the new CMS system.

…But I’ve got this nagging in the back of my head that my environment isn’t perfect because of that one wrong setting. I’m king of CMS at the office right now. When working with the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, I must have erased everything and installed it again 10 times before I felt like I had it just right. I wish it would be an easy call to do the same with Altiris, but now it’s not just my time – I would be throwing away an extremely valuable week’s worth of collaborated effort and the stakes are a lot higher. I have to champion Altiris and help prove its worth to four different Helpdesk teams, so what do I do? I don’t have an answer for this yet and it might not even by my call to make.



A Collection of Resources

After writing my beginner’s guide it was immediately clear to me that I provided too much text, not enough pictures, and other people have already done what I did.

Instead of continuing down that path, maybe it will be more helpful to list out the various resources I use when I’m trying to automate a software or OS installation.


  • ASCII Art Table – If you’re using the command line and trying to make neat little menus with borders or just to add some pizazz, you’ll want to look up the character codes to have things display correctly. Probably not super useful in these modern times, but every ocne in a while I use something from the Extended ASCII codes to designate a section or to draw attention to stuff being output to a log file
  • Command Line Output Redirection – This is a staple for good scripting. Using > to redirect output to a file is the easiest way to set up logging. You can easily log standard output (success/expected output) and separately log standard error (failure messages)
  • Command Line Details – As soon as I start adding any complexity to batch files, I get ready to queue up this site. It does a great job of breaking down IF statements, FOR statements and has a lot of great general knowledge stuff that Microsoft Technet articles just don’t properly convey
  • Technet Script Center – Chances are good that what ever you’re trying to script has been scripted before. This is a great repository of all kinds of Windows scripts in various scripting languages
  • Sysprep Troubleshooting – Although it’s only dealing with XP, when you’re having difficulty with Sysprep there can be all kinds of reasons.  This is a great collection of troubleshooting pointers that is a great starting point when you’re stumped
  • Create a Custom Windows PE Image – Download the Windows AIK and regardless of any other tools you can have a mini boot environment that comes in at around 150 MB. This is the basis of many “uber” boot CDs. It’s Windows Lite that you can make run remote desktop, copy files, map network drives, and just about any other Windows basic troubleshooting that you need to do.  Trivia fact: When you install Windows Vista or Windows 7 from disc, you’re actually booting to WinPE which then launches the setup.exe file
  • Windows XP Storage Drivers – If you’re using RAID, AHCI or SAS hard drives you’re in for tough road to automating OS deployments. While this link is a little dated it will help you get on the road to expanding storage driver support on legacy OSes.  For even more (but also outdated) help, this Symantec post is also great (it’s to help with automating installs using Altiris but works for any situation)
  • The IT Bros’ Windows 7 Sysprep Guide – This is an off-shoot of a blog that originally posted this awesome guide to working with Sysprep in Windows 7.  If you really want to get in there and learn how to sysprep, do what I did and print this article out. Trust me it’s great.
  • Windows SysInternals – All kinds of utilities that add extra troubleshooting functionality to Windows
  • AppDeploy – When you’re automating software installs, you might as well always go here first. Nearly any installer you can think of, someone’s already posted exactly what you need to do to turn it into something deployed silently across the network while disabling the desktop shortcut and whatever other bells and whistles you could come up with.  Usually you want to check out the Package KB section first, but if you can’t find what you need then try the Software KB. And if you want to learn how people first come up with these silent install commands check out the Articles, FAQs and Tips & Tricks sections. One of the articles in there is great for explaining how to deal with installers that use an InstallShield EXE instead of a standard MSI file (and yes, it explains what the hell that means if you’re totally clueless)
  • Blogs – Here’s some very useful Microsoft blogs that help with deployments, especially related to the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit:

There’s a lot more and I’ll come back to this post and update as I can with additional resources I find myself falling back on.