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Microsoft provided a basic network deployment solution in Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 called Remote Installation Services (RIS). It was difficult to manage and slow. As a result, many organizations chose not to use it, preferring third-party imaging solutions that had to be purchased.

The story changed starting with the release of Service Pack 2 for Windows Server 2003. It introduced Windows Deployment Services (WDS) as a replacement for the RIS role. The new network-based operating system deployment solution used boot image and installation images. Client computers used a feature of the hardware to download a boot image and then pick and install an installation image. WDS has matured with the release of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2. It can be used as a stand-alone solution where administrators can install an image containing the operating system, applications, and their configurations. It can also be used to extend the functionality of the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT). MDT also uses boot images, and you can store them on a WDS server to boot up client computers without any media. Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager also makes use of WDS to allow computers to boot up on the network without any media.

WDS provides a solution where you can boot up a computer on the network using a boot image that is stored on the WDS server. An administrator or user can log into a WDS client and select an installation image to be deployed. WDS administrators can add device drivers to the WDS server so that they can automatically installed using Plug and Play during an image installation. WAIK unattended installation answer files can be used to completely automate the installation of the Windows image. There is even support for multicast deployments in Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2. This is everything you could ask for in a network-based operating system deployment solution. And you get all of this without having to spend anything extra on licensing.

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