Windows 8.1 Management Path

In case you missed it, Microsoft has moved the client platform to a more rapid release cycle.  This also means the release cycle for the client management platforms like Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager and Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) have been brought in line with that release cycle.  The result can be a great deal of confusion in trying to figure out which updates are required for what functionality.

Windows 8.1 provides an excellent example of what we can likely expect going forward.  It’s best to resist any temptation to view Windows 8.1 as the equivalent of Windows 8 Service Pack 1, because while the list of new features is not nearly as significant as the paradigm shift Windows 8 introduced (and arguably not as beefy as Windows XP Service Pack 2 was), the reality is that it is a completely different operating system from a deployment and management standpoint.  Of course, Microsoft does muddy the waters a little bit by providing Windows 8.1 as a free upgrade for Windows 8 users through the Windows Store…but that method doesn’t yet fit into the current enterprise systems management paradigm (get used to it though because it’s the direction we’re heading).

“So, what do I need to do?”

Well, if you’re not looking at actively deploying Windows 8.1 in the near future, the answer is: nothing (yet).  Deploying Windows 8.1 images requires the Windows ADK for Windows 8.1 and either MDT 2013 or ConfigMgr 2012 R2.  All of these are currently in Preview the same as Windows 8.1 (RTM notwithstanding), and In keeping with the aligned release cycle mentioned above, all of these will release for general availability alongside Windows 8.1 on October 17, 2013.  With a TechNet or MSDN subscription, you can obtain the RTM media for early deployment testing using the Preview versions of the deployment tools, but full support does not come until the magic October 17th date.

If you’re just looking to manage Windows 8.1, the answer is: install ConfigMgr 2012 SP1 Cumulative Update 3.  The CU3 update provides support for Software Distribution, Software Updates, and Compliance Settings for Windows 8.1 RTM.  If you are still running System Center Configuration Manager 2007, the SCCM Team has announced that they will be providing an update for Windows 8.1 (and Server 2012 R2) to make them fully supported clients. However, just as Windows 8 there will be no support for Operating System Deployment.

When October 17th finally arrives, you’ll want to plan out your updates accordingly. This may include some or all of the following:

  • Uninstall of Windows ADK 8.0
  • Install of Windows ADK 8.1
  • Upgrade of ConfigMgr 2012 SP1 to ConfigMgr 2012 R2
  • Upgrade of ConfigMgr 2012 clients (simplified with Client Auto-Upgrade)
  • Install of MDT 2013 (and corresponding ConfigMgr integration)
  • Updating of USMT package
  • Updating of Task Sequences
  • Updating of MDT Toolkit package
  • Updating of boot images (post-MDT)

The salient point is that the update cycle for client deployment has become one of smaller, more frequent updates that require a little more regular attention to ensure you have what you need when you need it.



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One Comment

  1. Michael Niehaus

    Technically, ConfigMgr 2012 SP1 CU3 does support OSD with Windows 8.1 by using a boot image from ADK 8.1. This works the same as using a PE 3 boot image (support added in CU2). It will be easier with 2012 R2, but it does at least work with CU3.

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