Thursday, 21 June 2012

Configuration Manager: Pre-stage Distribution Point Data

When I started to write this post I was just going to discuss pre-staging data on distribution points.  I get there in the end, but some comments about PXE Service Points and low latency networks slips in also.  Read on ....

A recent customer of mine had a global network and many of their remote offices had low bandwidth and high latency network connections. Most of the remote offices had a fairly small number of managed clients and only two servers, both functioning as a domain controller and file server with the second server being a hot standby for the first. They used some basics scripts to keep the file server data on the two servers in sync with each other. The customer wanted a flat Configuration Manager hierarchy if possible, though more importantly, didn’t want IIS installed on their domain controllers. That ruled out secondary sites. With this in mind I implemented Branch Distribution Points at these sites and the solution worked well, though we did sometimes have issues where package distributions would stall, so it wasn’t perfect, but for the most part we learnt how to live with that issue and knew how to fix it. We also introduced PXE Service Points at these remote sites but these proved problematic on high latency networks and design work to either script the management of the remote WDS servers outside of Configuration Manager (perhaps using SCCM to run the scripts) or the introduction of Secondary Sites is now being conducted. The following blog article explains the PSP issue exactly as we experienced it. We also opened a support ticket with Microsoft and their advice was the same as this blog suggests – use secondary sites:

Remote site systems and network latency

That above is background. What I wanted to discuss today was actually on the topic of moving package data around networks via a courier instead of over the network. This requirement was important with the above customer because of the network limitations. One advantage of using Branch Distribution Points we found was it is very easy to copy data to the BDP that had been couriered to the remote site. Because of the network limitations, it was often easier, faster and cheaper to courier packages (particularly OSD packages) to these remote sites and copy them manually to the BDP. Microsoft calls this pre-staging packages and documents how to do that. We scripted this process to a degree so it was easy to execute and one of the technical team could take data to a remote site on their laptop or we could courier data on removable media. I can’t share the scripts because they are fairly customer centric, but the manual process works well and is documented below and you should see how this could be scripted with PowerShell and Robocopy quite easily I think:

How to Prestage Packages on a Branch Distribution Point

What if you are using secondary sites (like the above customer is likely to do soon)? Well, there are two options that I’m aware of. I don’t have much experience with either of these but I started doing some reading for my customer above, and have also just started with a new customer were bandwidth isn’t as much of a problem in normal circumstances, but the large amount of data they need to deploy to new sites when they build them is with 40GB+ of data needing to be copied to new secondary site servers.  They are rapidly building new sites as they open new offices or combine offices after a major business merger. I imagine I’ll know more on this topic in the coming weeks but I thought I’d write about what I’ve initially found.

The first option is the inbuilt Courier Sender. I used this back in SMS 2.0 days and it worked but I remember it being labour intensive but don’t really remember why I didn’t like it. The following blog post explains the Courier Sender and the linked document at the end of the post provides a visual guide to using it. I think one issue I had with the Courier Sender was you had to set up the package to use it and that isn’t ideal when you are using the network (Standard Sender) to deliver the package to some DPs and the Courier Sender to others, but I can’t speak from recent experience:

Configuring and using the Courier Sender component in ConfigMgr 2007

The other option, completely new to me but one that looks promising for certain situations, is a Microsoft tool called the ‘Preload Package Tool for Configuration Manager 2007’. It does have limitations. If I’ve understand this tool correctly, it can be used to copy packages to SDPs at child sites. I looks most useful perhaps for preloading packages during initial set up of a new site. It does look like you need to be very aware of your package versions (both the source package versions and the package (.pck file) versions). It also seems to be a tool you can only use once per package per DP. Read the links to the blog posts below that cover the tool in detail.

You can source the tool from here:

Preload Package Tool for Configuration Manager 2007

This blog post gives some guidance and advice about using the tool:

ConfigMgr 2007: The Preload Package Tool (PreloadPkgOnSite.exe) Explained

This blog post also expands on the above one a little:

Packages Will Not Uncompress After Using Preloadpkgonsite.exe

I hope to either update this post or post more on this topic in the future as I get to know these tools better.

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