Imagine, that you have a company with 5 000 employees having 6 000 computers. These could be desktop computers, notebooks, various mobile devices – anything running Windows. And you have 10 people to manage all this hardware and software.
When working in such strict conditions you can’t avoid standardizing everything you can. And having such tiny staff with ratio of 600 machines per IT staff member, you want to automate everything and make the environment to be more reliable and independent from system administrators.
Imagine the situation, when you need to install software to all machines, or perhaps to ½ of machines, which is 3 000 computers anyway. With help of Active Directory you can do it automatically, if the source application contains MSI (Microsoft Installer) file. If it doesn’t, you can execute legacy EXE installation and install it using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) which is version 2007 at the time this post is written, but we already have version 2012 in RC (release candidate) phase.
However, in both cases you might need to change configuration of installation significantly. Remove automatic updates, icons from desktop, shortcuts in Startup and various screens to welcome new users. You may also want to make it impossible to change the installation but keep the Recovery and Uninstall options. Or perform initial configuration, such as configure your program to use DivX drivers or whatever else you can do once the program is installed.
That’s what repackaging stands for. You can take anything you want and package it into MSI installation file. That’s packaging. When you take existing MSI package or legacy EXE/BAT/whatever package, and transform it to MSI package, that’s called repackaging.
And it’s quite profitable business.
The reason for it to be a profitable business is mainly because you need to be an expert in systems administration and preferably also in hardware and software development in order to successfully repackage the whole software portfolio your 6K-computers company needs.
And most likely you don’t have such specialist or have better tasks for him, right? So you outsource that business to repackaging company and agree to pay per conversion or per day of work, depending from the volume of work required.
Repackaging these days include not only the conversion, but also testing and analysis of your software. For example, you may submit software you were using for years to repackager, and he will test whether his package and the software itself will work in required target operating system, like Windows 7 x64.
If not – then he will recommend the course of actions to make it work, and there is a correlation between his level and “that’s impossible” answer ratio, as more experienced and skilled repackagers tend to solve problem instead of giving up early.
So, let’s return to our company. Once you’ve got your legacy software repackaged into stable and shiny MSI package, you install it wherever you need using SCCM server. SCCM will make sure that older packages are updated with this one, but it won’t track your licenses for it, if any. So as you can see, there is a whole lot of new concepts for a standard systems administrator to uncover.
If you are installing things like Microsoft Office or Adobe Acrobat Pro in your company, the chances are – you need to make sure you don’t install more copies than you paid for. And you want to track how many of them you have left, who needs them and perhaps allow those who needs to install necessary software without you doing much about it. Remember, with ratio of 600 machines per IT administrator, you only have 48 seconds per day for each workstation.
So there are tools that track licenses, allow people to acquire licenses from the pool and automatically install required software once approved by supervisor, or vice versa – remove software from one machine and distribute it to others.
There are even scenarios, when user visits a homepage in local network, requests new computer pre-loaded with required software, and once the request is authorized by his supervisor, receives new computer. But what is important – the computer comes to your company with blank hard drive, and all you need to know as the system administrator – the MAC address of that new computer and the recipient.
You enter the address into your system, power on the machine and forget about it for next half of hour. In 30 minutes it is ready to work, totally loaded with all required software. Then you switch off the old workstation, switch on the new one, user logs in and can continue working right over.
I deliberately don’t name the software packages that make this happen, so it would be easier to understand, that all of them are working on top of the main layer – the Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, which I am going to talk about soon.
Anyway, as you can see, a single need to operate as much computers as you can with as smaller IT staff as possible, led to whole new sector in IT market and highly sophisticated products, which you should learn if you are about to pursue a career in large organization as Windows Server systems administrator.