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STOP Deployment Schlepping
By Keith Mann and Laurene Koman, Esri

Simplify administration by centralizing ArcGIS software distribution

Back in the day when desktop computers had floppy drives and networks were slow as molasses, system administrators walked around the office with a handful of diskettes and visited every desktop machine installing new software and updating systems. Depending on the size of the organization, this task could take an administrator several hours or several weeks to complete.

Now, with faster networks and powerful servers in abundance, software and system updates are regularly deployed from a central server to dozens or even thousands of machines. This strategy saves IT staff members hours of tedious work and allows organizations to respond more quickly to software changes and improvements.

Because Esri's software setups are developed with Microsoft Windows Installer (MSI) technology, ArcGIS software products and service packs can be deployed from a central server. With centralized distribution of Esri software, GIS managers can efficiently plan for and control installations and updates. For example, these maintenance activities can be scheduled when they will have the least impact on users or the network. Installations can be targeted to specific groups of users. Esri product version updates throughout an organization can be synchronized. Software can be installed on computers for which users don't have administrative privileges, a type of deployment referred to as managed software.

To take advantage of this capability requires that the system administrator create an administrative installation point for ArcGIS on a network server. The administrator must first create a network share to the server and have write access to the share. Next the administrator runs the ArcGIS setup (the setup.msi file on the Esri software installation media) from the command line using the /a option. This option copies all the files and resources needed for ArcGIS software installation—including the software setup—to the server. At this point, anyone with read access to the network share can install the software to their local machine by running the ArcGIS setup on the server. Creating a network installation point also allows the GIS manager to define installation settings, such as the license manager for the client setups.

For example, after creating an administrative installation of ArcGIS Desktop, an e-mail could be sent to all the appropriate users telling them that ArcGIS Desktop is ready for them to install. The e-mail would give them specific instructions for navigating to the server and running the setup. In this case, users are notified of the availability of new software or a software update, but they must have administrative privileges for their computers.

This technique—creating a network share for an administrative installation point and using e-mail notification of software availability—is an example of a rudimentary software distribution method. Other manual software distribution methods used include physically visiting each computer, providing a software download Web page, creating a media library where users can check out installation disks, or performing a computer image replacement each time new applications and patches are released. Manual methods are often costly, time consuming, and prone to technical problems and setbacks.

The following ArcGIS 9.2 software products can be deployed using Group Policy and SMS

  • ArcGIS Desktop
  • ArcInfo Workstation
  • ArcGIS Engine Runtime
  • ArcGIS Engine Developer Kit
  • ArcReader
  • ArcGIS Server for the Java Platform
  • ArcGIS Server for the Microsoft .NET Framework
  • ArcIMS
  • ArcIMS Web ADF for the Java Platform
  • ArcIMS Web ADF for the Microsoft .NET Framework
  • ArcView (Single Use)
  • ArcEditor (Single Use)
  • ArcGIS Desktop Developer Kit

As an organization grows and networks become complicated, IT staff members need more sophisticated tools, such as Microsoft's Group Policy or Systems Management Server (SMS), to automate and manage ArcGIS software deployment. A GIS manager of a smaller organization with a few workstations and servers and a fairly simple network might consider using Group Policy to distribute Esri software to other machines on the network. With Group Policy, ArcGIS product installation, upgrade, or even software removal can be managed from a central location. Software can either be targeted to a group of users or computers or it can be published to users to allow them to install the software at their convenience.

Group Policy also helps administrators make sure only approved software gets installed and can be used to install software locked down environments, where users do not have administrative privileges. This type of installation also allows the deployment package to define all installation settings for the client installation. For example, the license manager, installation folder, and installed features that will be installed can be defined for the machine targeted for deployment.

Using Group Policy requires working in an Active Directory environment. Active Directory consists of a domain controller, such as Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003, that is used to support multiple clients running Windows 2000 Professional or Windows XP Professional. According to Microsoft, Group Policy has "some basic limitations, including difficulties with scheduling installation, consistently managing network bandwidth, and providing feedback on the status of the installation. If you need to carefully schedule installations, manage network use, perform hardware and software inventory, or monitor installation status, consider using Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS)."

Midsized to large organizations with a full-time IT staff person or IT team supporting multiple offices and locations via a wide area network (WAN) are more likely to use SMS to distribute ArcGIS software. SMS also provides the ability to create an inventory of the distributed software and report user or computer metrics. These functions let the IT team track software deployment and create fine-grain distribution policies for users and machines.

Centralized deployment of Esri software saves the organization time and money, improves security, and prevents loss of productivity. Esri software setups are designed to work with Microsoft distribution tools, such as Group Policy or SMS, that help administrators take the guesswork out of installation. With both Group Policy and SMS, distribution instructions can be created that initiate delivery of software from a central location. Administrators can create customized deployment packages that start installing software the next time a user logs in or install automatically in the middle of the night without user interaction. The deployment method chosen should be based on the organization's size and complexity of its network while taking into consideration how much control is required for installation. For more detailed information on how centralized deployment of Esri software works, read Deploying Managed ArcGIS 9.2 Setups, an Esri technical paper available at support.esri.com. For a more complete discussion about Group Policy and SMS, go to www.microsoft.com/technet/sms/20/dsumgmt.mspx.

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