Servers

Windows To Go Traps To Avoid

Windows To Go allows enterprises to create a bootable Windows 8 image that runs directly from a USB drive. It can be a useful way of allowing access to corporate resources through a known Windows environment, but there are traps to watch for.

These hints come courtesy of MVP Mikael Nystrom from TrueSec, who presented on Windows To Go deployment at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas this week. All are worth considering before deploying Windows To Go, especially in a larger user base.

Make sure it’s the right solution Windows To Go isn’t designed for every imaginable scenario where you might want Windows access. As Nystrom argued, if you have a group of Mac users who only need Outlook once a week, Windows To Go won’t be the best solution.

Make sure you understand the licensing implications. The standard Software Assurance licence (used in large environments) allows users who have a machine in the workplace to also run Windows To Go (via a connected USB) on a single home machine. However, if you want them to run Windows To Go on multiple workplace machines or on other home systems, you need to pay for Companion Device licences. These allow access on up to four machines.

Beware of the Volume Activation Services Wizard. This wizard is designed to speed up the creation of WTG devices, but its design is non-standard. As Nystrom pointed out, if you repeatedly click ‘Next’ you’ll actually end up removing the licence keys you create. You need to look for the ‘Done’ button on a non-final dialog, which is not what usually happens in Windows. Check carefully.

Include drivers in your image. While you might hope to keep your boot image minimal by stripping back drivers, Nystrom advises ensuring you have a full complement of storage, network and graphics drivers on board. Also make sure that you include drivers for non-standard printers or USB devices.

Stick to the recommended USB devices. Microsoft has a list of certified Windows To Go device suppliers, and Nystrom argues strongly that you should use them to ensure decent performance. “Pay the extra money to get the certified device. They are fast and they work,” he said. Doing that also ensures you’ll end up with a USB drive rather than a more basic USB key (the latter won’t work as you need to be able to partition the USB in order to create a FAT32 partition required to support UEFI).

Watch out for the 60 second trap. To ensure data isn’t stolen, Windows To Go shuts down 60 seconds after a USB is removed. If you have done this inadvertently, make sure you replug the drive into exactly the same USB slot — using a different slot won’t work.

Remember some of your users are stupid less-informed. The biggest challenge with Windows To Go in practice? Many users don’t understand how to change their PC BIOS settings to allow booting from USB in the first place. “We had users that had a hard time learning how to do USB boot,” Nystrom said. Documenting that might well prove the most important part of the process.

Lifehacker’s World Of Servers sees me travelling to conferences around Australia and around the globe in search of fresh insights into how server and infrastructure deployment is changing in the cloud era. This week, I’m in Las Vegas for the Microsoft Management Summit 2013, looking for practical guidance on deploying and managing Windows servers.