I recently had to wipe out a number of servers and reinstall them with Microsoft’s latest server operating system: Windows Server 2012. One bright spot in the whole experience? Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool.
There are two things I detest when installing servers, creating a boot disk from a DVD and doing a PXE (Preboot eXecution Environment) install. Burning an .ISO image to a DVD for a server operating system is always a painful exercise, inevitably involving problems with the DVD, burning software, or burner. Who needs that trouble? For my small testbed comprised of only three physical servers, setting up and configuring PXE on my test network just isn’t worth the amount of time I would have to devote to it.
Therefore, when installing Windows servers to physical hardware (not virtual installs), I rely on two key tools. One is a high capacity USB flash drive—we’re talking a minimum of 4GB—and the second is Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. With these tools, I can quickly create a bootable Server 2012 USB disk. You can, of course, also use this utility to make a bootable DVD.
The Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool is simple to use and has never failed me, except when I tried to use it with a high-capacity 64GB flash drive. This tool is the best way I have found to install Server 2012 in a test or small production environment quickly and without a lot of hassle.
Acquiring and Install
The Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool is a free utility available from Microsoft.
System requirements for installing include a computer running Windows XP SP2, Vista, or Windows 7 (32- or 64-bit). A minimum of a Pentium 233 MHz processor is needed; however, 300 MHz is the recommended minimum. You’ll also need 500MB of free space and either a DVD-R or USB flash drive with at least 4GB capacity.
You will need an .ISO image of the Windows operating system you want to install. Microsoft states you can only create an image of Windows 7 purchased from the Microsoft Store. However, after reading an independent blogger’s post on Microsoft’s TechNet about using the tool to create a bootable Server 2012 image, something I found myself in need of, I decided to give it a shot. Although I haven’t tested it yet, word has it that you can use the utility to make a bootable Windows 8 disk, too.
Making the Bootable USB
The tool has a GUI with a wizard that guides you through the process of making your boot disk. There are four steps to creating the bootable USB: Select the path where the .ISO file is stored, choose if you are making a bootable DVD or USB, insert the flash drive, and create the image with a button click.
If you use a flash drive that already has data on it, the utility will format the flash drive first, deleting that data, so back up any data you want to retain first. I used NTFS formatting to make a bootable Sever 2012 disk on a USB flash drive.
The entire installation process took me only a couple of minutes on a Windows 7 machine. I initially had a problem creating a boot image on a 64GB flash drive. The utility kept cancelling the .ISO copy process with a rather vague message about being unable to copy. I swapped that flash drive out for a 16GB Kingston disk and had no problems copying the server image.
Remember: To boot off the USB on server hardware, you’ll need to change that server’s boot order to recognize the USB drive first. I did not have the option to boot from USB on an older Dell PowerEdge I had, but I was able to boot from the USB flash drive on an HP Proliant ML 330 server. For the PowerEdge, since this older server’s BIOS does not seem to support USB boot, I simply launched a fresh install of Sever 2012 from the server’s existing desktop.
In considerably under an hour, I had two new installs of Server 2012 on two physical servers. While the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool may have issues with very large flash drives (and the problem I had could have been with the drive itself, although I can read and write data to and from it) it’s still a convenient tool. Plus, it’s free. This Microsoft utility easily gets four stars for software utilities.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc