Ever use Windows to Go?

My latest project has been the development and production deployment of Windows to Go using Kingston DT Workspace USB Storage sticks. In short - a very cool solution.

The client wanted to reduce the expenses of contractor on-boarding for a big rock, high impact project. Instead of giving these temporary workers expensive laptops, the decision was made to either have them use AWS Workspaces (cloud) or WTG. Due to some requirement restrictions, WTG was chosen and I was charged with leading the technical effort around building and deploying these sticks.

So what are these sticks? It's pretty easy. It's Windows 8.1 that is loaded on a USB drive and when you turn on your workstation, you "boot from this USB stick" as opposed to your drive inside the computer. These sticks are USB 3.0, and what we found was that for all laptops that have internal spinning hard drives this solution provided a performance boost. This is because the sticks (Kingston Workspaces) are actually SSD drives with a USB interface. So how did we build them?

First thing first, we needed requirements for the images. There were four distinct roles that we discovered that needed to be separate images. We performed some requirements gathering tasks and got a list of applications & settings that needed to be present within each image. We also discovered some security restrictions such as preventing the user from accessing the local disk of the workstation, and other minor things. Now comes the fun part...

The tools we leveraged were MDT and PowerShell scripting. MDT 2013 is where we performed our image creation process. We ensured that the applications needed were silent and unattended. Some of them were not which we in turn just scripted the copy of the bits down to the root of the drive and had the user manually install these. Not a perfect solution (I'd prefer to properly automate them), but it worked within the time requirements we were given. I also was able to get the Chocolatey package manager into the images to make installation of some commonly used apps available to the task sequence and kick them off. The Client Engineering lead also appreciated that added piece of software. Nice win for us.

For creation of the sticks themselves, we used a PowerShell script that is based upon code from Microsoft (link) and a previous consultant. Unfortunately it has some custom code so I can't share, but I improved it by parameterizing some info and leveraging jobs. Once I generalize it I'd like to share it so stay tuned.

Overall, the project was a success and we were able to demonstrate WTG working on a wide range of hardware...including a Macbook Air. The client was happy and we delivered serious value in the form of cost savings to them.