WDS without Active Directory

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Windows Deployment Services (WDS) is part of the recently released Service Pack 2. In the last months one question remained unanswered: "Is it possible to use Windows Deployment Services (WDS) in a non-Active Directory environment?" Today I answer it myself, using questions you might have after this short introduction…


"Why is this question relevant?"

I don't assume you understand why I asked this question to several Microsoft employees in the past couple of months and didn't receive a straightforward answer. (some say it's possible, some say it's not) This made me eager to find out. You might even ask why I question the information here, which clearly states you need:

  • An Active Directory domain,
  • A working DHCP server,
  • A working DNS infrastructure and
  • A volume or partition formatted with the NTFS file system. (other than the volume or partition containing the Operating System files)

The reason is I questioned what improvements were made in Windows Deployment Services (WDS) in contrast with the Remote Installation Service. (RIS) If you look at the prerequisites for Remote Installation Service (here) you won't see any difference.

You still need an Active Directory domain to use Windows Deployment Services (WDS), which is bad news for some people and might be bad news in some configurations. It basically means you still need to setup an Active Directory domain if you want to use the Microsoft tools for Windows deployment.

I believe alternative ways to deploy Windows will cost you more money. It means you need to purchase Novell Zenworks licenses, Symantec Ghost licenses, LANDesk stuff, Prism Deploy, Altiris software and many other pieces of software or employ personnel to manually install Windows on a bunch of machines… Some of these tools will have added functionality (inventory, reporting, etc) but perhaps you don't need this.

Most of the solutions enable you to use Novell's NDS or Novell's eDirectory as directory service, instead of Active Directory, which might be something you crave for.


"So … is it possible?"

Let's begin by stating you can install Windows Deployment Services (WDS) on Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 R2 boxes with Service Pack 2 installed on them.

Just like any other Operating System optional component you can install Windows Deployment Services (WDS) from the Windows Component Wizard, which you find within the 'Add or remove software' part of the Configuration Panel. There is no information behind the "Details…" button for the Windows Deployment Services (WDS) component. Installing Windows Deployment Services requires a reboot.


"But what about using it?"

After the reboot you'll find two new Microsoft Management Consoles (MMC's) within your Administrative Tools folder:

  • Windows Deployment Services
  • Windows Deployment Services Legacy

After you fire up the Windows Deployment Services MMC the screen is more or less empty. You can see the "Windows Deployment Services" container on the left side on the screen with the "Servers" container underneath, but nothing further.

When you try the "Add server" command to add the local computer you will find the following error:

The error indicating "This machine is not currently joined to a domain" indicates you need an Active Directory domain and you can only add servers to the Windows Deployment Services MMC which are member of an Active Directory domain. If a server you are trying to add is not a member of an Active Directory domain, you receive this error, even if it's the local server.



You can install the Windows Deployment Services Console on any Windows Server 2003 (R2) box after you apply Service Pack 2.

You can only use Windows Deployment Services to actually deploy Windows machines from that specific Windows Server 2003 (R2) box when it's a member of an Active Directory domain or a Domain Controller for an Active Directory domain. (and the other prerequisites have been met…)

Further reading

Microsoft Windows Deployment Services Overview
How To Use Remote Installation Service

2 Responses to WDS without Active Directory


    Hi Sander,

    I have setup a standalone wds in server 2012 and now I want to change to support AD DS.
    How can I do that?


    Hi Sander:
    Also can you use standalone WDS and somehow link the AD DS from other server? to do the database role out image?

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