Ask sysadmins to recommend a computer imaging tool for Windows devices, and many immediately suggest Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT). After all, it’s free and highly configurable, so you can use it to build custom workflows from scratch. Plus, MDT is a Microsoft creation, and Microsoft built Windows, so that’s a win-win, right?
Well, it depends. Do you have the time and desire to make it work? (Hint: It could take weeks or longer, a lot of Googling, and dangerous levels of caffeine.) Are you prepared to handle complex imaging processes and technical issues without any official support? Do you support only on-prem devices? We’ll walk you through the pros and cons to help you assess if MDT is truly the right solution for your business.
What is Microsoft Deployment Toolkit?
Microsoft Deployment Toolkit is a set of tools sysadmins use to create Windows operating system images. With MDT, you can then deploy those images, along with drivers and enterprise applications, to desktops, laptops, and servers. Available for free, MDT officially supports the deployment of Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Server.
When using MDT, you’ll need to download and install the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK). Containing Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) and other deployment tools, Windows ADK allows you to customize and deploy Windows images on a larger scale.
MDT key features
The latest version of Microsoft Deployment Toolkit was released in 2020, but the tool has been around for almost as long as we’ve had Facebook and iPhones. (For the Gen Z folks among us, that’s a solid 20 years and counting, y’all.) Here are some of MDT’s core features.
A task sequence is a set of predetermined steps that tells MDT how to create and deploy an image. Think of it like IKEA’s kitchen installation service: a package that comes with specific instructions and someone to put everything together for you.
Using task sequences allows you to automate the deployment process and is a core feature of the program. MDT comes with task sequence templates for common actions such as running Sysprep and executing postdeployment tasks. You can also create your own.
In MDT, rules are customizable settings that allow you to control how user devices are set up and configured. For instance, you can create different rules around network and security settings for different devices and user groups in your environment.
The Deployment Workbench is MDT’s central dashboard from which you can manage your deployment process — from importing OS images, applications, and drivers to creating the task sequences you need. It’s not particularly pretty, but, if you’re handy, you can get the job done. All the images, files, and scripts you need for deployment are stored in a folder called a deployment share.
You can use MDT to deploy Windows images using offline media or a local network connection. More specifically, MDT supports three different deployment methods: Lite Touch Installations (LTI), Zero Touch Installations (ZTI), and User Driven Installations (UDI). ZTI and UDI deployments require integration with Microsoft Configuration Manager.
What are the benefits of using MDT?
Microsoft Deployment Toolkit is a popular tool for Windows deployment for good reason. Besides being free, MDT can be used to create highly customized deployments, and it’s designed to work with other endpoint management solutions in the Microsoft family.
MDT is so popular partly because it’s free with no licensing costs. This means you can start using it right away without the soul-sucking struggle of budget approval. And you don’t have to deal with mind-boggling Microsoft licensing fees.
It’s highly configurable
If you like the sweat and satisfaction of building deployment processes from scratch — and have the necessary skills and knowledge — MDT could be a good set of tools for you. Via the Deployment Workbench, you can create any task sequence or rule to customize deployment and postdeployment tasks.
It integrates with other Microsoft tools
Some choose MDT for its ability to integrate with other Microsoft tools in their IT ecosystem, like Microsoft Configuration Manager (previously known as System Center Configuration Manager or SCCM) and Windows Deployment Services (WDS). Using these solutions in tandem is common for larger and more comprehensive deployments.
What are the disadvantages of using MDT?
On the flip side, there are certain challenges when using Microsoft Deployment Toolkit. For instance, it’s not the easiest tool to set up and use, there’s no official technical support, and supporting diverse hardware can be a complicated affair. Before deciding if MDT is the right choice for your business, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. To save you some legwork, we’ve laid out the key considerations below.
A challenging and manual setup
Even with official documentation and a ton of community advice, setting up and using MDT can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. It’s a highly customizable tool that requires a lot of manual intervention. And you’ll need to know exactly how, where, and what you want to configure. Depending on your skill level, you might be in for a long, bumpy road ahead.
No official technical support
Microsoft does not provide official technical support for MDT. You can seek help on the MDT forum, submit it on the Windows 10 Feedback Hub (if it’s a bug), or get funneled through Microsoft’s general support line. Alternatively, you can check out community forums, like Reddit, or, for braver souls, try your luck troubleshooting on your own.
Unless you’re only deploying thin images across identical devices, using MDT can make your computer imaging process complex and time consuming. If you’re supporting diverse hardware or user groups, there’s no simple way to build, test, and update your Windows OS images; manage multiple device drivers; or streamline software deployment.
No native cloud OS deployment features
Deploying to remote devices that are not connected to a local network? According to one Microsoft MVP, you’ll need to pair MDT with Windows Autopilot and throw in some clever PowerShell scripting to pull it off. MDT has no out-of-box features that support remote deployments over the cloud without local network infrastructure.
How much does Microsoft Deployment Toolkit really cost?
MDT may be free, but using it could cost you in other ways — like the time and resources you may need to master the whole set of tools and configure them to do what you want. Depending on your deployment approach and workloads, using MDT (with other Microsoft tools) may also incur adjacent costs for additional licenses, hardware, and server and network infrastructure.
Choosing an MDT alternative
When choosing the best computer imaging solution for your business, it’s important to consider potential costs (and savings) more broadly. Unlike MDT, using an imaging tool alternative like SmartDeploy is likely to cost you less and save you more over time. SmartDeploy’s flexible file-based imaging software can save hours of work and increase efficiency, keeping business-critical (and revenue-generating) operations running smoothly. Here are some key features that our customers love.
Easy setup and use: Simple enough for entry-level technicians to use, SmartDeploy can be set up in an afternoon and deploy Windows OS images in minutes.
Single-image management: Instead of different images and files for different groups, you can create one custom golden image that can be deployed to any Windows device make or model.
Flexible, fuss-free app and driver installation: You can slipstream custom apps and devices with your Windows OS image or simply deploy them separately on their own — no finicky configurations required.
Easy driver management: Admins also get access to a library of more than 1,500 prebuilt driver packs that support major OEM business-class models and are maintained by in-house driver experts.
Task automation: Prebuilt and customizable script packages let you easily automate deployment tasks, like Sysprep, and postdeployment tasks, such as domain joins, computer naming, and printer installations.
Computer management dashboard: The dashboard gives you a useful overview of the hardware and software information across your fleet, so you can quickly identify what you need to update, patch, or uninstall.
Whether you manage 100 or 1,000 machines; support on-site, remote, or hybrid users; or manage a hardware-diverse environment, SmartDeploy allows you to do that easily from one platform. Learn how via our free demo, or sign up for a 15-day free trial to see how it compares to tools like MDT and Microsoft Configuration Manager.