Windows Autopilot vs System Center Configuration Manager

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I previously mentioned that I was excited to compare Windows Autopilot with System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). Well, we finally have more details about Windows Autopilot and I’m finally able to give you a comparison of Autopilot and SCCM for Windows 10 deployments.

System Center Configuration Manager

Before I dive into Windows Autopilot, let us review the typical use cases for SCCM so that we have a basis for comparison. SCCM is an on premise tool that performs many functions in addition to Operating System Deployment (OSD) however; I will just focus on the OSD portion for now. Here are the three most common OSD scenarios:

Scenario 1 – Boot Media

This is a Light Touch deployment requiring physical access to each device. It is well suited to small remote offices or a small staging area without OSD infrastructure (Distribution Points etc.).

  1. SysAdmin creates a custom Windows Image, driver package(s) and task sequence
  2. SysAdmin either creates boot media
  3. Boot media is distributed to required locations
  4. Each device is booted with the boot media and the task sequence builds the device
  5. Applications can be added in the task sequence or post OSD through SCCM’s Software Deployment functionality

Pros

  • Minimal network impact
  • Minimal infrastructure requirements

Cons

  • Requires visiting each device (Light Touch)
  • Boot media management overhead

Scenario 2 – PXE Boot

This is a Light Touch deployment requiring physical access to each device to enter PXE boot – This can be made Zero Touch if the boot order is set to PXE first however, this is not a sustainable configuration. It is well suited to a large staging are or small remote offices with OSD infrastructure (Distribution Points etc.).

  1. SysAdmin creates a custom Windows Image, driver package(s) and task sequence
  2. Sysadmin deploys task sequence to a collection of devices
  3. Devices are booted and forced into network boot
  4. The device finds a boot image from the SCCM Distribution Point and
  5. Each device is booted with the boot media and the task sequence builds the device
  6. Applications can be added in the task sequence or post OSD through SCCM’s Software Deployment functionality

Pros

  • No media management
  • Easy modification of task sequences, boot images and driver packages

Cons

  • Requires visiting each device (Light Touch)
  • Requires complex infrastructure

Scenario 3 – Deployed Task Sequence

This is a true Zero Touch deployment that can be used a Self-Service option as well as a scheduled mandatory deployment. It can even be coupled with Wake-on-Lan to target devices that are powered off (but still connected to the network. This is well suited to upgrading or refreshing large numbers of devices currently in use as it requires that each device is already managed with SCCM.

  1. SysAdmin creates a custom Windows Image, driver package(s) and task sequence
  2. Sysadmin deploys task sequence to a collection of devices
  3. Task sequence is executed on device (Self-serve or scheduled)
  4. Required files are copied to the device and the device reboots and the task sequence deploys the operating system
  5. Applications can be added in the task sequence or post OSD through SCCM’s Software Deployment functionality

Pros

  • No requirement to visit each device (True Zero Touch)
  • No media management
  • Easy modification of task sequences, boot images and driver packages
  • Supports Self Service
  • Supports Scheduling

Cons

  • Requires complex infrastructure
  • Only available to existing SCCM clients

Windows Autopilot

Windows Autopilot is a cloud-based service that does not require any special infrastructure. Here’s a typical OSD scenario using Windows Autopilot:

  1. SysAdmin creates device profile(s)
  2. Sysadmin registers the device(s) with the Windows Autopilot service
  3. SysAdmin assigns a profile to the device(s)
  4. Device is booted end user
  5. Device is connected to network (any Network – home, work, public)
  6. User provides enterprise credentials, Language and Keyboard settings
  7. Device self configures based on assigned profiles
  8. If the organization uses Intune additional polices and applications may be delivered to the device

Pros

  • No requirement to visit each device (Near Zero Touch)
  • No media management
  • Easy modification of profiles
  • Supports Self Service

Cons

  • Cloud service (may be a con for some organizations)
  • Eliminates requirement of staging areas and internal device shipping
  • No support for system upgrade (maintaining user data and state information)
  • No support for complex configurations (multi partition, etc.)

Conclusion

InTune has been evolving rapidly over the last few years and has been able to provide much of the same functionality as SCCM such as hardware and software inventory, application management, software updates etc. The one feature that missing was OSD. Coupled with Windows Autopilot, Microsoft InTune is a credible end-to-end lifecycle management platform for many use cases that requires no on premise infrastructure. While it cannot service all of the use cases that SCCM can, it can save time and money for organizations where it is a good fit.

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