System Center, Technology

7 SCCM Task Sequence Tips


I purposely left out “OSD” in the title, because I see a significant increase in non-OSD tasks being performed with Task Sequences. This includes application deployments, complex configuration sequences, and so on. Whether those could be done more efficiently/effectively using other tools is a topic for another beer-infused, knife-slinging, baseball bat-swinging discussion. Just let me know early-on, so I can sneak out the back door.

Anyhow, this is just a short list of “tips” I find to be useful when it comes to planning, designing, building, testing, deploying and maintaining Task Sequences in a production environment. Why 7? Because it’s supposed to be lucky.

Disclaimer

Are you sitting down? Good. This might be a big shock to you, but I am *not* the world’s foremost expert on Task Sequences, or Configuration Manager. And some (maybe all) of these “tips” may be eye-rolling old news to you. But hopefully, some of this will be helpful to you.

Start Simple!

So often, I see someone jump in and start piling everything into a new Task Sequence at once, and THEN trying it out. This can make the troubleshooting process much more painful and time-consuming than it needs to be. Start with what developers call a “scaffold”, and gradually build on that.

I usually start with the primary task at hand: such as “install Windows 10 bare metal“, test that with only the absolute bare minimum steps required to get a successful deployment. Then add the next-most-important steps in layers and continue on.

However you decide to start, just be sure to test each change before adding the next. It might feel tedious and time-wasting, but it can save you 10 times the hassle later on.

Divide and Conquer

Don’t forget that the latest few builds of ConfigMgr (and MDT btw) support “child”, or nested, Task Sequences. In situations where you have multiple Task Sequences which share common steps, or groups of steps, consider pulling those out to a dedicated Task Sequence and link it where needed. Much MUCH easier to maintain when changes are needed.

Some common examples where this has been effective (there are many more I assure you) include Application Installations, Drivers, Conditional blocks of steps (group has a condition, which controls sub-level steps within it, etc.), and setup steps (detection steps with task sequence variable assignments at the very top of the sequence, etc.)

I’m also surprised how many people are not aware that you can open two Task Sequence editors at the same time, side-by-side, and copy/paste between them. No need to re-create things, when you can simply copy them.

Organize and Label

If you are going to have multiple phases for build/test/deploy for your Task Sequences, it may help to do one (or both) of the following:

  • Use console folders to organize them by phase (e.g. Dev, Test, Prod, and so on)
  • Use a consistent naming convention which clearly identifies the state of the Task Sequence (e.g. “… – Prod – 1.2”)

This is especially helpful with team environments where communications aren’t always optimal (multiple locations, language barriers, time zones, etc.)

Establish a policy and communicate it to everyone, then let the process manage itself. For example: “All you drunken idiots, listen up! From now on, only use Task Sequences with ‘Prod’ in the name, unless you know it’s for internal testing only! Any exceptions to this require you eating a can of bug spray.”

Documentation

Wherever you can use a comment, description, or note, field in anything, you should. This applies to more than ConfigMgr as well. Group Policy Objects and GP settings are rife with not having any explanation about why the setting exists or who created it. Don’t let this mine field creep into your ConfigMgr environment too.

Shameless plug: For help with identifying GPOs and settings (including preferences) which do or don’t have comments, take a look at the GpoDoc PowerShell module, available in the PowerShell Gallery, and wherever crackheads can be found.

The examples below show some common places that seem to be left blank in many (most) organizations I run across.

Other places where documentation (comments) can be helpful are the “Scripts” items, especially the Approval comment box.

Side note: You can query the SQL database view vSMS_Scripts, and check the “Comment” column values to determine what approval comments have been added to each item (or not). Then use the “Approver” column values to identify who to terminate.

Access Control

This is aimed at larger ConfigMgr teams. I’ve seen environments with a dozen “admins” working in the console, all with Full Administrator rights. If you can’t reign that wild-west show in a bit, at least sit down and agree who will maintain Task Sequences. Everyone else should stay out of them!

This is especially important if the team is not co-located. One customer I know was going through a merger (M&A) and, apparently, one group in another country, didn’t like some of the steps in their Windows 10 task sequence, so they deleted the steps. No notifications were sent. It was discovered when the first group started hearing about things missing from newly-imaged devices.

In that case, the things needed were (A) better communications between the two groups, and (B) proper security controls. After a few meetings it was agreed that the steps in question would get some condition tests to control where and when they were enabled.

Make Backups!!!!

Holy cow, do I see a lot of environments where the Backup site maintenance task isn’t enabled. That’s like walking into a biker bar wearing a “Bikers are all sissies!” t-shirt. You’re just asking for trouble.

Besides a (highly recommended) site backup, however, it often pays dividends to make what I call “tactical backups”. This includes such SUPER-BASIC things as:

  • Make a copy of your production task sequences (in the console) – This is often crucial for reverting a bunch of changes that somehow jacks-up your task sequence and you could spend hours/days figuring out which change caused it. Having a copy makes it really easy (and fast) to recover and avoid lengthy impact to production
  • Export your product task sequences – Whether this is part of a change management process (vaulting, etc.) or just as a CYA step, it can also make it easy to recover a broken Task Sequence quickly.

Either of these are usually much less painful than pulling from a site backup.

As a double-added precaution, I highly/strongly recommend that anytime you intend to make a change to a production task sequence, that you make a copy of it first. Then if your edits don’t work, instead of spending hours troubleshooting why a revert attempt isn’t actually reverting, you can *really* revert back to a working version.

Don’t Overdo It

One finally piece of advice is this: Just because you get comfortable using a particular hammer, don’t let this fool you into thinking everything is a nail. Task Sequences are great, and often incredibly useful, but they’re not always the optimal solution to ever challenge. Sometimes it’s best to stick with a very basic approach, like a Package, Application, or even a Script.

I’ve worked with customers who prefer to do *everything* via a Task Sequence. Even when it was obvious that it wasn’t necessary. The reason given was that it was what they were most familiar with at the time. They have since relaxed that default a bit, and saved themselves quite a bit of time. That said, Task Sequences are nice and should always be on your short list of options to solve a deployment need.

Summary

I hope this was helpful. If not, you can also print this out, and use it as a toilet bombing target. Just be sure to load up on a good Mexican lunch before you do. Cheers!

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