Perhaps one of the unsung heroes of the Microsoft arsenal is the Business Desktop Deployment system. MS have put a lot of effort into providing tools that help IT Pros to build and deploy images.
For starters, the Application Compatibility Toolkit contains the Application Analyzer which can be used to create a hardware and software inventory.
Beyond that, there is the BDD computer imaging system – a tool that looks really interesting. It allows you to create custom actions in order to automate the building of a base image and then installing applications on top of the image, to give you an automatically built ready-to-go image. The beauty of this automation approach is that you become less dependent on staff that know the building process because they do it by hand.
We used imaging as part of our migration to XP and it certainly reduced the deployment time and reduced the support cost because we knew that every machine was identical. We’ve got too many images – at least 2 per department because of hardware differences and application requirements. This means that the cost to us of re-buidling those images is quite high. Using the computer imaging system may help us there.
Looking forward, we need to start deploying more software via MSI and Group Policy so that we can further reduce those image counts.
http://www.microsoft.com/technet/desktopdeployment/default.mspx for more details.