OS Install from USB Stick

I’ve recently found myself having to do a fair bit of system administration work which makes an interesting change from the usual software development. My current project is to put together a beefy server which will run a few databases and other web applications. Ideally I’d like to run these on separate machines (virtual or physical) but I thought that wasn’t going to be possible for cost reasons.

Multiple physical machine was out because there wasn’t the budget to co-locate that many machines, in fact there wasn’t really even the budget to buy that many machines. In truth the applications that the machines would be running didn’t really warrant a whole machine anyway it was more for a little peace of mind.

Virtual machines were a nice sounding solution but I couldn’t, initially, see any way to make it work. VMWare would work well but was too expensive, Oracle VM was at the right price but is hellish complex and requires at least two machines. I had settled for just sticking everything on a single Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 machine when I read about Hyper-V. I vaguely remembered reading a little about Hyper-V back when I was looking at virtualization but I’d dismissed it because I’d assumed it would be cost a fortune and we are trying to move away from rather than towards Microsoft technology.

Enough rambling though, I downloaded a copy of Hyper-V and dug out a spare machine then hit a snag. I didn’t have any blank DVD’s to burn the disc image to. Thinking that was the days plan scuppered I sat down to some regular work. I wondered why it wasn’t possible to install from a USB stick so I fired up Google and had a look. A few people mentioned that they had got it working but I wasn’t exactly enamoured by their instructions, far to many steps and far to specific for it to look like it would work. Then I discovered the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. It seems that because Microsoft are now selling ISO images of Windows they have had to make a tool to install from a USB stick. I thought ti was worth a punt to see if I could install Hyper-V this way and guess what, it worked.

Just download and install the tool and point it at the iso and the USB stick. A few minutes later you have a bootable USB drive. Getting the target machine to boot from the stick involved a little fiddling with the BIOS settings. Basically the machine detects the USB as a hard drive so it was necessary to change the boot order of the hard drives. Once the initial step of the install process was complete though (at the first reboot) it was necessary to go back into the BIOS and switch the real hard drive back in as the boot device – if you don’t switch it back you’ll just start the install process again.