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Configuration Manager 2012: Content Prestaging and Remote Content Distribution

Configuration Manager 2012: Content Prestaging and Remote Content Distribution

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A follow up to the blog on Distribution Points, we have many new features surrounding content distribution and distribution points.  This post will walk through the end to end scenario of prestaging content on a distribution point.  Today in configuration Manager 2007 we have a few different tools that allow for prestaging of content to sites and remote distributions.  We have the ability to use Courier Sender, the Package preload on site tool and manual prestaging for Branch Distribution points.  Each tool had its own limitations and no tool covered all the infrastructure components that needed to have content prestaged.  Starting with Configuration Manager 2012 Beta 2, we have consolidated these items to one new tool and expanded the scope to work on all distribution points and site servers.

First let’s cover scheduling and throttling.

Scheduling and throttling:  For a lot of administrators, prestaging content is not required, it is one way to deal with slow WAN links.  In Configuration Manager 2007, administrators were forced to use a secondary site to get that functionality or used a Branch Distribution Point (which cannot co-exist with PXE).  Now in Configuration Manager 2012 all remote distribution points have the ability to a schedule set or set specific throttling settings on a per distribution point level for when and how content distribution takes place.  The controls used for scheduling and throttling are similar to what you would see on a Sender in Configuration Manager 2007 or 2012, but is actually used by a new component called Package Transfer Manager (PkgXferMgr).  Package Transfer Manager is used to send the content from a site server (primary or secondary) to a remote distribution point.  So if you are going Site to Distribution Point, don’t worry there is no need to trouble shoot senders.

Now assuming scheduling and throttling covers some, but not all of you needs, lets cover the rest of the prestage content feature.  In Configuration Manager 2012, there is now a property on a distribution point to indicate that this distribution point is a prestaged distribution point.  With this option, we are going to cover some new flexibility on how we can manage content in remote locations.

Package Distribution settings: Starting in Beta 2 for packages, drivers package, boot images and operating system installers and images we have a new new setting on the Distribution Settings tab on the package properties page.  For Applications this is done on the Content property page on a deployment type.  Click Distribution Settings from that tab (don’t worry, we will make this common on Applications post Beta 2).  The setting is specific on how we want to content to interact with a distribution point we have indicated is a prestage distribution point.  There are three new settings.

  1. Automatically download content when packages are assigned to distribution points – This option is designed when you have smaller packages that the scheduling and throttling settings will be enough control for the distribution of content.  An example for this is Silverlight or any other small content package
  2. Download only content changes to the distribution point – This option is desgined when you initial package maybe large, but then future updates to the content in the package are generally smaller.  A couple examples are Microsoft Office, the initial package may be 700 MB and that is too much to send over the network.  However updates to this package might be something like a monthly security update and the 10 MB size is OK to distribute over the network.  Driver Packages are another great example of this.  Incremental additions of drivers might be small, but the initial package is large is size. (Not available for Applications in Beta 2, but will be available post Beta 2).
  3. Manually copy the content in this package to the distribution point – This option is designed to never send the package to distribution point.  This is designed for large file packages like an operating system image or when you just want to ensure that the network to the distribution point is not used for content distribution.

Remember, these settings are applicable per package and only affect distribution points with the setting Enable this distribution point for prestaged content.  All other distribution points will receive content as usual.

We have now discussed how to setup a prestaged distribution and how to control the content being sent from the site server, now lets discuss how to actually prestage content on a distribution point.

Creating a Prestage Content File: To prestage a distribution point we need to create a file or files to use for distribution.  Since the content on the Distribution Point is stored in the new content library we need to create a file that contains the content and some metadata about the content.  From the Configuration Manager Administrator Console on the site sever (don’t worry, we will be more remote console friendly post Beta 2) let’s perform the following steps:

    1. Navigate to the node in the Software Library that you want to create a prestage content file for.  For this example, lets navigate to the Application Management > Applications Node
    2. Select one to many Applications that you will want to prestage on your distribution points and select Create Prestage Content File from the home tab of the ribbon


For Applications: On the Home tab, in the Application group, expand Export, and then click Create Prestaged Content File.
For Packages: On the Home tab, in the <PackageName> group, click Create Prestaged Content File.
  1. On the General page, click Browse, choose the location for the prestaged content file, specify a name for the file, and then click Save. You will use this prestaged content file on primary site servers, secondary site servers, or distribution points to import the content and metadata.
  2. For applications, select Export all dependencies to add the dependencies associated with the application to the prestaged content file.   This will allow us to detect all the dependencies currently associated with the Applications and add the to the Prestaged Content File. By default, this setting is selected.
  3. In Administrator Comments, enter optional comments about the prestaged content file, and then click Next.
  4. On the Content page, verify that the content listed is the content that you want to add to the prestaged content file, and then click Next.
  5. The Progress page displays the content that is being added to the prestaged content file.
  6. The Confirmation page displays whether or not the prestaged content file was created successfully

When successful, you have created a Prestage Content File that can be used to prestage content on your distribution point or site server.

So now we have created a Prestage Content File, what do we do with it.  We will need to assign the content to the distribution point and extract the content to the file system on the distribution point.  The Prestaged Content File we created can be moved around an infrastructure independent of Configuration Manager.  We would want to copy this file to a USB drive or burn it to media, then send it to the location where the distribution point that needs to be prestaged is at.  You will also need to copy the ExtractContent command-line utility from <Configuration Manager Source Folder>\Tools to the computer where you want to import the prestaged content file.  You can add this to your USB or media or just copy it to the server.

Distributing and Extracting Prestaged Content:  First step is to associate the content with the distribution point.  We can do this by using the Distribute Content wizard.  Select the packages you want to prestage and distribute to the Distribution Points or Distribution Point groups that will contain the Prestaged Distribution Point (There are more details on the Distribute Content Wizard in the Managing Content in Configuration Manager 2012 blog post).  Doing this will associate the content with the distribution point, but will not return a content location request until it is prestaged (just make sure your distribution settings we talked about above are correct).  If the content is set Download only content changes to the distribution point or Manually copy the content in this package to the distribution point the content can be viewed from the Monitoring workspace from the Distribution Status > Content Status node as in progress.

We already created the Prestaged Content File above and have send a USB drive containing the file to the remote site.   The USB drive is connect to the remote distribution point and ready to prestage content.  Perform the following steps to prestage content on the distribution point:

  1. Open the Command Prompt with Adminsitrator Access on the local distribution point and navigate to the folder location of ExtractContent.
  2. Type ExtractContent /P:<PrestagedFileLocation>\<PrestagedFileName> /S.

For example, type ExtractContent /P:D:\PrestagedFiles\MyPrestagedFile.pkgx /S where D:\PrestagedFiles\ is the PrestagedFileLocation, MyPrestagedFile.pkgx is the prestaged file name, and /S informs Configuration Manager to import only content files that are newer than what is currently on the distribution point. 

After the ExtractContent tool has completed successfully it will send status back to the Configuration Manager 2012 site server.   The site server will process the status message and register content availability.  The content can be viewed from the Monitoring workspace from the Distribution Status > Content Status node as Success.  Now your remote distribution point is prestaged and clients can download content from software installation.

References: Configuration Manager 2012 help file 


John Vintzel
Microsoft Corporation| Sr. Program Manager | System Center Configuration Manager | twitter: jvintzel

The blog is own by some members of the System Center Configuration Manager product team. These postings are provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confer no rights.

  • Introduction to Configuration Manager 2012 - link
  • What’s New in Configuration Manager 2012 - link
  • Fundamentals of Configuration Manager 2012 - link

EDIT: Updated old references

  • I cannot seem to find where you configure scheduling and throttling for DPs in Beta2. Is this coming later or am I missing something?

  • Mark,  I suspect you are looking at a distribution point that is co-located with a site server.  In that case you will not see the controls.  Since there is no traffic when the are co-located.  This needs to be a remote distribution point.

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