- A Comprehensive Guide to Windows Autopilot [B...
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In the ever-evolving landscape of business technology, IT directors are at the forefront, ensuring that operations run smoothly, costs are kept in check, and the user experience remains top-notch. For those overseeing IT in small to midsize businesses (SMBs), the task of deploying new devices to employees can often feel like your full-time job on top of already daunting daily IT operations. Deploying a new device to an employee means dealing with complex imaging processes, manual configuration, and security risks. You must also ensure that your devices are always up to date—and compliant with your policies.
But what if there was a better way? A way that would allow you to deploy and manage devices with minimal effort and maximum efficiency? A true zero-touch configuration process for device configuration and deployment that would empower your end-users to get started quickly and easily?
Enter Microsoft Autopilot, a solution that's transforming the way organizations set up and pre-configure new devices.
But what is Windows Autopilot, and how does it work?
What is Windows Autopilot?
Windows Autopilot is a collection of capabilities that Microsoft created for IT directors to simplify the deployment and configuration of Windows devices. A cloud-native solution, Windows Autopilot refines and automates the out-of-box experience (OOBE) for new devices, negating the need for hands-on configuration by IT personnel.
The concept of Microsoft Autopilot was born out of a need to address challenges faced by IT departments worldwide. Traditional deployment methods were:
- Prone to human error
Microsoft recognized this gap and introduced Autopilot as a solution to bring device deployment into the modern age.
Windows Autopilot is a key component of the Microsoft 365 suite. The importance of Microsoft Autopilot for IT directors cannot be overstated because it radically simplifies the process of setting up and pre-configuring a laptop or desktop PC prior to its delivery to an employee at the business.
The aim of Windows Autopilot is to simplify the experience of refreshing or upgrading a Microsoft Windows operating system deployment from both the end user's and IT's perspective. The ideal scenario is for users to have a delightful experience when getting a new computer, where the device knows who the user is and what they need to do, then setting everything up specifically for the user with a few clicks.
With Microsoft Windows Autopilot, gone are the days of manual device set-ups by an IT professional sitting at your desk, typing in codes and passwords, and generally taking away from an employee's time to be more productive on Day One. Instead, devices are delivered directly to end-users, ready to be unboxed and personalized. Microsoft Autopilot provides your employees with a zero-touch device setup experience.
The following table outlines the key terms used to describe Windows Autopilot
A suite of technologies for device setup and pre-configuration.
Microsoft 365 Autopilot
The integration of Autopilot within the Microsoft 365 environment.
The application of Autopilot technologies specifically for Windows devices.
How Does Windows Autopilot Work?
Windows Autopilot works by providing IT departments with a cloud-powered service to streamline their device deployment and management process, reduce costs and complexity, and enhance user satisfaction and productivity. Autopilot also uses the cloud to keep your devices secure and up to date.
At a high level, Autopilot Windows configurations all follow these steps in the deployment process:
- Device registration Before reaching the end-user, the device’s unique hardware identifier is registered with Microsoft. This can be done by the OEM, distributor, or IT department.
- Profile configuration IT admins craft a deployment profile in Microsoft Intune or another mobile device management (MDM) service. This profile dictates the device’s settings, policies, and configurations.
- Device delivery and setup The end-user powers on the device, and the magic begins. The device communicates with the Autopilot service, which customizes the setup based on the profile.
- Device management Post-setup, the device enrolls in the organization’s MDM service, which then applies additional configurations and installs necessary applications.
- Reset and redeployment Devices can be reset to default settings while retaining the MDM enrollment and Autopilot configuration.
- Self-deploying mode Ideal for shared devices or kiosk setups, this mode allows the device to be set up without user interaction.
- White glove provisioning IT pros can pre-provision a device to ensure it’s fully configured before reaching the end user.
When a device is powered on for the first time, Windows Autopilot recognizes the device's identity and applies a series of configurations and policies tailored to your organization. This is achieved through a cloud-driven process, which ensures the device is always in sync with the latest settings and policies from your IT department.
Windows Autopilot combines the Microsoft Windows 10 or Windows 11 operating system and Microsoft Office 365 productivity applications with the Microsoft Entra ID (formerly known as Azure Active Directory) identity access management features delivered from the cloud. Integrating these multiple Microsoft components into a seamless experience easily configured by IT administrators and delivered to employees via the cloud is extremely valuable. Traditionally, IT would create a custom “golden image” of Microsoft Windows with:
- Approved OS settings
- Data security policies
- Device drivers
- Line of business applications
So, every time a new laptop was delivered to an employee, the pre-installed Windows OS would need to be replaced with this custom image. Even with customized software scripts written to help automate deployments, this process was complicated, time-consuming, and expensive.
With Windows Autopilot, there's no need to reimage the device. Microsoft designed both Windows 10 and Windows 11 operating systems to be customized via Microsoft Autopilot, allowing the pre-installed device version from any PC’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to be easily transformed to fit organizational settings and policies. By preconfiguring the Windows OS and other aspects needed by an employee, the IT department no longer needs to intercept, touch, or manually provision the OEM device before handing it out to users.
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Benefits of Windows Autopilot
At a glance, the most beneficial features Windows Autopilot offers IT organizations are:
- Simplified deployment
- No imaging required
- Cloud-driven processes
Simplified Device Provisioning and Setup Process
With Microsoft 365 Autopilot, devices are pre-configured, eliminating the need for complex imaging and manual setup processes. As previously discussed, every laptop or desktop PC built by an OEM that comes with a Microsoft Windows operating system is standardized to be manufactured at scale by the OEM. For example, any HP laptop is built using hardware that is often much different than the hardware found in a Dell desktop workstation or Microsoft Surface 2-in1 tablet. More often than not, standardized OEM preinstalls of Windows conflict with a customized line of business software created for the company. That’s why an IT department always buys one OEM device and then completely wipes the OS from it to create that “golden image” of Windows, its drivers, and all software employees use on every new company-issued device. The benefit of Microsoft Autopilot is that it empowers an IT department to quickly and easily modify the OEM-optimized version of Windows that comes preinstalled on the device to match their IT needs. So, rather than IT “flattening” every new laptop, installing a new Windows OS, and configuring it every time, Windows Autopilot enables IT to quickly configure each new device in a “business-ready” state so that all corporate settings and policies, apps, and customizations to Windows are automated.
Improved User Experience and Reduced IT Workload
End-users can unbox and start using their devices without IT intervention, reducing the workload on IT teams. The standard OOBE for employees receiving a new corporate-issued device usually involves selecting a language, region, keyboard layout, network connection, and account information. Autopilot empowers an IT department to ship preconfigured devices directly to users with a simplified OOBE. This drastically reduces setup time because new users can turn on the device, securely connect to the internet, sign in with their work credentials, and immediately be productive.
Enhanced Security Features and Compliance Benefits
Devices are configured with the latest security policies, ensuring compliance from the get-go. To do this, an IT manager can leverage Windows Autopilot’s ability to combine secure cloud-based Microsoft services such as Microsoft Intune, Microsoft Entra ID, and others to automate the device setup process. The benefit of using Autopilot is a single unified portal can discover and configure devices in a process called “enrollment.” Enrolling a new device from the Windows Autopilot portal empowers an IT manager to create a profile that includes all corporate security policies by default, and, most importantly, configures every new device to automatically and securely join the corporate network using those policies without human intervention. This is important because if users have new devices that Autopilot does not preconfigure then they could potentially and unintentionally set up that device to be non-compliant with your corporate data governance rules.
Empowers End-Users With Self-Service Device Configuration
While Autopilot does enable a new device to be “locked down” so that users cannot change things related to security, the fact is that users still desire and expect a certain level of customization when it comes to their devices. Some people want soothing scenes of tropical waterfalls or snow-capped mountains for their Windows desktop background. Others want bright tones or high-contrast colors on their screens to aid accessibility. When IT completely locks down a device to the point where nobody can change any of these things, employees will come to view IT as an enemy–stifling their individuality or not understanding their creative processes. But with Autopilot, an IT manager can empower users to personalize their devices while adhering to company policies, striking a balance between flexibility and security.
Seamlessly Integrates With Microsoft Intune for Comprehensive Device Management
Microsoft Intune is a cloud-based service focusing on mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM). On the MDM side of the equation, Intune allows organizations to manage devices used by their employees, whether they are company-owned or personal devices (which is key to a BYOD or “Bring Your Own Device” IT strategy). This includes:
- Controlling how devices access corporate data
- Enforcing security policies
- Remotely wiping devices if necessary
Intune also allows IT organizations to control data access on a per-app basis (the MAM side of the equation) to ensure that corporate data remains secure even on personal devices. The combination of Intune and Autopilot delivers capabilities to deploy and manage user devices regardless of who owns them. This tight integration of Intune and Autopilot reduces the manual effort for the IT organization while also providing a consistent and secure user experience.
It should be noted that mobile device management and mobile application management are not interchangeable terms. These are two very different functions that can often be confused. Here is a table that outlines the differences between Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Application Management (MAM):
Mobile Device Management (MDM)
Mobile Application Management (MAM)
Enables control of the entire device
Enables control of business data within an application on a device
Wipes all data from a device
Removes all data from specific applications on a device
Resets the device to original factory settings
No device reset capability
Protects data stored on company-owned devices
Protects company data stored on personal devices
Generally speaking, think of MDM as the all or nothing option when it comes to mobile device management. For example, when an IT administrator uses MDM to wipe data off an employee’s device, all the data on that device is gone–without exception. On the other hand, using mobile application management helps to limit the effects of a data wipe on an employee’s personal device used in a work setting. While it’s true that MAM shares some characteristics with MDM, mobile device management primarily involves protecting and securing business mobile devices and application use. The key difference of using mobile application management is that its only focus is to secure sensitive enterprise apps and data.
The good news for all Microsoft Autopilot users is that it includes mobile device and application management functionality. This flexibility makes Autopilot such a valuable tool for modern IT organizations.
Ensures Devices Are Always Up-To-Date With the Latest Windows Updates and Drivers
A recent study (ironically sponsored by Microsoft) showed that over 80% of successful cyber-attacks could have been prevented by regularly installing software updates. IBM stats from a couple of years ago stated that 44% of all ransomware attacks were perpetrated by exploiting vulnerabilities from unpatched hardware devices. Microsoft 365 Autopilot can alleviate these worries by automatically installing the latest operating system updates and software patches. This ensures a device is not as susceptible to cyber-attacks due to outdated software or missed security patches; devices are always current.
Allows Customization of the Out-Of-Box Experience for Branding and Relevant Information
Customizing the OOBE is not high on the priority list of most IT managers. However, adding a corporate logo to the various screens shown during the out-of-box experience of a Windows device setup with Microsoft Autopilot is extremely simple to do. With a few clicks, an IT manager can upload their company logo into Autopilot, a low-effort/high-reward way to showcase the corporate brand. Additional customization can be added to the OOBE in Autopilot to provide users with relevant and contextual information about the setup process, such as which keyboard and language layouts are available (or unavailable) during that particular stage of the device setup. Microsoft allows quite a bit of granularity in these customizations, but they are designed to be largely optional. We like to consider these customization options essential, but not mandatory, for IT managers.
Provides Centralized Management Through Microsoft Endpoint Manager
Microsoft Endpoint Manager is a unified console for device configuration in Microsoft 365. Originally, the functions of Endpoint Manager were divided into several different applications, including Microsoft Intune and Configuration Manager. However, Microsoft combined those multiple functions into a 100% cloud-native platform with a unified administration console for deep visibility and control into the managed devices attached to a corporate IT organization. Windows Autopilot integrates seamlessly with Microsoft Endpoint Manager, allowing comprehensive management of servers, desktops, and laptops with real-time analytics across on-prem and cloud-based IT environments.
Monitoring and Managing Autopilot Devices
Microsoft Windows Autopilot readies devices for employee use with minimal user input and maximum security. Cyber-security professionals often use the “security requires visibility” axiom to describe their need for deep analytics into devices connecting to the corporate IT network. One of the key reasons Autopilot can ready devices so quickly and easily is due to its ability to deliver a comprehensive amount of analytics–largely in real time–about the devices being monitored.
Monitoring Device Deployment Status and Progress
To monitor a device’s deployment status and progress, Autopilot uses the Enrollment Status Page (ESP), which displays the device’s configuration progress during the initial Windows setup. The ESP tracks the installation of applications, security policies, certificates, and network connections using standardized log files. Thanks to the integration with Intune, an IT administrator can see details on each Autopilot-deployed device by accessing the deployments report in the Microsoft Intune admin center. The report shows information gathered from the log files such as:
- The device name
- Its serial number
- The group tag
- An assigned profile
- Enrollment state
- Any error codes
Autopilot and Intune keep these logs for up to 30 days, enabling historical forensic analyses to be performed as needed. By using this rich data, IT teams can track the deployment status of devices, ensuring smooth rollouts.
Lifecycle Management and Device Retirement Considerations
Device lifecycle management in the context of information technology refers to a strategic approach to managing an organization’s IT infrastructure. Spanning the gamut of initial product research to the eventual retirement of the device, lifecycle management helps IT leaders make the right purchasing decisions and manage their technology investments over the long term. Microsoft Autopilot’s monitoring and management capabilities are essential at every stage of a device's lifecycle, from deployment to retirement, to ensure devices are managed efficiently until the end.
Windows Autopilot FAQ
What's Windows Autopilot all about?
Think of Autopilot as your personal IT assistant. It's a suite of capabilities designed to simplify device setup and reset, making your life a whole lot easier. No more manual configurations or lengthy installations. Just set it, forget it, and let Autopilot do the heavy lifting.
How Does Windows Autopilot Help Me?
Imagine cutting down device setup time by more than half. With Autopilot, devices are business-ready straight out of the box. This means less stress for you and quicker device handovers for your team.
What About User-Specific Apps and Settings?
Autopilot has you covered! It ensures that user-specific applications, settings, and policies are pushed to the device. This means your employees get a personalized experience without you manually setting up each device.
Does Autopilot Really Have a "Self-Deploying Mode" that is Truly Zero Touch?
Yes, and it is a dream feature for any overworked IT director. In self-deploying mode, a device can fully configure itself – no user or admin intervention is needed. It's like having an extra pair of hands on your IT team.
Can I Use It With Existing Devices?
Absolutely! With Windows Autopilot Reset, you can easily repurpose an existing device, making it ready for a new user or role. It's all about maximizing efficiency and device utility.
What If I Need to Change Device Settings After Deployment?
No worries! With Microsoft Intune, you can update settings, policies, and applications even after deploying a device. It's flexibility and control right at your fingertips.
How Do I Get Started?
If Windows Autopilot sounds like the solution you've been seeking, here's what you need to get started:
- Devices running Windows 10, version 1703 or later.
- An active Microsoft Entra ID (formerly known as Microsoft Azure Active Directory) subscription.
- A management tool, preferably Microsoft Intune.
Partner with a device provider that supports Windows Autopilot, and you'll be on your way to a smoother IT experience.
If you're looking to leverage the full potential of Windows Autopilot, consider reaching out to Amaxra. We are a managed services provider with Gold-level Microsoft Partner certifications who can guide you through the nuances of Autopilot, ensuring your organization is always at the forefront of technological advancements.
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