One of my customers presented me with a unique problem last week. They needed to rename a Windows Server 2016 host deployed using a custom AMI without rebooting during the bootstrap process. This lack of a reboot rules out the simple option of using the PowerShell Rename-Computer Cmdlet. While there are a number of methods to do this, one option we came up with is dynamically updating the sysprep unattended answer file using a PowerShell script prior to the unattended install running during first boot of a sysprepped instance.

To begin, we looked at the Windows Server 2016 sysprep process on an EC2 instance to get an understanding of the process required. It’s important to note that this process is slightly different to Server 2012 on AWS, as EC2Launch has replaced EC2Config. The high level process we need to perform is the following:

  1. Deploy a Windows Server 2016 AMI
  2. Connect to the Windows instance and customise it as required
  3. Create a startup PowerShell script to set the hostname that will be invoked on boot before the unattended installation begins
  4. Run InitializeInstance.ps1 -Schedule to register a scheduled task that initializes the instance on next boot
  5. Modify SysprepInstance.ps1 to replace the cmdline registry key after sysprep is complete and prior to shutdown
  6. Run SysprepInstance.ps1 to sysprep the machine.

Steps 1 and 2 are fairly self-explanatory, so let’s start by taking a look at step 3.

After a host is sysprepped, the value for the cmdline registry key located in HKLM:\System\Setup is populated with the windeploy.exe path, indicating that it should be invoked after reboot to initiate the unattended installation. Our aim is to ensure that the answer file (unattend.xml) is modified to include the computer name we want the host to be named prior to windeploy.exe executing. To do this, I’ve created the following PowerShell script named startup.ps1 and placed it in C:\Scripts to ensure my hostname is based on the internal IP address of my instance.

Once this script is in place, we can move to step 4, where we schedule the InitializeInstance.ps1 script to run on first boot. This can be done by running InitializeInstance.ps1 -Schedule located in C:\ProgramData\Amazon\EC2-Windows\Launch\Scripts

Step 5 requires a modification of the SysprepInstance.ps1 file to ensure the shutdown after Sysprep is delayed to allow modification of the cmdline registry entry mentioned in step 3. The aim here is to replace the windeploy.exe path with our startup script, then shutdown the host. The modifications to the PowerShell script to accommodate this are made after the “#Finally, perform Sysprep” comment.

Finally, run the SysprepInstance.ps1 script.

Once the host changes to the stopped state, you can now create an AMI and use this as your image.

Amazon Web Services
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Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Hi Bobbie,

    Did you manage to get this working ? I tried your solution but it seems that the .xml file is loaded before the xml is updated and the server does not get renamed ?


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