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Planning for Microsoft Windows 7 Deployment in a Large Enterprise

The author discusses factors to consider in a Windows 7 enterprise migration

Windows 7 was launched by Microsoft as an incremental upgrade from Windows Vista. The Windows 7 operating system (OS) comes equipped with features such as a smaller OS footprint, enhanced security and administration, a much faster installation, improved performance of a 64-bit architecture, minimum resource requirements, and more. By leveraging these advanced features, enterprises can position themselves for the big leap they envisage.

Migrating a workstation to a new OS involves transferring and mapping an entire set of existing applications into a new work platform with unpredictable outcomes. As in most cases, every migration is marked with several modifications in configuration files, massive changes in setting options, and a sudden emergence of new and totally unfamiliar interface features. Unless the transition is brought about with consistency in user experience and configuration, the migration process may severely impact end users and cripple business productivity.

Related Article: Stop Bellyaching about Windows 8 and use Windows 7

Here are the steps in a Windows 7 migration:

  1. Preparing Assets Inventory. IT managers have to prepare an application inventory to find applications that need to be governed by IT. Thorough knowledge of this inventory would help IT managers prioritize the changes that have to be carried out. Additionally, it would help them identify redundant software, bring in better application version control, rationalize overall application portfolio, and save the company the costs incurred toward application and license management. With comprehensive inventory knowledge, IT would be better equipped to carry out the transformation with precision. This can help save time and avoid complications. Preparing a full inventory of the software and hardware assets is a big challenge to managers.
  2. Overcoming Application Compatibility Issues. Windows 7 has some specific system requirements. The old workstation architectures might not be compatible with these specific requirements. Also, the software prerequisites for applications compatible with Windows 7 might not work with the new Windows 7 platform. Likewise, homegrown applications cannot be replaced immediately because they might be running critical business processes. Identifying these compatibility issues before the migration process can reduce business disruption to a large extent.
  3. Managing the Application Rationalization Process. Before initiating migration, it is important to decide on the applications that should be retired or upgraded. These decisions call for closer coordination between IT managers and application owners. This exercise tends to pose significant challenges given that departments are used to working in silos and have different end goals. Having decided on the applications landscape, organizations should centrally manage user acceptance testing (UAT) which should ideally be carried out by application users themselves.
  4. Versions of Internet Explorer and Plug-ins. Most organizations still depend heavily on Internet Explorer (IE) 6 because it is in many ways central to their operations. Although IE 9 offers better security, performance, and administration gains over IE 6, switching over to IE 9 can lead to disruptions. Aligning IE 9 while considering the centrality of IE 6 can ensure a seamless transition. Also, using a 64-bit browser requires a 64-bit version of any plug-in. Since many of these plug-ins are still in development stage, rolling out a 64-bit browser might not provide desired solutions.
  5. Ensuring Consistent User Experience. Migrating to Windows 7 can bring about a sea change in user interface features. Not only the overall OS user interface, but familiar applications, deployed by application virtualization, would appear very different to users in the new environment. Likewise, applications that have been rewritten or replaced would look quite unfamiliar. Ensuring availability and integrity of data from the old to the new environment is another significant factor that needs to be addressed. It is important for IT to minimize these changes so that user experience doesn't get affected severely.
  6. Managing Costs. As with most projects, keeping migration costs under control is a key challenge. Factors such as virtualization strategy, application compatibility, and IE versions can have a huge bearing on the overall costs.
  7. Imparting Knowledge. Training is an integral component of a Windows 7 migration project. Care must be taken to let users know what has changed and what hasn't, teach new shortcuts, file/folder management practices, and even troubleshooting. It is only after the user is educated that the migration process can be said to be complete.

Lessons learned from early Windows 7 adopters have resulted in many practices that lead to the most effective transition to the new platform. First, it is important to understand the real use of applications in the organization so that the amount of remediation can be cut down dramatically.

Selecting applications certified to operate with 64-bit Windows 7 and testing OS-based and browser-based applications thoroughly can ensure a hassle-free transition. To reduce problems that can arise due to compatibility issues, virtualization technology should be made part of the Windows 7 migration. En masse replacement of hardware should be avoided. Other safeguards include involving critical application users as a separate focus group, documenting all issues for resolution purposes, standardizing configurations, determining what components of Microsoft Office are used, and automated data backups.

Because Windows 7 migration is an exhaustive process, it needs to be managed in phases. The installation and migration process should be done with sufficient oversight because critical installation or configuration requirements tend to get overlooked easily, leading to issues like delays or error-ridden deployment. Organizations planning a Windows 7 migration should look for the following in their migration partner or in-house IT resources:

  • Vast experience with standard desktop services
  • Scalable remote development centres (RDCs)
  • Scalable infrastructure for large-scale migrations
  • Hybrid UAT models
  • Automated process framework for application packaging and remediation
  • Rapid and proven transition methodologies
  • Domain expertise to implement and manage industry-leading deployment systems

Related White Paper: Windows 7 Migration: The Complete Picture

Top 7 Factors to Consider During a Windows 7 Migration

Which version is best: 32-bit or 64-bit? It might be wiser to continue with the 32-bit version for desktops, because 64-bit drivers for legacy hardware are not easy to come by and some apps might not perform well in a 64-bit environment. So unless you want a 64-bit version to address specific needs, it's better to have more desktops set up with the 32-bit version.

  1. Which version is best: 32-bit or 64-bit? It might be wiser to continue with the 32-bit version for desktops, because 64-bit drivers for legacy hardware are not easy to come by and some apps might not perform well in a 64-bit environment. So unless you want a 64-bit version to address specific needs, it's better to have more desktops set up with the 32-bit version.
  2. Collecting compatible drivers. Remember that Windows 7 device drivers for many legacy desktops will be unavailable, and it's possible that the new desktops you purchase might not even have some legacy features. When planning for the migration, prepare a list of such devices and evaluate if you can replace them or retain some Windows XP desktops to continue using these devices.
  3. Application upgrades checklists. Prepare a list of the applications that will need to be updated and remember that users will need training on both the new OS and the new applications. The best approach for IT managers is to reduce the impact of migration on the organization by installing new servers and new server applications with a phased migration of users and their data to the new infrastructure.
  4. New hardware or old? You can choose to purchase new hardware with an upgraded OS, or install Windows 7 in your existing systems. If you choose the latter, note that most Windows XP–compatible desktops cannot match up to Windows 7 system requirements, so you will need to enhance the hardware, user settings, applications settings (and also run Microsoft's Windows 7 compatibility tester), and most importantly, security settings.
  5. Virtual desktops to the rescue. Virtual desktop infrastructure can save you from the hassle of acquiring new desktop hardware. A virtual server application that runs both Windows 7 and Windows XP desktops will allow Windows XP users to continue using their systems in a combined virtual environment. This setup is ideal for a gradual transition of legacy infrastructure to Windows 7, making migration much easier.
  6. Can migration tools help? Migration tools are effective in easing the pain of a mass upgrade by transferring OS settings, application settings, and applications and drivers from old desktop environments to new ones. The overall project timelines and effectiveness can be substantially improved by leveraging migration tools along with various industry-leading deployments systems.
  7. Planning for deployment. It is equally important to have a structured deployment strategy as it needs to address challenges of distributed users groups, geographies, and time zones. Careful planning, scheduling, and communication are required to ensure minimal end user disruption.
  • Awareness must be created among end-users about the project and mechanisms available to handle post-migration end-user issues.
  • User profiling and migration rollout schedules are required to be proactively planned to minimize the impact on business-critical users groups.
  • Teams responsible for migration across locations must be fully in sync with the deployment plans and a common issue repository must be available to address common issues.

As with most migration projects, utilizing resources with experience and insight of similar scale, complexity, and maturity can lead to a much faster and error-free migration.

Related eLearning Event: Deep Dive into Windows 7 Deployment


L .N. Balaji is president of ITC Infotech (USA). He heads the company's operations in North America. Balaji has been with ITC since 1985 and has carried out diverse responsibilities across different businesses of the company. His assignments included managing indirect taxation, coordinating and consolidating integrated plans for ITC, managing investor relations, and serving in the office of Chairman, ITC Ltd. Balaji was previously responsible for strategizing and implementing growth through mergers and acquisitions.

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