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Vista Now or Later: A real-world scenario

What would you do in the following situation? A recent corporate merger gives your IT department responsibility for 1200 desktop PCs (including laptops), 500 Macintoshes, and about 160 servers. As a result of the merger, half of your desktop PCs are running Windows 2000 Workstation and the rest are running Windows XP SP2. A desktop hardware refresh is overdue on both sides of the new company, with most of the PCs being five to six years old. For the time being, would you standardize by migrating the Win2K machines to XP and wait for Windows Vista to mature before deploying it everywhere? Or would you upgrade hardware across the board and move everyone to Vista now?

This isn't a hypothetical scenario. It’s the reality for Penton Media, the owner of the publications I work for. Penton CTO Cindi Reding has moved with incredible efficiency since the merger in February, and her team is preparing to migrate all PCs to Vista. Given the feedback I’ve heard from readers who are reluctant to adopt Vista, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to interview Cindi and find out how she came to the decision to deploy Vista and why.

The Deciding Factors
The mixture of Win2K and XP and the old hardware were the deciding factors for Cindi. She explained that "moving to XP versus moving to Vista looked like a waste of time. We thought we’d just move straight to Vista so I didn’t have to go back and redo it in a year or so when Vista supposedly became more stable."

Supposedly? Cindi responded, "I’ve been using it for several months and it’s one of the more stable and intuitive Microsoft platforms I’ve used. Mine has been running since December, and I’ve probably shut my machine off twice. I run it in sleep mode. It goes between hard networks and wireless networks without any problem. And I’m traveling everywhere and connecting to lots of different networks. So it’s a big thing for me not to have to reboot my system constantly. When I need to print something and it’s not my normal printer, I just plug in the USB and Vista installs it and prints my page. The Plug-n-Play stuff works exceptionally well."

Of course, Cindi recognizes Vista’s challenges: "Now, are there issues? Absolutely. Not all applications and drivers are quite ready for prime time. But we have a standard environment. We’ll also have a certification team making sure applications work. So when you think about doing this, you have to go back to your vendors to determine how best to approach that. When will they have their Vista-compatible versions ready? If they don’t have a Vista-compatible version, as is the case with some of our billing systems, we’re going to run those through Terminal Services or SoftGrid. There are ways to work around \[app compat\]."

The other key factor when deploying Vista is the need for powerful new hardware. Cindi has decided to standardize on Dell desktops and laptops: "They’re Intel dual core, and we’re working with Dell and Intel to determine if the vPro chip will be available for us so we can manage them remotely, much like we do with our servers. \[These machines\] are high-end, and we added a few more features to help the end users manage their own life. So far, we’ve found just a couple things that don’t work. We’ve had a couple of issues with Dell drivers. They’ve been working with us very closely, and they’re shoring that up as quickly as they can."

The cost of replacing hardware "was part of our normal refresh," Cindi explained. "We’ve gone too long without a refresh. We want to get on a four-year refresh cycle because Microsoft tends to come out with things in a four-year range."

The Rollout
Cindi’s team will use Microsoft Systems Management Server to deploy Vista. However, Penton’s environment is especially challenging. The company has several branch offices nationwide, and numerous employees work from their homes. Cindi acknowledged, "Logistics is the most difficult. We will start \[deploying Vista\] somewhere at the end of May, first of June, but we’re still working on the plans. It takes a while to get the equipment ordered and to make sure it shows up in the right places at the right time and everybody knows their part. We’ll build teams that will go through the offices. We’ll put out a schedule that says we’ll be in these offices at these times, and these home users will be done at this time. We go through checklists to make sure nothing is missed."

How will the success of this migration be measured? Cindi replied, "We’ll look at metrics like driving down service desk calls. When we rolled out Windows 2000 and Office 2000, we had about a 30 percent reduction in service desk calls after we stabilized the environment. I’m expecting at least the same or more for this one. One of our big goals is self-service. If we can empower our employees to handle things on their own or have the system handle it without having to call somebody, that’s a big deal and it keeps our productivity high. Like every company, we’re constantly looking for ways to maintain productivity. I believe Vista will drive us much further than we’ve been before."

I asked Cindi what advice she would give to organizations considering a Vista migration. She said, "Right now if you’re on all XP and have a managed environment, I'd probably sit back and wait and let things shake out. But if you're on Win2K, I would not spend the time to move to XP--I would move to Vista right away. If you’re ready to refresh hardware, Vista is a good way to go. The biggest thing that will haunt you is training your users. You need a solid team of people who know what they’re doing. This is not for amateurs."

Moving Forward
I’ll be eagerly following our Vista upgrade, both as a journalist and as an end user. I’ll keep you updated on the progress, including any bumps and pitfalls. Let me know what you think and what questions you have. Email me at [email protected].

Related Reading
"Vista Deployment and Einstein’s Wisdom,"

"Softricity SoftGrid 3.1,"

"Vista and Virtualization,"

"I'm running Microsoft SoftGrid, and when my client tries to get updated desktop configuration from the server, I receive an error. Do you know why?"

"Direct from MMS: Intel vPro, EMC, Cisco, Microsoft"

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