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Making the Business Case for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2

Microsoft this week began a communication initiative around Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, its upcoming Windows platform advances. The message is as clear as it is simple: Microsoft would like you to upgrade to Windows 7--preferably with Server 08 R2 and the latest version of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP)--sooner rather than later.

Generally, such a request would be met with an uncomfortable silence on the part of Microsoft's customers. But I suspect that many of us are going to be adopting a different tune over the next few years, thanks to the perfect storm of circumstances that accompanies this software's release and, to be fair, its high quality. These are two things that did not work in Vista's favor at all.

With regards to timing, many of us have been running their environments on the increasingly creaky Windows XP, and while I know Microsoft's decade-old OS has its adherents, let's be realistic here, it's time has come.

The thing is, we've heard this all before. As I've noted here repeatedly, Microsoft has long sought to remove the deployment barriers for its operating systems so that it could convince businesses to upgrade to new releases as they ship, and not wait for the traditional first service pack.

In the past, my response to Microsoft on this issue was that they wouldn't be able to change customers' minds with just a single release. Instead they would need to release a number of high quality releases in a row, gaining customer trust as they went. Then they released Windows Vista.

OK, Vista's bad reputation was, in many ways, not necessarily Microsoft's fault. But regardless of the blame, we find ourselves three years later in a world in which only 30 percent of enterprises have deployed Vista at all. Our planet is still being run by Windows XP.

I mentioned a perfect storm. Aside from XP's age, Microsoft is also aided by the fact that--get this--Windows 7 is actually excellent. And so is Windows Server 2008 R2. And MDOP 2009 R2, as the new MDOP release is called. But this isn't just as storm of Microsoft's benefit. This is one that can benefit companies that adopt Windows 7, R2, and MDOP 2009 R2. The sooner the better.

What it comes down to is that old argument about spending vs. investing. And Microsoft has some numbers to point to, courtesy of a Forrester survey of over 300 IT decision makers and a handful of customers who have realized real-world savings by deploying Windows 7 already. According to these sources, the overall savings of deploying Windows 7 over XP averages about $115 per desktop per year. And unlike with Vista, most businesses can deploy on existing hardware.

Windows 7 has some obvious technologies for dealing with top pain points in today's enterprise of course, but what about Server 08 R2 and MDOP 2009 R2? Microsoft notes that the Hyper-V scalability improvements in Server alone are worth an upgrade: Continental Airlines was able to double their virtualized server density, for example, and save $1.5 million a year. And that doesn't even take into account the power savings inherent to this configuration or other long term savings. And then there are the "better together" technologies like Branch Cache and Direct Access. A 75-employee firm called Convergent Computing saved $40,000 a year on VPN licenses by deploying Direct Access and $20,000 a year on WAN usage by implementing Direct Access.

Improvements in the MDOP 2009 R2 tools also tackle some "better together" integration. Application Virtualization (App-V) 4.5 SP1, for example, includes deep Windows 7 integration so that streamed virtual apps take advantage of Windows 7 features like shortcut pinning, Jump Lists, federated search, and so on. And it integrates with BitLocker so that you can deploy a virtualized environment to a USB key securely and take it with you on the go.

From a scheduling perspective, Software Assurance customers already have their hands on Windows 7 and Server 08 R2, and Microsoft says it will ship MDOP 2009 R2 right around the October 22, 2009 general availability date for both OSes. (This is ahead of the original planned Q1 2010 scheudule.) A Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 release shipped last week. If you haven't seen it, check out the product's web site.

So I'm curious. Does this perfect storm affect your own business? Or will you try to weather the storm for a while longer with XP? Let me know!

An edited version of this article appeared in the September 15, 2009 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE. --Paul

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