Migrating to Windows 7: A three step plan

With the release of Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system, many IT managers will be thinking about when to make the move to the new OS and how to make the process as painless as possible. This is because a Windows 7 migration involves much more than just the deployment of the operating system. There are therefore three main phases that a company will go through during their Windows 7 migration: preparation, migration and maintenance. The migration itself includes analyzing inventory readiness, moving user states and distributing software and patches. After the move is made, ongoing maintenance and asset management are also required.

The preparation phase for a migration involves getting an accurate picture of the state of your organization’s existing computers, so that you can see which systems can be migrated over to Windows 7 easily, and which ones might require hardware upgrades or replacement. Building this detailed overview of inventory and assets can also help show up where unused licenses or additional hardware have fallen through the cracks in the IT management process. It’s better to discover these assets at that start, rather than half-way through the migration process.

The next step is testing the new operating system with existing applications, and then establishing a process for managing user data and settings. If problems arise with applications during the test phase due to application conflicts or due to a lack of support for the new OS, then a decision can be made on whether applications should be upgraded or run in a previous OS version within a virtualized environment.

Another key activity to undertake before the migration is a full backup of all the files and settings that end-users have in place. One of the biggest issues to overcome is that Microsoft does not support direct upgrades of Windows XP to Windows 7. Users need to execute clean installations of Windows 7 in order to make the migration, but it’s also essential to make sure that users retain critical files and settings during the migration process in order to minimize end-user downtime.

Deploying user-specific files and settings alongside the operating system and applications can cut the amount of time taken for users to get up and running again, while it can also reduce the risk of losing critical information during the migration process.

Once you have carried out the groundwork, the next phase is the migration itself. Deploying the OS can take a lot of time, so automating the deployment where possible can reduce the amount of manual intervention required. Budget constraints might limit organizations to Windows 7’s built-in functionality and free tools to handle this. However, while this involves a low initial cost, limited functionality combined with lack of integration may result in administrators learning multiple tools and resorting to “swivel chair” integration, switching from management console to console in an attempt to fix a problem: a much more time-consuming approach.

Systems management tools can provide a method for automating the deployment of Windows 7 to individual PCs or groups of machines, freeing up time and ensuring that all the installations are carried out in the same manner. Investing in a systems management solution can help to make the migration process quicker, and therefore reducing the overall cost of the deployment.

Once the base OS is in place, the next step is to distribute the Windows 7 software to machines on local and remote networks. This can be done alongside rolling out relevant Windows 7 patches to machines on these networks as well. Even with the newest of operating systems, getting the right patching and update strategy in place will help to reduce the amount of time and effort that is spent on keeping systems up to date.

When these steps have been carried out, the bulk of the migration will have been completed. Now, the emphasis should be on keeping the benefits that have been earned through the migration in place. There are two main ways to achieve this: putting a proper asset management strategy in place, and using technology such as application virtualization.

Many organizations still do not have an official asset management policy, and instead rely on their own Excel spreadsheets or memory. One upside of a large project such as Windows 7 migration is that it can force you to reconsider how you manage assets: if you are engaging in a full-scale move to the new OS, then a list of everything that is installed across the organization’s PCs is vital. Once the move is finished, keeping these good habits in place should be easy. A tool for reporting on license usage and utilization of software can support this in the future.

When a new OS is deployed, performance is initially great. However, as unwanted files and updates are added on, applications can start slowing down. Application virtualization breaks the link between the installed application and the OS, keeping the Windows 7 deployment “fresh” and free from potential application conflicts. It can also help with future application deployments: instead of packaging and installing the application multiple times across the desktop estate, it can be created once and managed centrally.

There are some potential pitfalls to overcome during a migration. Training users on the new operating system interface can be a significant overhead, particularly if you don’t update the user settings based on their previous workstation environments. New application licenses may have to be brought in for compatibility with Windows 7, or to meet the ISV’s support requirements. The need for new hardware to support the new operating system can also be a potential cost, especially if you end up having to invest during the migration itself. There is also the downtime that can potentially affect users in the midst of business operations. However, having the right process and tools in place can negate or minimize the risk.

With Windows XP reaching its end of life, it’s essential for organizations to begin planning for an effective Windows 7 migration today. Earlier in 2009, Gartner estimated that the cost to upgrade from XP to Windows 7 amounted to between £620 and £1160 in migration costs per user. This makes it essential to optimise the migration process as much as possible in order to trim costs. Cutting down on manual processes and automating deployment, patching and software packaging can really help to ensure that the business benefits from the best possible cost efficiency around deployment, as well as longer-term productivity gains for IT staff and end-users.

Don't miss