Win 7, Win Big
- From The Confident SMB, January 2010 Issue (Download This Entire Issue in PDF)
In a story from medieval times, a traveler walking down a road comes upon three stonemasons.
“What are you doing?” he asks each in turn.
“I am cutting stone,” says the first.
“I am making bricks,” replies the second.
“I am building a cathedral,” says the third.
How big can your vision get?
More than 90 percent of the world’s computers run on Microsoft Windows, and with support for Windows XP currently scheduled to end in 2014, many businesses are moving or considering a move to Windows 7.
Most see the move as necessary and want to complete it with the least disruption possible.
Some, however, see a bigger opportunity. They’re not just “cutting stone.” They see a chance to rethink user environments and systems, simplify endpoint administration, and optimize endpoints to accelerate productivity.
“At some point, Windows users will need to transition over to Windows 7 because XP will no longer be supported and Vista just didn’t take off in terms of adoption,” says Steve Brasen, principal analyst at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). “The ability to manage and automate the processes around upgrading to Windows 7 will be critical for organizations.”
Does your business need a migration— or a transformation? What are other businesses doing to turn a migration into a makeover that boosts business results? And what are they doing to make migration easier?
To help you think about your own vision for user environments, The Confident SMB gathered top insights from key business decision makers and analysts.
Windows 7 is a better operating system
The three businesses interviewed for this article had all used Windows XP. None had seriously considered Windows Vista—for the most part because it would have required hardware upgrades.
All three, however, have migrated or are migrating to Windows 7 quickly, for a number of reasons.
Faster performance. “The speed and responsiveness of Windows 7 compared to Windows XP is just night and day,” says Greg Topf, director of information technology at NewBay Media. The company, based in New York City, has 130 employees and produces more than 40 publications, 50 websites, and 30 electronic newsletters, including the magazines Guitar Player and Tech & Learning.
Migration is in progress at NewBay, and soon the company will have moved all PC-based employees to Windows 7. “It’s faster to boot up, faster to shut down,” Topf adds. “There are far fewer installations that force you to reboot. And general operating system responsiveness is dramatically increased.”
Better search. Axon Computer Systems Limited (Axon) is the largest private New Zealand-owned provider of ICT services. It’s a Symantec Platinum Partner with offices across New Zealand and 270 employees.
One of those employees is James Walls, service management solutions manager. He’s more productive because of the Windows Search feature in Windows 7. “If I need to find someone’s phone number, I just click on the “start” button, type the name and the word ‘phone,’ and Windows 7 will search my computer instantly as well as my email and I’m likely to come up with that phone number much more quickly,” Walls says. “It’s a great feature for everyone.”
Better diagnostics. Windows 7 is much more intelligent than Windows XP, NewBay’s Topf points out. “If there’s an issue with network connectivity, or application compatibility, Windows 7 guides the user through suggested settings and diagnostics, and that solves so many problems. It reduces employee helpdesk calls and, that’s tremendous.”
Re-stage your business
Over the years, business requirements can change faster than a workstation’s ability to keep up.
This was the case at Rutherford and Chekene (R&C), an 85-person San Francisco-based engineering firm with a long list of awards for structural and geotechnical engineering. R&C had 90 custom-built workstations, but each was limited by Windows XP to maximum of three gigabytes of RAM.
“Meanwhile, our industry is at a tipping point,” explains David Bleiman, executive principal at R&C. “Design documents are now in 3D, and models of complex, high tech buildings have expanded exponentially. There are hospitals of one million square feet and their models are detailed down to the placement of keyboards and mice. Some 3D files can be as big as 250 megabytes. On Windows XP, we had to wait for machines to respond with every click of the mouse.”
The answer was to adopt the 64-bit Windows 7 operating system, which has enabled an upgrade to 12 gigabytes of RAM. R&C also took the opportunity to standardize disk images and motherboards across its custom-built systems.
“We surveyed our users and for the first time came up with a standard set of applications for every engineering workstation,” says Bleiman. “That will save the firm a projected 20 percent in deployment and administration time,” adds David Irvine, president of Irvine Consulting Services, a Symantec Partner that provides R&C’s outsourced IT services.
The most important benefit of the Windows 7 migration is more RAM and performance, Irvine observes. “Windows 7 is taking a situation that was really unworkable and making it very facile. The improvement in speed alone is making everyone all smiles.”
Transform users into advocates
Will some users resist migration to a new operating system? How much training will be needed?
Says Axon’s Walls: “We’ve learned to market a change in technology to employees before we deploy. So the first step we took was to email staff about the project and present the benefits of Windows 7. We invited them to enter a competition with prizes for telling us what they thought was the coolest thing about Windows 7. We asked them to name the features that will make their lives easier.”
Walls was surprised by the response. “Out of a staff of 270, we had over 80 entries,” he notes. “Our employees became strong advocates of Windows 7 and asked us to give it to them quickly.”
What makes migration easier?
Get the standardized image just right. “Get a mature standardized image,” advises NewBay’s Topf. “That’s the most important take away about migration. Create a fresh build—never leave on the system all the extra software that comes from the system vendor, because you can never uninstall it later. It took a couple of weeks of effort for us to get the perfect, solid foundation. We had to wait for some application versions to mature—and that’s worth waiting for.”
Both NewBay and R&C use Symantec Ghost Solution Suite to clone standardized images to new machines. “Ghost is simple and it works,” Topf says. “I’ve used it for 10 years. It exponentially reduces the time deployments take. If there are multiple machines that need to be prepared at the same time, we can multicast the image to them.”
The advantage of multicasting is that it can send a five gigabyte image over the network to hundreds or thousands of machines with a single click, and only five gigabytes total travels over the network. The image deploys simultaneously on all machines, this minimizing traffic.
“Symantec Ghost Solution Suite saves us a couple hours per endpoint in application deployment time,” says Irvine at R&C.
Says EMA analyst Brasen: “An automated system management platform can bundle up the image and send it out to many machines as part of an automated process. Companies will experience a lot of pain upgrading to Windows 7 if they can’t get an automated platform in place.”
Reduce data to be migrated. Migration was easier at NewBay, Topf says, because “We used the File System Archiving feature of Symantec Enterprise Vault to go through old systems and weed out old files. Some of our systems were archaic. We were able to move close to a terabyte of data to the Enterprise Vault archive, reclaiming valuable storage and saving migration time.” When Enterprise Vault archives files, they become indexed, deduplicated, compressed, and easier to search.
Deploy faster with simultaneous project streams. How fast can Windows 7 be deployed on over 260 endpoints? Necessity was the mother of invention at Axon.
Axon CEO Scott Green came back from the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference and announced that “by the launch date of Windows 7 (39 working days away), we will be 100 percent Windows 7 deployed in a standardized manner.”
The team was concerned. As Walls remembers: “If you had asked any of our team beforehand if we could achieve that, or any of our competition if anyone could achieve that, everyone would say no.”
Adds Donald Long, Auckland consulting manager at Axon, “we had done similar-sized projects deploying Windows Vista, and those had taken over 90 working days.”
The team abandoned its past methodologies and decided to use parallel streams of effort. Explains Walls: “We had one stream investigating what a desktop should look like. At the same time, we had an iterative stream testing our common and business applications. Simultaneously, a separate business liaison and communication stream gathered requirements for each stage and marketed the effort back to the company.”
The project was completed in 38 days, with one day to spare. The new methodology is now a business asset. “Axon developed a lot of intellectual property around deployment in this project,” Walls says. “We can offer clients these sorts of implementations at a greatly reduced risk, a fixed price for work of a defined scope, and a speed of execution that’s hard to rival.”
The team uses Altiris Client Management Suite from Symantec to interrogate machines on the network, assess which ones are ready for Windows 7, deploy an image, and move settings from the old PCs to the new ones. “PC Transplant technology in Altiris Client Management Suite audits existing machines and gives us options on what we do and don’t want to move,” Long says. “It reduces three to four hours of work at each system to a half hour. That can add up to huge savings.”
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After deployment: maximizing productivity
Once Windows 7 is deployed, it’s important to help people take advantage of it, Axon’s Walls points out. “We will have failed if we implement the new technology and everyone continued to use it in the old way.”
Axon’s answer was to give its staff, from the CEO on down, half-hour sessions of guided tips and tricks tailored to what each could actually use in real life. “A lot of the tips we got from the staff themselves in the competition, where they told us what was exciting about Windows 7,” Walls says. “It enabled us to communicate the right messages back to the whole staff in a manner that was going to resonate.”
Long range endpoints vision
At NewBay, 50 of 130 endpoints are Macintoshes, and 80 are Windows PCs. Macintoshes are widely used in the editorial and design departments. Although Topf doesn’t see either platform as better overall, he’s seen that each one is better for users who are familiar with it.
At R&C, Bleiman regards Windows 7 and the new workstations as a further step towards a paperless office. The firm’s staff needs to review and approve hundreds of shop drawings, and they spend as much as 70 percent of their time receiving, handling, and shipping paper copies and only 30 percent on actual quality assurance. Soon, big new workstations will open PDF versions of drawings for electronic review, and Bleiman estimates that with this 90 percent of time will be spent on quality assurance and just 10 percent spent on handling paper.
Axon was among the first organizations in the Asia Pacific region to be 100 percent Windows 7 deployed. “That has opened a wide range of discussions with our clients,” Walls says. “After the release of Windows Vista, perhaps five percent of our conversations with customers involved its deployment. Now we have spoken with virtually 100 percent of our major clients about our experiences, and they are showing huge interest in moving to Windows 7.”
Alan Drummer is Creative Director for Content at NAVAJO Company. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner, Create Magazine, and on The History Channel.