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Don’t Wait Till 8 (Windows, That Is) To Upgrade Your OS

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by Jay Mellman

Against the
backdrop of an aggressive upgrade marketing push for Windows 7, it is still a
somewhat remarkable statistic to note that essentially 50 percent of PCs still
use Windows XP as their operating system. While adoption and migration is
certainly on the rise, the large XP contingent begs the question: Why have they
not converted from a 10-year-old operating system, given all the capabilities
of Windows 7? And, equally
important — with Windows 8 looming on the horizon — what should businesses do
in terms of taking the upgrade plunge? When? And how?

The Wait for 8
At the earliest,
Windows 8 is due to arrive in late 2012. Early previews indicate that there
will be evolutionary improvements to Windows 7, but nowhere near the magnitude
of changes implemented with Windows XP.

The Windows 7
features provide a significantly better computing experience for both the user
and the IT manager: support for more powerful 64-bit processors, a sleek
interface with personalization capability, better multimedia support, improved
security, integration with management tools and improved support for peripheral
devices. Since its introduction in October 2009, Windows 7 has proven to be a
stable platform for business users and a vast improvement over its predecessor,
Windows Vista.

The biggest
barriers to Windows 7 (or 8) migration are complexity, cost and the fear that
business operations will be disrupted. To plan and execute an upgrade as
significant as Windows 7 is no small feat. It requires a concerted planning
effort and a clear understanding of the associated expenses. Then there are the
implementation challenges such as application compatibility issues, managing
personal profiles, and new requirements, such as the increasing use of social
media in a business framework.

It’s also a huge
time investment — particularly as the scale and sprawl of the computer
system/network increases. And it’s not just an enterprise problem: Smaller
businesses have all of the same technical problems and headaches that an
enterprise IT department does, only with fewer resources.

When evaluating options for an OS upgrade, there are really three key
questions that define the challenge:

  1. Complexity: How hard is it to perform from a
    technical point of view?
  2. Cost: How much is the hard dollar cost for hardware and software – and what
    are the recurring soft-dollar costs in terms of IT support?
  3. Maintenance: How easy is the new solution to maintain?

Among all the
different products and vendors who provide upgrade solutions, there are
basically only three core approaches to managing an OS upgrade:

Physically migrate the new OS on to each PC. This approach certainly gives a lot of direct control over the upgrade process
to the IT administrator, but often at a prohibitive cost. Each machine has to
be individually backed up, re-imaged, tested and then put back into the user’s
hands. This becomes an increasingly expensive and time-consuming process when
multiple offices (or even global operations) are concerned. Against all three
of the key criteria (complexity, cost, maintenance), this approach only really
presents itself as feasible for businesses with massive IT support capabilities
and the strategic need to physically manage every PC.

Deploy a one-to-one Virtual Desktop
At first
glance, because thin clients are cheaper than full-function PCs, the lower
hardware cost should drive down the costs in this model…and the ability of a
remote system administrator to re-initialize a failed virtual client should be
cheaper than a hands-on desktop management process. In the real world, however,
the results of this approach are often pretty similar to that of a one-on-one
upgrade because even though you have removed the endpoint PC, you must still
manage individual OS images for every user. The complexity of managing
one-to-one VDI environments can often be underestimated, taking up more IT
support time — not less.

Deploy a terminal services model optimized for multi-user environments.
In this approach, user devices access individual desktop environments running
within isolated computing sessions in a shared server host (up to 100 seats per
host, in some instances). Simply put, this approach circumnavigates many of the
challenges of traditional OS upgrade by virtualizing the upgrade. In short, it
streams Windows 7 to the desktop to create a nearly identical user experience
without the need to actually upgrade. It is a ‘virtual’ Windows 7

Microsoft has incorporated
several new features into Windows Server 2008 R2 to provide a seamless Windows
7 experience to end users: broad business application compatibility, better
integration of server-based applications with the user’s desktop, improved
personalization, and powerful management tools.

As a result, administrators can
begin to realize the promise and benefits of client virtualization without
having to deal with the managerial complications of a 1:1 VDI model or cost of
a PC by PC approach. This approach, if implemented properly, can result in
significantly lower per-seat acquisition costs, as well as lower long-term
maintenance and support costs— which means the ability to do a one-time
application deployment for all users, improved support, centralized security
and centralized data backup. Installing virtual desktop
soft clients onto the old XP systems can also mitigate the high cost of
migration. For those who have been contemplating both
a move to Windows 7 and a move to virtual desktops, it is highly beneficial to
combine these rollouts into one effort.

Of course, before
undertaking any OS upgrade, it is important to undertake full compatibility and
network stress testing to assure the terminal services-based virtual desktop
environment can deliver the performance and benefits designed by the

The benefits of
Windows 7 in terms of performance, rich functionality and ease of use are all
powerful business reasons to consider an upgrade. Coupled with the means to
achieving migration without the migraine via a virtual upgrade strategy –the
path is very much cleared. There’s
no longer a reason to ‘wait till 8’ and every reason to migrate to 7.

Jay Mellman is the VP of Global Marketing
at NComputing (Redwood City, CA).

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