What is Your Windows 7 Migration Strategy?

The deadline is here and Microsoft has officially discontinued licensing for new systems for Windows XP. Since most enterprises have never moved to Vista, many organizations will be on the hook to implement large scale desktop upgrades from Windows XP to Windows 7.

High Touch, Light Touch or Zero Touch?

Microsoft has documented four possible upgrade deployment strategies:

  • Manual high touch strategy (recommended primarily for retail licenses)

  • High touch strategy, manual but utilizing a standardized image

  • Light touch strategy, which is partially automated with high volume deployment

  • Zero touch, totally automated with a high volume deployment

A manual high touch strategy for migrations of 10,000 machines or more is not a practical strategy for most enterprises and, in most cases, will be used only to deploy large new, retail licenses in an enterprise.

High touch using standard imaging involves creating a standardized OS image and a tool that enables automated, high volume deployment. The primary issue with this method is that other applications and system files, including older programs and device drivers, are not addressed. So even though a standardized image can be leveraged, this methodology ultimately leads to clean installations with customized additions of older applications and drivers.

Light touch with high volume deployment uses centralized high volume deployment but in some way still requires that each machine be touched for specialized applications or device drivers. More automation is achieved than in the previous two scenarios, but in large scale deployments (5,000 machines or more), touching every machine, even in a minor way, adds up in terms of labor and headaches.

Zero touch, totally automated high volume deployment will be the methodology of choice for most large scale enterprises. This strategy leverages the best of both automation and best practices in order to achieve the fastest, most high quality migration, with a minimum of cost and specialized expertise. Only a best-in-class technology can garner the leverage required for this class of migration.

Thick or Thin Imaging– The State of the Art

Thick imaging was developed in the past to address ‘lightly customzied’ installations. This approach customizes an image with applications, device drivers and updates on each client’s computer during deployment. This approach over-burdens the installation with extra labor and time but does address the unique needs for each individual client.

Thin imaging, now recognized as a more automated and cost effective approach, is recommended by Microsoft as the industry standard in automated remote desktop management. Thin imaging installs the Windows image provided by Microsoft without customization, then applies an additional set of automation tools and procedures to customize the image with addititional applications, device drivers and updates before deploying it.

Zero Touch Using Windows Tools and SCCM

Is It Really Zero Touch and Is It Really Free?

Any large enterprise can quickly determine that there is time, risk and money to be saved by using a ‘zero touch’ deplolyment and that ‘thin imaging’ is the most effective approach. Windows provides SCCM for mass MS upgrades and a variety of tools and expertise to enhance the implementation towards ‘thin imaging’.

This strategy relies on a non-trivial mixture of system integration and highly specialized skills. To utilize SCCM for this task, the enterprise is forced to integrate Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) with Configuration manager 2007rev2. This requires specialized training and expertise with deployment, networking and experience using the Configuration manager software application. Microsoft SCCM OSD (Operating Systems Deployment) adds an additional, non-trivial component.

Other items need to be taken into consideration as well, such as the engineering and integration skills required for scripting and revisions, as well as the addition of servers and hardware to accomplish the upgrade. These items all add up in terms of time, expenses and specialized, potentially expensive labor.

The combination of these Microsoft tools coupled with the expertise and training required to use them can yield labor savings costs, but these savings may be offset by the additional resources required to manage a large scale migration using this methodology. Indeed, enterprises may be trading off faily unskilled labor costs for a different set of labor and expertise costs, consisting of training, development and/or contracting. High touch is bartered for a ‘brute force’ approach to patching together a number of Microsoft tools and specialized skills in order to leverage the ‘free’ capabilities of SCCM for a Windows 7 Upgrade.

Zero Touch Plus Automation Equals Power

There is another alternative for your Windows 7 migration: a true ‘zero touch’ approach which leverages advanced technology and demands only pedestrian skills for implementation.