Useful Tips For A Business-Wide Windows 7 Migration

Windows 7 has been on sale since October 2009, and if you’re a dedicated geek you’ve probably been running it for 18 months or more at this point. But corporations move to a different and much slower drum, and 2011 is the year many will finally make the shift away from Windows XP and towards Windows 7. If you work in IT, what do you need to know about that process?So here’s a scary statistic: according to analyst firm Gartner, in October 2010 83% of its client base was still using Windows XP as its main operating system. How did they end up so far behind the curve? In short: many chose to skip the delayed, bug-ridden and generally unpleasant experience that was Vista, forcing Microsoft to extend the support period for XP (which has been around since 2001). However, the final cut-off for XP support is in April 2014, which means that any organisation purchasing new PCs from this point is essentially stuck with deploying Windows 7 on these machines.

At Gartner’s Infrastructure & Operations Data Centre conference in Sydney last week, analyst Annette Jump presented some interesting data on how best that process of migration can be managed. (At the same conference, Jump highlighted the inherent conservatism of larger IT operations when she noted that just 2% of large companies have adopted Google Docs.)

Why migration has to happen Forget all those features like Aero Snap that you personally like: the main reason corporations will make the move is because key applications will no longer be available in XP-supported versions. “By 2013, 60% of important Windows apps will have a release not supported on XP,” Jump said. “ISVs [independent software vendors]want to support their apps in as few operating systems as possible. ISVS want you to upgrade to new versions of apps and potentially pay for the latest software.” For that reason, she predicted just 5% of corporate desktops will be running XP by 2013. “Companies will be moving off XP not because of huge benefits, but because you have to move off XP.”

Rip, replace or a mixture? Gartner’s surveys of its client suggest the most popular strategy for migrating is attrition: waiting until hardware reaches the end of its life (typically a 3-5 year cycle) and then rolling out a new OS. That can be a cheaper approach, except that it means having to support multiple OSes until everyone has been upgraded. The “forklift” alternative — shifting everyone at once — is favoured by 23%. 10% expect a mixture of both strategies, and 9% aren’t sure what they’ll do. (We feel sorry for people working in those companies.)

Either way, it’s not a speedy process. Jump estimates a typical large corporation will need three months for initial planning, six to nine months for testing compatibility with existing apps and hardware, and three months for pilot testing before a major rollout.

It’s going to cost more than previous migrations While Moore’s Law tends to ensure that spending the same amount of money gets you a more powerful machine, that advantage has been offset by the tendency to stretch the life of current hardware to reflect XP’s extended dominance and global financial pressures. “In terms of hardware, because many companies stretched the lifecycle, there is a huge amount of really old hardware, so you may have to spend more money on new hardware compared to previous migrations,” Jump said. “Don’t plan to upgrade any machines that were purchased before 2010, because the useful life left in those machines will be less than half.”

64-bit versus 32-bit is still causing confusion There’s no clear pattern when it comes to choosing betwee 32-bit and 64-bit: Gartner’s surveys suggest 31% expect mostly 32-bit and 18% are leaning that way, while 18% are planning for 64-bit and 28% are undecided. If you do go with 64-bit, hardware testing is important as 64-bit drivers for older devices remain less common.

Have you helped your company through a Windows 7 migration? Share your hard-won wisdom in the comments.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.

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