How to Simplify Systems Management and OS Deployments
By Sumir Karayi
Windows deployments are still one of the most painful, costly, and time-intensive IT projects today because of their sheer scale and complexity, especially across large, distributed organizations. In fact, nearly 50 percent of desktops have yet to migrate to Windows 7. This article explores how IT managers can simplify systems management and derive higher value and efficiency from their IT infrastructure. In addition, it demonstrates how organizations can eliminate the traditional upfront pain of OS migrations through simple yet powerful tools that streamline IT management and eliminate inefficiencies.
Understanding the Challenges
What is holding companies back from easy and successful OS upgrades? With the deadline of Windows XP support due to end in April 2014, larger organizations are being particularly cautious about Win7 deployments. This could be for many reasons such as the line of business applications not being compatible for the Win7 Operating System (OS) or simply that IT does not have the expertise, budget, or time. Some organizations are also struggling because they do not have the automation in place or their existing infrastructure cannot handle the amount of user data and applications they need to migrate.
Although typical OS content includes core images, boot images, driver packages, and software packages -- amounting to 20GB or more -- it is not just about moving large volumes of data. Network link speeds (WAN and LAN) are growing at much slower speeds, which means it takes longer to deploy content in the enterprise. This creates a significant congestion risk if IT managers try to push data down the network as fast as possible.
Most business applications are in constant use and therefore require efficient network usage and data transfer. Most important, they need to be prioritized over IT content. The network needs to adjust according to business needs, but conversely there are also many critical IT projects that enable the organization to function and move forward. The challenge is how to prioritize these and accelerate the OS deployment.
Asking the Right Questions
Having the right tools in place and taking the time to prepare the infrastructure are essential elements in an OS deployment. At the outset, IT managers need to know whether the management system is fully functional and healthy before embarking on an OS deployment. In addition, it is critical to know whether all the systems in an environment are capable of supporting the new Windows OS. For example, if a workstation has a problem, it may mean that it is not upgraded at the same time as others in a department and this could affect productivity.
Understanding which applications to include on the base system to be deployed and whether to take the opportunity of the OS deployment upgrade to also upgrade a client to the latest version of applications is an important consideration. IT managers must be able to answer certain questions, including:
- How do we properly determine whether every line of business application that a department typically uses should be deployed?
- Are there enough licenses and are all licenses actually used?
- Is it possible to give users a "lighter" version or free alternative of some software instead?
Promoting User Satisfaction and Productivity
The vast majority of companies will have their OS deployments scheduled by the IT staff, but some departments may want to initiate their own OS deployments at a time most convenient to them. Introducing self-service capabilities where users can schedule their own OS migration and select (or unselect) the applications they wish to have automatically reinstalled with the new OS gives users a new level of flexibility. Administrators can still control the migration by creating available slots and time blocks that users can choose while enabling the users to select a time and date when it is convenient from them to upgrade.
Another way to ensure organizations can save time and improve end-user satisfaction (and productivity) is to ensure users' applications are automatically reinstalled on their machines at the time of the OS deployment. Consideration should be given to how to handle one-off software installations after a system is migrated to Win7. Yet again, self-service is a good approach, which dramatically reduces the number of software requests that have to go through the help desk.
Preserving Client Personality
Beyond just installing applications on a client, another consideration is how to handle user data and settings. Each computer will have developed a unique configuration or personality. Critical to user productivity and the organization as a whole, the OS migration has to ensure that this personality survives the migration intact.
Efficient, effective, and automated personality migration requires the convergence of a number of processes. The details of these processes will vary by the needs of the organization, but nearly always center around the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT), User State Migration Tool (USMT), and other technologies and services to maximize the efficiency of the user-state migration. Although USMT migrates the settings and data associated with some applications, it does not migrate the application itself. In some cases, the applications have to be installed prior to restoring the user state.
Automating OS Deployments
These challenges need to be addressed while meeting business and technical requirements. Luckily, IT managers can now simplify systems management and derive higher value and efficiency from their IT infrastructure. Success is achieved by the high level of automation and optimization of the software delivery process. This means IT teams can manage Windows 7 migration projects without disrupting business operations.
With the right preparation and an effective IT efficiency solution, companies can approach an OS migration project with confidence: from rationalizing and mapping applications or ensuring client health to optimizing content distribution and empowering users to reinstall applications and initiate their own deployments. This approach pays instant dividends both in reducing the time and business disruption created by a mass operating system migration project, but also in building an optimized, on-going systems management platform to serve the business IT needs into the future.
Sumir Karayi is the CEO of 1E, a company that specializes in efficient IT solutions. You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.