OPINION: Migrating off Windows XP – getting to the finish line

This week we wrap up this series by looking at the remaining streams of work to be done and a few practical tips.

Last week we covered understanding your organisation’s workforce through workforce analysis and some practical ways to expedite application remediation. This week we wrap up this series by looking at the remaining streams of work to be done and a few practical tips.

Beyond the streams of work discussed last week, the remaining project streams undertaken when Microsoft Consulting Services undertakes a Windows migration are; image creation, user experience personalisation and infrastructure preparation.

The first of these – image creation – is probably the most well understood and proscriptive activities within the migration project. Managing a modern Windows 7 or 8/8.1 image is relatively straightforward.

There are two image creation questions that we commonly get asked. Which architecture to deploy, 32-bit or 64-bit Windows? Unless you have applications or business critical legacy device drivers that will not support the processor architecture, then your default choice should almost always be 64-bit. It is also common to run a 32-bit version of Office (mainly due to plug-in compatibility) on a 64-bit version of Windows – in fact this is how Microsoft runs it own desktop infrastructure.

The second common question is ‘what do I include in the image?’ The approach that many organisations use is to include only applications which will be installed on the majority (greater than 80% to 90%) of end user devices. Including these applications in the image will reduce the deployment duration however bear in mind that applications with frequent updates should be excluded. Next up; user experience personalisation.

In essence, this capability provides a consistent and predictable user experience when staff access multiple Windows based platforms; for instance across different desktops, tablets and/or virtualised desktops. While this ability used be analogous with roaming profiles and logon scripts, time and technology has moved on since the early 2000’s.

There are a number ‘out of the box’ methods to enable this personalisation, including folder redirection, group policies and preferences as well as Windows 8/8.1 setting synchronisation through SkyDrive and the Microsoft account. It is also possible to use a dedicated toolset for more granular control such as Microsoft’s User Experience Virtualisation (UE-V) tool or other third party tools. For staff moving between different devices, getting this capability right can make a big difference between having satisfied or dissatisfied end users.

The final project stream beyond the deployment itself is infrastructure preparation. This stream can be fairly broad depending on the current state of your existing infrastructure. At a high level this typically includes network and security readiness, computer management and deployment tools (such as System Center Configuration Manager, the free Microsoft Deployment Toolkit or third party equivalents). This is where having an architect assigned across the project can help avoid unexpected and unpleasant surprises and delays as the project progresses.

The most useful way of assessing overall readiness of your organisation’s environment – and importantly, what is good to go and what needs remediation – is to list all required capabilities across the whole project and then overlay a service health or readiness heat map. For instance, if your organisation’s Active Directory Group Policy Objects (GPO’s) have been stacked on top of each other over many generations of different projects (which is unfortunately more common than not), then this would be RED on your heat map and would become a project task with additional effort beyond the standard GPO configuration to remediate as part of the infrastructure preparation. Microsoft Consulting Services uses a simple Technical Reference Model (TRM) to assess where effort needs to be applied to ensure a successful migration project.

The image creation and user experience personalisation activities can be run concurrently as soon as the high level design is complete. Infrastructure preparation can also commence as soon as key dependencies have been identified.

Once these five project streams are successfully delivering into the overall project, deploying the resulting upgraded Windows client is simply a matter of coordination, logistics and effort. Yes, like any technology project, there will be speed bumps along the way however getting these basics right will help set your project up for success.

Before signing off this last article of the series, it is worth mentioning that paid Windows XP Custom Support will be available beyond April 2014. However this is the advice we give our customers: if you know that you will be funding Custom Support next year, consider using this funding to accelerate your migration project today to move onto Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 before April 2014.

I hope that this short series has sparked some ideas for you on how to make your own migration project more successful. Good luck with your migration efforts.

Terry Chapman works for Microsoft New Zealand as an Architect in the Microsoft Consulting Services practice. Over the coming weeks Terry will cover some of the most common questions and challenges that Microsoft comes across while talking to NZ organisations about moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1.

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