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Mother of all Win 7 rollouts: Microsoft eats own dog food

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Desktop Globally, 190,000 Microsoft users received an OS upgrade recently from Microsoft Vista to Windows 7. It was a large and complex roll-out - but it certainly wasn't the logistical nightmare you might imagine, nor was it a heavily locked down, centrally managed operation. This is the story of how it happened for Microsoft's users here in the UK - some 2,000 people.

As with all such processes, planning is all. The roll-out was part of a company-wide deployment of new software.

According to John Owen, Microsoft UK's senior IT manager, for some people it meant a new PC too as part of a rolling upgrade programme under which about one-third of the desktop estate, which runs the gamut from small tablets to desktop machines, is replaced every year. "We source from three different manufacturers and offer 46 different types of laptop, both 32-bit and 64-bit," Owen said.

Almost all systems were allocated a Windows 7 upgrade, and since Microsoft employees were running Vista, hardware upgrades were not generally required. So most hardware already met Microsoft's specifications, which include support for BitLocker, Windows 7's disk encryption system, via the incorporation of a TPM 1.2-compliant chip. Additional hardware criteria include the ability to run the applications that people need to do their jobs - some 1,500 applications were tested for compatibility.

Unlocked and loaded

Users eligible for a new PC ordered their own hardware via an automated workflow process, with self-install encouraged.

"They select the device they want, and a request for approval goes to their manager," said Owen. "If that's approved, an order is issued to the supplier who then supplies machines to us with the corporate image already loaded."

"We planned a roll-out for Windows 7 when it went into beta," said Owen. "Some users went off and did their own install. When using beta software - we are different from many organisations - we set up a pilot to try out methods of deployment. Once satisfied that it works, we will send the invitation to deploy all users in the organisation. If we know they have applications that have conflicts they will be excluded."

"Planning is done in the US who test the OS with various scenarios that they know exist within the organisation," said Owen. "The only application that we didn't allow initially was an application for the online advertising team using a third-party product. That issue was resolved and the install went ahead."

"The planning process was more logistical than technical," said Owen. "We had to ensure we had enough people around for install fairs, where we help people with the installation on their PCs. The servers for self-install were already in place - we have Windows deployment servers at every major site."

Microsoft's client policies are fairly relaxed, with almost every user running with administrator privileges. "We lock down very little," said Owen. "The only mandatory settings are an approved anti-virus package and operating system, encryption using BitLocker, and all software must be licensed if not centrally supplied."

One application was selected for special treatment: Adobe Acrobat Reader. Microsoft was keen to test the use of its application virtualisation technology App-V in a real-world scenario and, since Acrobat Reader is used by almost everyone, this was a good candidate for using and testing App-V on a large scale. Owen said that the roll-out went without any problems.

Volume control

So how did it go? Surprisingly, mobile and remote users were not the most problematic. "Those people who knew how to install their new hardware and software went ahead and did it," said Owen. "Others came into the campus and got help - the helpdesk was expecting the increased call volume and helped users out."

The main challenges were hardware related, such as an image that wouldn't load properly onto a particular PC, with most resolved within 24 hours. The average OS install time, including the restoration of applications and data, was 1.5 hours.

Owen said that the roll-out surpassed company goals. All users received a feedback form, with the key target being to install 66,000 clients in 60 days, a target Microsoft IT department overshot by almost 20,000 - it managed 84,000. The helpdesk was geared up for a 15 per cent increase in call volumes but in practice, it averaged only 5.29 per cent.

This case study shows how a well-planned, properly resourced client deployment can be achieved. It helps if the software is your own of course. ®

Bootnote

The Reg has produced this lovely on-demand webcast called "How to move to Windows 7". The panellists discus project approaches, run through some management tools and supply a practical nine-point plan to enable smooth roll-out.

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