Choosing the right tool for a Windows 7 migration

Jumping from XP and from Vista to Windows 7 are two separate tasks. Companies offer different tools to ensure that data and settings are secure during the migration process.

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This is Part 3 in a four-part series on key elements of a Windows 7 migration. Part 1 discusses the pros and cons of enterprise desktop migrations and whether Windows 7 is compatible with an organization. Part 2 covers the effect of legacy applications, and Part 4 examines Windows licensing rules.

IT pros can minimize much of the pain associated with an upgrade to Windows 7, thanks to a plethora of third-party migration tools. Some tools are well-suited for particular circumstances, such as those that offer enhanced flexibility. Other factors to consider when looking at migration tools include pricing, licensing, application support, integration with management platforms and support for automation. Simply put, choosing the migration tool that works best for your organization is going to take a lot more effort than strolling into the local computer store.

The best place to start is to take a long look at what you expect to accomplish in a Windows 7 migration.

Administrators should ask themselves:

  • Which operating system versions will be upgraded?
  • Which locally installed applications (such as databases or Office suites) need to be reinstalled or transferred?
  • Do any local files (My Documents, My Pictures, My Downloads, etc.) need to be preserved?
  • Is there any user account information (settings, bookmarks, favorites, etc.) that needs to be preserved?
  • Which medium will be used for the upgrade process -- local storage, network-attached storage or over the wire?

Will the process be performed hands-on, or will it be automated?

How admins answer these questions will help determine which tools will be the most appropriate for their departments, since dozens -- if not hundreds -- of utilities exist. Some are part of IT asset management suites, while others are standalone, single-use products. There are even a few free basic tools that may suit your needs.

When evaluating Windows migration tools, it's easiest to break them down into two major groups: automated migration tools for large-scale moves and utilities that are used on individual PCs.

Let's take a look at three different tools, one from each category: free, single PC and enterprise.

Free: Microsoft USMT for IT Professionals
Basic migration tools from Microsoft will help with the move to Windows 7. User State Migration Tool (USMT) is somewhat effective, but it involves a number of manual steps and some scripting, and most applications will not be preserved. However, USMT comes at a price that can't be beat -- it's free.

For smaller deployments or upgrades performed for small workgroups, USMT may offer just enough to make the upgrade a success. To use the tool, first gather data from a source computer using Microsoft's ScanState command-line utility. Then, define a migration store to save the source computer settings and defaults. Next, deploy Windows 7 to the target machines and apply the saved data using the command-driven ApplyState tool.

For most administrators, Microsoft's tools may prove to be too tedious and time-consuming, but the company's shortcomings have created a market for more advanced tools, which the aftermarket has embraced.

Single PC: Laplink PCmover
Laplink PCmover, from Laplink Software Inc., comes in five versions, including an upgrade assistant, a home version and a professional version. Each offers different capabilities. For instance, PCmover Professional can move applications from Windows XP to Windows 7.

The product is designed as a single PC/single-use solution that simplifies upgrading Windows XP systems to Windows 7. For smaller migrations of, say, fewer than 10 desktops, Laplink PCmover Professional is the appropriate tool to use. This version migrates applications, settings, accounts, bookmarks and almost everything else from the original Windows XP system to a Windows 7 installation. The product also supports rollbacks, preserving the original OS image for backup and migrating from an older PC to a newer one.

PCmover is end-user-intensive. In most cases, the process includes running an upgrade assistant on the existing PC, discovering which applications and settings are compatible, storing the data to be migrated on another storage device, installing Windows 7 to the PC, and then transferring the stored data onto the Windows 7 environment. Although it's somewhat complex to use, Laplink PCmover is one of the few products that can transfer almost everything from an earlier OS onto a Windows 7 system.

Laplink also comes in an Enterprise edition, which automates the migration process with various policies and rules. The Enterprise version uses a centralized policy manager to determine what can be preserved and migrated on the local user's PC. Information is then stored on a network share to be used later, after a Windows 7 rollout.

PCmover Enterprise still requires a bit of hands-on interaction, and in many cases, the end users will be involved in the migration process.

Enterprise: Prowess SmartDeploy
SmartDeploy, from Prowess, is an enterprise-level product that automates the provisioning of new operating systems. It uses master images stored on the network to push down the appropriate image to the PC.

While that may not sound like much of a migration process, SmartDeploy differs from other imaging deployment tools because it integrates a product called SmartMigrate, which preserves the original XP environment for continuing use on the Windows 7 system.

SmartDeploy and SmartMigrate use virtualization technology to accomplish their specific tasks. For example, with SmartDeploy, new Windows 7 images are built as virtual machines and then converted to disk images on the target PCs. SmartMigrate works in a similar fashion. The existing XP installation is converted to a virtual machine that users can access from their Windows 7 desktops -- preserving all of the original information.

For most environments, that simple yet elegant solution may solve a multitude of migration problems, but admins need to be very familiar with virtualization technologies to take full advantage of the products from Prowess.

It's up to the admin
The products above are a small cross section of what is available to companies migrating from Windows XP and Vista to Windows 7. Symantec, Novell, LANDesk Software, Dell KACE and others also have products that ease the task of migration. Admins have to do a bit of research, some experimentation and deployment testing to determine which product works best in their specific enterprise.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Frank Ohlhorst is an IT journalist who has also served as a network administrator and applications programmer before forming his own computer consulting firm.

This was first published in June 2011

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