When VDI won't do: Tools to ease migrations from XP to Windows 7

Few companies that upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 will use VDI -- including a division of Citrix Systems. They may use one of these tools instead.

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Vendors that sell desktop virtualization software had hoped that XP-to-Windows 7 migrations would trigger mainstream VDI adoption. That hasn't happened -- in fact, even a division of one of the largest desktop virtualization companies in the market still migrates desktop software the old fashioned way.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools to simplify big Windows 7 upgrades.

Moving from Vista to Windows 7 is easy, it's moving from XP that's the problem.

Steve Brasen, analyst, Enterprise Management Associates

Many companies piloted VDI (virtual desktop integration) products in 2010 or plan to do so this year, but a full VDI build-out typically only makes sense for companies doing large scale virtual desktop deployments, where the desktop management benefits will outweigh the downsides of VDI -- including infrastructure costs and complexity.

That said, rolling out new operating system versions the traditional way isn't exactly cheap and easy, either -- particularly when doing a Windows XP to Windows 7 migration, said Steve Brasen, an analyst with Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates. IT pros have to contend with application incompatibility, user state migration issues and the time consuming task of migrating a large number of machines to a new operating system, he said.

"Moving from Vista to Windows 7 is easy, it's moving from XP that's the problem," Bransen said. "But the time issue can easily be solved with imaging solutions."

Enterprise-level Windows 7 upgrade tools
With Windows 7 SP1 now available, enterprise IT shops feel more comfortable upgrading to Windows 7. Microsoft recommends using its free Windows User State Migration Tool (USMT) 4.0 to automate large Windows 7 upgrades. The tool has rules that let admin control which users, applications, files, and settings are migrated. The flaw is that only one user can migrate at a time.

Citrix Systems' Online Division uses Seattle-based Prowess's automated imaging tool, SmartDeploy, to automatically move its 1,100 employees off of XP and onto Windows 7 desktops.

Why should a division of the largest purveyor of virtual desktop software migrate it's desktops to Windows 7 in such retro fashion? After all, Citrix urges customers to adopt XenApp and XenDesktop as part of a Windows 7 upgrades strategy. But virtual desktops are not always the answer in a migration scenario, said one Citrix Online IT director.

"XenDesktop is complex and it takes time to learn and deploy, and even with XenDesktop, we need to image desktops or laptops," said Mike Suding, IT director at Citrix Online. Suding also said part of the reason VDI is not part of his migration is 'shoemaker's kids' syndrome.

Of course, some Citrix employees do use the company's desktop virtualization products when it makes sense. For instance, Citrix's XenClient product director, Peter Blum, said he uses a virtual desktop and XenClient.

But traditional PCs make more sense for the employees Suding supports, so he's using SmartDeploy to move end user files are moved from local drives to the corporate network. He said re-imaging each machine takes 10 to15 minutes, depending on the size of the image.

That tool also integrates with virtual desktop software and it is platform agnostic. That's important for companies with BYOPC [bring your own PC] policies, like Citrix, because it gives IT pros a way to run corporate Windows 7 images on Macs. For example, Suding installed Windows 7 images on Mac user machines by combining SmartDeploy with Parallels Desktop for Mac software.

So far, Suding has upgraded about 500 users from Windows XP to Windows 7, and the 230 new employees coming onboard from Citrix Online Division’s recent acquisition of Netviewer will also be upgraded to physical Windows 7 PCs using the imaging tool, he said.

Prices for SmartDeploy Enterprise start at $2,295 per-technician for unlimited deployment and includes one year of basic support. The technician-based pricing can save money, particularly for large organizations that would otherwise pay per PC, Brasen said. A trial version of the product is available on the company's website.

Another third-party Windows 7 upgrade tool for enterprises is Tranxition's Migrate7, which automatically extracts end user settings and files and moves them to upgraded desktops or virtual images. The tool can also be used as a user state backup tool for PC replacement and data recovery, and retails for $20 per PC.

Viewfinity's User Migration wizard-based tool works with the Microsoft User State Migration scripting tool and adds automation to migrate multiple users at once. The tool collects all user data and settings and migrate them to Windows 7 on the same or a new PC, for the price of $10 to $25 per desktop.

One favorite OS migration tools is Ghost by Symantec, which has been around for years. It creates a standard imaging package built on a physical machine with all of the necessary apps and drivers. It rolls that image into a package that can be installed on multiple platforms.

Ghost ranges from about $20 to $48 per license. Ghost's limitation is that it isn't easily customized for different user profiles, Brasen said.

And Dell also sells OS migration software. KACE K2000 Deployment is a policy-based user state migration tool available in a virtual appliance that lets IT pros migrate multiple user documents and settings to Windows 7 automatically. It provides computer inventory scanning and assessment, network OS install, disk imaging, user state migration, remote site management, and system repair and recovery. Prices start at $4,500 for 100 nodes.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter

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