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The basics of executing an enterprise desktop migration to Windows 7

Once you have a basic Windows 7 migration plan, it's time to start collecting data, testing apps and hardware, and exploring virtualization options.

« Previous page: The basics of planning

This is the final article in a series on the essentials of migrating enterprise desktops to Windows 7. The first section explored the fundamentals of the planning phase; this part breaks down the five crucial aspects of executing a migration program.

1. Inventory collection: Know what you've got
A migration to Windows 7 won't work if you don't know how much effort it will take. The level of effort determines the project plan, the timeframe for application remediation, the size of the packaging team and what testing is going to be required.

As a result, an inventory of all enterprise applications and existing hardware needs to be collected as completely as possible. While the focus is on desktop applications, many other mainframe or server apps could be affected by an unresponsive PC app. In addition, knowing the hardware on every desktop is critical to understanding where Windows 7 works -- and where it doesn't.

Although the tool you use to maintain the inventory is irrelevant, the database must be simultaneously accessible by the core and extended teams. Therefore, the optimal product is a cloud-based configuration management database (CMDB). It minimizes an organization's support requirements and can be up and running in a few hours.

A good way to determine what information to collect is to use the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) CMDB specifications. At a minimum, your data must include the application and all its components, estimates of the Windows 7 impact and the desktop hardware configuration for every asset. It should also include soft information such as version levels, application owners, their contact information (to help with project accountability), who developed it, when it was developed, when it will be retired, the number of users, what divisions use it and so on.

Unlike delivery skills and capabilities -- which expire once your desktop migration is complete -- this database is a valuable corporate asset that should be maintained beyond the end of the program. The data will also be the source of all reporting. Think about the reports you typically use for large projects like this and what executives usually want. Based on the anticipated demands, ensure that the underlying data is available for the identified metrics and service-level agreements (SLAs).

2. Don't forget about Office content -- and watch the rules
A Windows 7 migration often includes a migration to Office 2010, and information about relevant Office documents should also be collected in the CMDB or central application repository. Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access files can all be affected by changes to macros. While the effect may be small in terms of volume, IT may not know in advance the importance of those files that no longer work in Office 2010.

On average, an employee has about 1,500 documents on his local and/or network drive. Of those, 3% will be affected by the migration to Office 2010 and require some form of remediation, and 3% to 5% will require manual intervention to work in the new version.

It can be a challenge to find the needle of affected files in the Office document haystack. An automated tool is the most efficient way to discover the documents, scan them, generate reports and fix the problem. Do this early to get troubles out of the way quickly. In addition, consider limiting the scope by converting only those files created or modified in the past 13 months. This should cover all files required for business operations, including quarterly and year-end activities.

Global enterprises and companies in certain industries such as financial services and pharmaceuticals need to understand regulatory requirements. In some cases, archived files can't be modified in any manner, and even the viewing of a filename by anyone other than the author might be against the law. Furthermore, certain records-retention policies mandate that files be kept in their original format. Whatever the regulations, it's important to establish policies and communicate so they aren't violated.

Moving to Outlook 2010 has a number of challenges of its own. Forms, add-ins, helper objects and other linkages can lead to problems that affect the overall migration. Depending on the features an organization depends on, migrations to Exchange 2007 or 2010 might be required. Exchange migrations are normally programs unto themselves, but in this case, they might be parallel with your Windows 7 upgrade.

3. Prioritize the work and applications
The CMDB or inventory database can also be used as a workflow and configuration management tool. The migration plan needs to balance the priority of business-critical apps with the IT conversion effort.

Main applications -- as well as all required components and interconnections -- need to be tracked. Data mining will show which components are common among apps . The components required by the most applications should be remediated and tested first. Also, consider critical business periods, so don't roll out new versions of accounting applications during a quarter or year-end close.

Get the "green" applications (those assessed to work in Windows 7 or Office 2010) packaged and tested immediately. For "amber" applications, find out their business criticality, organizational interdependence and regulatory compliance needs, and sequence them based on priority. Create objective measurements to make this determination, but then review the list with a subjective eye to make sure the order makes business sense.

Programs without a repair option, such as the application of wrappers (or "shims" in the Microsoft vernacular), virtualization or a complete replacement, should be quickly defined and established. These applications are likely going to take the most time to remediate, and they will also be the most expensive. The project management office's (PMO's) governance model should include a review boards that is responsible for all nonstandard activities and their related costs.

4. Measure everything
As the project is planned, it's important to consider what will be reported and what data is needed to create the reports. Specifically, you need level-of-effort estimates for the assessment and remediation of applications and Office documents. This will help you understand delivery costs and enable you to suggest alternatives when the standard remediation solution won't work.  

In an extreme example, one company identified that less than 1% of its inventory drove more than 27% of its application-remediation costs. It could have used its data to prioritize remediation for the most commonly used modules, applications or shared Dynamic Link Libraries (DLLs). In other cases, it would take less time and money to replace the app or change vendors.

The right metrics can also show which extended team members aren't performing. By tracking the status of every application, the PMO can see who is not doing their jobs and "encourage" them. In addition, my experience has shown that contacting people who miss their personal milestones can uncover problems that would have otherwise gone unidentified.

5. Use virtualization technology where appropriate
Virtualization can positively affect the desktop migration program. When development hardware is unavailable (and even when it is), virtualization allows the engineering team to quickly create the standard desktop image. In addition, some virtualization products can enable central distribution and management of desktops. This helps ensure that all developers and testers are working from the same desktop version, and both of these features can reduce the overall software remediation lifecycle.

Furthermore, even without hardware, desktop virtualization can quickly provide the application development community with development and test environments. Virtualization can also enable cross-platform compatibility, allowing the coexistence of the two operating system versions while the migration activities take place.

Frequently, the migration to Windows 7 is performed in parallel with the acquisition of new hardware. The hardware vendor selection process can delay overall application remediation, packaging and testing. An application development community armed with virtual Windows 7 environments can perform all but the final tests.

Windows 7 offers XP Mode (XPM), which allows a Windows 7 machine to run applications in a Windows XP environment. Although XPM's performance isn't sufficient for strategic use, it can be a tactical fix for apps that can't be remediated. Organizations can also use XP Mode to quickly migrate to Windows 7 and then move applications from XP Mode to the native operating system as they are made compliant.

Application virtualization can also be used where remediation is not technically possible or where it might just be too expensive. Some application virtualization products package apps with all the dependent components, such as older device drivers and DLL files. They run in their own isolated environment, which allows an otherwise incompatible application to run in Windows 7.

The next steps
If your organization is planning to migrate to Windows 7 and Office 2010 this year, now is the time to start your initiative. Begin the migration with the following steps:

  1. Survey your application development groups. Compile a list of the applications you have, and identify their dependencies. Investigate repositories or tools to collect, track and report on the application and Office content inventory. (Bonus points if you collect information about the currently installed hardware as well.)
  2. Start building a straw-man project plan to prioritize what will migrate by order of magnitude and find who is available to do the work. This will help reveal what third-party resources are needed.
  3. Begin engineering a single Windows 7-based image, which will evolve into the final build to be rolled out. Explore how virtualization tools can help share this image with the application developers and third-party resources.

Certainly, other important issues exist. The management of multiple environments and interim solutions, decommissioning of obsolete components, and risk and security are all critical to the program's success. Get through these top 10, and then work on the next 10.

This is one project that benefits from you starting now. Don't do as Mark Twain said, "Never put off till tomorrow what can be put off till the day after tomorrow just as well."

Start your migration to Windows 7 today.

First page: Windows 7 migration basics»

Lucian Lipinsky de Orlov is an Associate Partner at Citihub Inc., an IT consultancy focused on the financial services industry with offices in London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. He specializes in enterprise desktop migrations and helping clients implement cloud-based solutions. Lipinsky can be contacted at

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