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Deploying Windows 7: Four hardware-based lessons we've learned

When you deploy Windows 8, remember what you learned from your Windows 7 implementation. Windows 7 taught us to use SSDs and that a hardware upgrade isn't always necessary.

Microsoft Windows 7 was released nearly three years ago, and the Windows 8 release is set for later this year. Now is a perfect time to take a step back and evaluate our experiences with deploying Windows 7 in the enterprise.

A Windows 7 implementation consists of several steps, so let's just focus on what we've learned when it comes to Windows 7 hardware needs. What are the big takeaways when it comes to physical resources?

Here are four lessons deploying Windows 7 taught us:

1. You might not always need a complete, top-to-bottom desktop refresh. This was a big surprise for many who control IT budgets, but it has certainly panned out. For example, Windows 7 ran about as well on hardware that was capable of supporting Windows Vista as Vista ran on that same hardware.

Microsoft has not focused on publicizing this. If you take a PC running Windows Vista and then install Windows 7, the latter operating system will actually use fewer resources than the former -- it will come in after boot using less physical memory and less disk space. This lengthens the life of existing IT investments and was welcome news for administrators tired of having to refresh hardware every three years. Deploying Windows 7 in the enterprise taught us that an operating system upgrade doesn't have to mean a hardware upgrade, too.

2. Disks are still the bottleneck. Processors and memory have gotten faster over the past few years, but many systems are still hamstrung on the relatively slow mechanical parts that make up a hard drive. As client virtualization becomes the de facto solution to application-compatibility problems, the stress that virtualization puts on a disk subsystem will become even more of an obstacle.

Fortunately, hardware manufacturers have solved this problem with the introduction of solid-state drives (SSDs). These are entirely electronic disks that act like hard drives but have no moving parts to slow down a desktop -- or to break in the case of laptops and other portable machines.

More about Windows 7:

Windows 7 improvements: Hype vs. reality

Windows 7 compatibility: Solving Hardware, software issues

Windows 7 tools and hardware

Windows 7 Learning Guide

Windows 7 troubleshooting: Top 10 resources

Windows 7 migration guide

While an SSD's low capacity coupled with its high cost doesn't compare with a traditional spindle-based hard drive, the performance can't be beat. Users should be storing work-related documents and sensitive information on the corporate network, anyway, rather than keeping everything locally on their machines. The lesson here: Windows 7 sings with an SSD.

3. Virtualized XP, for a while, required hardware virtualization technologies to run. This is particularly important to remember because Microsoft is -- for now -- planning on including Hyper-V, its traditionally server-oriented virtualization platform, in the Windows 8 client software.

For the first few months after Windows 7's release, the virtual Windows XP Mode required these same extensions. Microsoft later released an update that brought in the old Windows Virtual PC product code to do software emulation of the virtualized resources, thereby extending the reach of XP Mode to older desktops and laptops.

Don't expect the same grace this time around, however: Hyper-V has always required the virtualization extensions of recent 64-bit processors and chipsets. Hyper-V is a much better technology than Virtual PC, but if you depend on XP Mode or any sort of client-side virtualization, you might need to consider a PC refresh as you look ahead to Windows 8. So, what's the lesson from deploying Windows 7 here? Hardware virtualization extensions are a necessary evil for the foreseeable future.

4. Multiple monitors are a great productivity boost. Windows 7 made having multiple monitors easier than it had ever been, with increased support for widescreen resolutions, better graphics and a user interface that could be easily configured for each monitor's position and resolution. Few users would deny that there's a massive improvement in productivity when going from one to two large monitors per employee.

We also learned with the release of Windows Server 2008 R2 that Windows 7 clients can support multi-monitor RDP sessions, so even your virtual desktop infrastructure can handle an investment in multiple monitors. Windows 7 ushered in the era of multiple monitors as a default, rather than an option, and the OS supports it seamlessly.

With Windows 8 approaching, these hardware lessons from deploying Windows 7 in the enterprise can help with future OS installations.

Jonathan Hassell
is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. His books include RADIUS, Hardening Windows and, most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.

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