Upgrading to Vista? Proceed with caution

If you're thinking of leading your enterprise into Vista country, adding Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 might make the trip worthwhile

“We can’t comment on how hardware OEMs implement our chip sets,” Bryant says, “but we can say that the integrated graphics line does currently support the full Vista graphics load.” This was borne out in a quick impromptu test I conducted on a Gateway M255-E delivered last May running the then-current Intel graphics subsystem. That machine couldn’t run Aero. Gateway then sent the same model in November, armed with a Core 2 Duo CPU and a newer Intel Graphics Media Accelerator chip set. That machine is running Aero without difficulty.

“New hardware definitely does make a difference,” Bryant says. And he references not just graphics oomph but management muscle as well. New versions of Intel CPUs and chip sets will incorporate features such as out-of-band management, remote updating, advanced hardware diagnostics, and similar goodies. And again, Vista-specific features are included here on Intel’s part as well.

“Our Active Management Technology provides these new management and security features,” Bryant says. “As far as Vista goes, we’ve built features specific to the Vista desktop firewall directly into hardware, which means that security is no longer software-only.” 

Of course, both Foster and Bryant represent hardware manufacturers. Talk to an everyday IT administrator and your answers might be different. “The new hardware’s great, but we’re not waiting for it,” FranklinCovey’s Connelly says. “We’ve tested it, and we think it runs fine in 512MB or 1GB. The WIM tools are good enough that we can do the OS rollout right now and give our users the Office features they want without waiting for new hardware. We can add those advanced features later.”

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According to Connelly, FranklinCovey’s network carries approximately 800 distributed users, placing it on the small end of the enterprise rollout scale. Although the lower desktop count undoubtedly had something to do with Connelly’s decision to run his rollout across the existing hardware landscape, this isn’t a trend that’s relegated to the SMB segment. LeSueur says Avanade’s large enterprise customers aren’t following the hardware lease rollout plan, either.

“Enterprises are evaluating Vista based on internal TCO, not initial hardware costs,” LeSueur says. “With Microsoft’s advances in software deployment tools, scheduling the rollout around lease agreements doesn’t interest them. Better to focus on software compatibility and mission-critical testing.” Just get your users what they need. Hardware purchasing doesn’t have to be affected at all.

Too much too quickly?

It’s the first time in more than a decade that Redmond has released this many product platforms at once.

Microsoft, as you’d expect, is extremely pleased with the current state of its deployment tools, as well as its product release schedule. And make no mistake, consultants such as Avanade’s LeSueur and HP’s Foster see no downside to a large volume of simultaneous Microsoft platform upgrades, either. That would be termed “bread and butter” to those folks. But IT administrators living without Microsoft consultants aren’t quite as happy about having to swallow so much at once.

“It’s definitely a concern,” Connelly says. “I’m a cautious guy, and typically, I’d be doing the server upgrades first, one at a time, and follow those with the desktop upgrades. But Microsoft releasing three new platforms at once doesn’t happen very often. That’s put us in a spot, plus we were moving to Microsoft CRM as well.” So at the moment, Connelly has separated his server upgrades from his desktop upgrades, but he is forced to roll out several new desktop platforms simultaneously while still testing a new server back end. “So far, it’s working fine, but it’s definitely a worry.”

The cautious perspective to be sure, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. Justin Ainsworth, senior IT manager at Sierra Nevada Brewing, is in the same boat but is taking the Redmond product blitz in stride.

“We’re just taking it one step at a time,” Ainsworth says. “Being in the Vista TAP [Technology Adoption Program] program definitely helped. That gave us a lot of early experience that’s really paying off now that we’re rolling out companywide. Also, you should very closely check out the Business Desktop Deployment [BDD] guide materials. That’s very good stuff and definitely worth reading before a rollout.”

Overall, the perspectives Connelly and Ainsworth offer are well representative of the current viewpoint IT administrators have on Microsoft’s product cornucopia: It’s a lot of material, but taking it one step at a time will see them through. Their confidence in and appreciation of Vista’s new deployment tools are mirrored in InfoWorld’s testing — as will be demonstrated in an upcoming Test Center review currently in the works.

“This time around, the key is really the planning,” Connelly says. And although that’s true of any Windows upgrade scenario, this time Microsoft’s new deployment tools seem to be making the effort worthwhile.

Making it to the end of any Windows migration journey is arduous and painful. Thankfully, those embarking on this path are not alone. Advice abounds, much of it worthwhile. Everyone we spoke with emphasized that taking careful stock of both the software and hardware landscape should be the critical launching point for any migration to Vista. And rather than worry about budget concerns or hardware purchasing issues, mission-critical business drivers should dictate the schedule of your deployment.

Most important, the act of rolling out the software is all about preparation. Take the time to test Microsoft’s deployment tools and become familiar with the deployment guidelines presented in the BBD.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff,” Sierra Nevada’s Ainsworth says. “But we’re just taking it at our own pace.”

Words to live by.

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