IT executives face a major challenge deciding when and how to migrate the enterprise to a new operating system like Microsoft Vista. While the new OS offers several advantages for enterprise users such as improvements in security, desktop control and image management, it's also a huge change from Windows XP. Windows Vista has an entirely new interface, new device drivers to worry about, and new ways of doing tasks that could cause problems for your user base, at least for the short term.
Any time you move to a new operating system, you expect to face certain obstacles. Deciding when to make the move can be a daunting decision. Some executives will hold back until the first service pack, waiting for Microsoft to work out any early hiccups, while others may want to be on the cutting edge and get in early. As you know, there is truly no perfect time, so you have to assess your organization's needs and budget and make the move when you feel the company is ready.
For guidance on the steps in doing so, see Preparing for a Windows Vista Migration.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
For most organizations, it's not a matter of if you are going to move to Windows Vista, but when, says Jay Lendl, VP of the Microsoft Practice at Fujitsu Consulting in Edison, N.J., a company that works with organizations to make the transition to Vista. "It's not like buying a new gadget." He says, "It's truly more of a question of: Do you wait until you are forced to make the change, or do you take advantage of some [of the new features] by moving sooner?"
Tony Thomas, senior network engineer/product manager at Numara Software in Tampa, Fla., says sometimes the decision is made for you by corporate update policies. "A lot of companies have a mandate that the operating system should be up to date," he says, but in other cases an outside influence may trigger the move. "There is usually some enabler to increase the attach rate of [an operating system like] Vista. A lot of times, that could be a software package [that runs under Vista] and increases productivity," Thomas says. He uses Microsoft Office 2007 as an example. If an IT organization wants to take advantage of features in Office 2007, according to Thomas, it makes sense to move to Vista at the same time. Even though Office 2007 can run on Windows XP, Microsoft has really tuned it to run most efficiently under Vista.
Another possible enabler, says Thomas, may be the release of the next generation of Windows server technology, currently dubbed "Longhorn Server." Thomas believes some people will wait for that transition, so they can move corporate desktops and back-end systems at the same time. He adds that some people will make the move simply because Microsoft will eventually stop supporting Windows XP.
I'm Going Early
Companies that are adopting Windows Vista early want to be in on the ground floor of the change, to gain the benefits of understanding its nuances, and even to get help from Microsoft in the bargain. Cameron Cosgrove, VP-CIO Life Division at Pacific Life Insurance Company, based in Newport Beach, Calif., says there are advantages for being an early bird aside from feature benefits. "I know by going early I got some support from Microsoft. They were looking for partners to work with, so they could find out what worked and what didn't. And the benefit of getting in early was that when we encountered an issue, I was escalated to the development team in Redmond. Then I had the power of Microsoft working for me [and my organization] to solve my issue," Cosgrove says.
While Cosgrove acknowledges the effort involved with implementing Vista, he says that moving forward is a worthwhile proposition. "Don't be put off by reading that you should wait. If these benefits are applicable to you, there is no reason not to be exploring them now. You are much better on Vista than XP. There is nothing that XP does that Vista doesn't do better," Cosgrove says.
Thanks, I Think I'll Wait
But not everyone is as enthused as Cosgrove by the prospect of moving to Vista. Rob Cherry, system engineer at Tykhe Capital of New York City, simply doesn't see any upside to moving to the new OS now. "Our problem with Vista is that there is simply no business case to pay for, manage and install Vista. This comes down to a lack of new features. All previous Windows upgrade versions have greatly enhanced the user or business experience," he says, and he doesn't see a similar advantage to moving to Vista.
Cherry is careful to point out that he is by no means anti-Microsoft; this decision is purely pragmatic. "We are, and always will be, a Windows desktop shop, and I have no issue with Microsoft products. However, in this particular case, the only thing that will make us upgrade to Vista is when compatibility will compel us," he says.
So when will Cherry migrate? Perhaps after Longhorn Server is released. "Longhorn Server is probably 10-12 months away from prime time, but if Longhorn [has] compelling Vista features over XP, then Vista would roll out three to six months later," he estimates.
For others, like Joseph DeVenuto, CIO at National Healthcare in Louisville, Ky., the decision to stay put is based on business philosophy. His company was part of the early Windows Vista beta testing program, but eventually dropped out because his company's IT environment didn't meet the participation requirements. "Hospitals tend to have funny older applications, and there were some issues with those. We backed off the [early adopter program]. In our corporate culture, we don't deal well with early adoption," DeVenuto says. Typically, the hospital will wait for SP1 before it begins a general rollout. DeVenuto intends to roll out the new OS to IT shortly, and introduce Vista to power users in the organization in three or four months. General rollout, he says, won't come until after Service Pack 1, which he expects sometime in 2008.
Each of these executives has a different approach for rolling out Microsoft Vista based on the needs and requirements of his individual organization. As you move forward, you need to make decisions about how you will approach your rollout based on your requirements. While you can wait, and many organizations will, you can't stick your head in the sand; sooner or later, if you're a Windows shop, you probably will have to make this move.