As Windows XP slowly dies off and Windows 7 gains more credibility for its security, networking and virtualization features, many businesses are preparing to make the transition as painless and affordable as possible.
Enterprises are not exactly stampeding to Windows 7 upgrades, but more Windows 7 plans are in motion for 2011. A recent Forrester survey of 800 IT decision-makers reveals that 75 percent of commercial PCs are still running Windows XP — yet 46 percent of firms plan to migrate to Windows 7 in the next 12 months, and 42 percent plan to do it in 12 months or more.
A major part of affordably migrating to Windows 7 is preparing business applications for the upgrade. Organizations are using application virtualization to simplify app management and reduce costs. But still, many have no process for preparing applications for a Windows 7 migration in any reliable way, according to a new white paper by application usage management company Flexera Software.
Most operating system migrations, despite the eventual business benefits, are taxing on an entire organization, according to the Flexera white paper, creating project delays, budget over-runs and longer hours for IT.
A big reason businesses are held hostage by technology transitions, according to Flexera, is that IT approaches them as point-in-time projects without thinking about the future.
[ For complete coverage on Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system — including hands-on reviews, video tutorials and advice on enterprise rollouts — see CIO.com’s Windows 7 Bible. ]
The Flexera white paper stresses that application preparation should be a continuous process with investments made in packaging technology and virtualization. The process should be tested and automated as much as possible so that deployments are repeatable. It should not be a reactive procedure that is addressed only when it’s time for an OS upgrade.
With applications in mind, here are six steps to a smoother Windows 7 migration.
1. Identify Which Apps Are Being Used and Which Are Not
Step one in any OS migration is to take stock of what applications are actually being used, rather than what is simply deployed. Some apps can slip through the cracks, such as ones installed locally by users that cannot be centrally monitored by IT.
The best means for analyzing application usage information is via systems management software such as Microsoft’s SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager). Flexera’s own software also does this.
2. Eliminate Redundant Applications to Cut Migration Costs
If you have application sprawl, then the sooner you deal with it, the better. Once you know which applications are being used and which aren’t, you can assess which apps you should support and which you need to consolidate or kill off.
After applications have been inventoried, IT pros need to sort them by type so that duplicate versions and multiple vendors within each type can be consolidated, writes Flexera in its white paper.
“The result will be a list of the applications that will actually need to be moved to Windows 7 — and there will be significant cost savings for each application that does not need to be migrated or supported in the future,” notes the white paper.
3. Assess Compatibility So You Know What to Migrate and/or Virtualize
Application compatibility testing is essential given that only 30 to 50 percent of apps that run on Windows XP will run effectively on Windows 7, according to Flexera. Testing will allow you to identify apps that need to be fixed for Windows 7, and ones that are unfixable and need to be updated or replaced.
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Full Windows 7 compatibility is difficult to measure. Some apps may appear to work, but over time compatibility issues may rear their ugly heads and cause crashes in a production environment. A warning on virtualization too: Not all applications can be converted to run as virtual applications.
Manually installing and testing each application on Windows 7 is laborious and time-consuming. The process is much better served using application compatibility testing software. Microsoft has its Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.6 for this purpose, and Flexera and other software vendors also have products that can test for Windows 7 compatibility.
4. Plan Migration Projects in Line with Business Objectives
Once you are armed with information from the previous steps about application usage and Windows 7 compatibility, you can then start to calculate the costs, the resources needed and the duration of a Windows 7 migration.
5. Fix and Package Compatibility Issues
Applications that have Windows 7 compatibility issues need to be fixed at this stage. This is also the time, writes Flexera, when companies using application virtualization, possibly as part of an optimized desktop strategy, need to convert applications to the required format for their virtualization technology.
Again, fixing apps and converting formats is time-consuming as a manual process. So using software from Microsoft, Flexera, VMware, Citrix or others to automate the fixing of compatibility issues, packaging and converting applications to the right format will help IT departments better prepare for Windows 7 migrations and virtualization, writes Flexera.
6. Deploy Packaged Applications
It’s now time to prepare and pass packaged applications to deployment technology. Applying the continuous application readiness approach and using software to manage the packaging and virtualization of apps will help IT departments speed up Windows 7 deployments, writes Flexera. The cost-savings can be found in consolidating redundant applications and discarding those that are unfixable.
A leaner inventory of compatible apps and a faster migration to Windows 7 can only help the business, as IT will be able to focus more on strategic projects. But migrating to Windows 7 the right way takes a lot of planning.
Shane O’Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org.