Operating system (OS) deployments are vast undertakings, affecting every element of a PC network. Many organizations were able to put off the pain for a while, riding out Windows XP for as long as possible. As XP's end of life creeps up, you're probably considering moving to Windows 7. If done correctly, Windows 7 could be your last desktop operating system deployment.
With a lifetime of more than nine years, Windows XP has proven to be the longest-lasting OS Microsoft has released -- offering the best ROI, out of all editions of Windows. But Windows 7 came at the right time. New technologies focused on Web services and virtualization are now available and are changing the traditional PC management model. While many of these technologies are in their infancy, in 10 years they're expected to be full-fledged service offerings that may eliminate the PC as we know it, from our desktops.
With this in mind, consider standardizing on Windows 7 to make it last as long, if not longer than, Windows XP. Make the most of your investment by turning the new OS into a de facto standard in your network -- stabilizing your PC platform and lowering support costs by reducing the different types of systems you need to maintain.
To get started, explore new ways to use your PCs. While server virtualization has made major inroads into organizations of all sizes, IT should now look toward virtualizing PC networks. This will not only reduce costs by centralizing resources, but it will also make deployments easier because all user systems will reside in your data center.
Aside from virtualization, there are several other technologies that should be considered to set the stage for Windows 7 to be your last, and longest-lasting, operating system deployment:
64-bit technologies: All of the PCs you purchase from here on out (in fact, all of the PCs you have purchased over the past few years) run 64-bit processors. This may be the last time Microsoft releases a 32-bit operating system, so focus your Windows 7 deployment on the 64-bit version. The 64-bit OS allows you to take full advantage of your PC hardware, improving productivity and overall application speed.
IPv6: Windows 7 includes Microsoft's second iteration of IPv6. IPv6 provides a unique IP address for every Internet-enabled device in the world. In addition, IPv6 includes embedded security features that traditionally required additional tools in IPv4. IPv6 is the new Internet standard, so your Windows 7 deployment is a good time to take advantage of this advanced Internet protocol.
XP Mode: If you run legacy applications, especially 16-bit applications, you might consider running them inside a Windows XP virtual machine on top of Windows 7. This is a good option for business-critical applications that will not operate on Windows 7 -- XP Mode will give them longer life while you determine your best long-term approach. XP Mode is free to users of the Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows 7.
Integrated VHDs: Windows 7's disk subsystem now works with virtual hard disk drives (VHDs). Essentially, this means that you can deploy the OS into a virtual container on your PCs, making the deployment itself easier and transforming the maintenance model by simplifying the protection of PC data. Since everything on the PC -- OS, applications and user data -- is contained in a single file, protecting PC information becomes a simple matter of protecting the VHD found on the PC. Similarly, replacing a PC for a user is then nothing more than moving the VHD file from one PC to another -- greatly simplifying PC management.
This may be the last time Microsoft releases a 32-bit operating system, so focus your Windows 7 deployment on the 64-bit version.
Application Virtualization (App-V): App-V transforms the way you manage applications in your network by eliminating conflicts and working with the running state of the application instead of the installation. Since you have to revisit each application in your PC network anyway, take the time to revamp your whole approach to PC applications.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDI): VDI has the ability to centralize all PC management by running PCs as virtual machines within a data center. Users access PCs through Remote Desktop Connections, and all data remains in-house, simplifying the protection of intellectual property. In addition, since all PCs run from a central location, you can reduce costs by reducing the number of required desktop licenses.
Explore form factors: PCs can now be accessed remotely through a number of different devices, including netbooks, iPhones and iPads. More and more people are working remotely, so it might be time to rethink your form factors during this deployment. Remember that the remote device does not need to be managed since it requires only a Remote Desktop Connection and a Web browser, and it will provide significant cost reductions in system maintenance.
For more than two decades, organizations have relied on the Windows desktop to provide end-user services. While desktops are still an absolute requirement, their role will change in the next decade as we move toward greater reliance on Web services and increased mobility. If you want to make the most of your next PC deployment investment, consider making it your last -- by taking a closer look at each technology mentioned here.
Danielle and Nelson Ruest are IT experts focused on virtualization, continuous service availability and infrastructure optimization. They have written multiple books, including Virtualization: A Beginner's Guide for McGraw-Hill Osborne, and MCITP Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-652): Configuring Windows Server Virtualization with Hyper-V for Microsoft Press. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
This was first published in February 2010