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Preparing for a Windows 7 migration from XP

Plenty of up-front planning, a few helpful automation tools, and even Vista make for a fairly easy Windows 7 migration from XP, say IT managers.

For some midmarket companies, 2010 was spent planning their Windows 7 migration from XP, and 2011 is the year to pull the trigger as the incentives to move to Windows 7 mount.

Extended support for Windows XP ends in April 2014; many independent software vendors are expected to stop supporting XP versions of their applications and adopt Windows 7 by 2012. The Windows 7 Service Pack 1 Release Candidate is already out the door, with the final release due during the first half of 2011.

 For Clyde Johnson, there were "no questions about it" -- when his company's hardware refresh cycle hit this year, it was time to migrate to Windows 7.

Johnson, senior network and systems administrator at Clayton, Mo.-based manufacturer Olin Corp., is in the process of migrating 500 XP machines to Windows 7. All 32-bit XP machines will be out the door, replaced by Windows 7 64-bit desktops. He is at the tail end of his planning stage, with seven Windows 7 desktops being piloted in the production environment.

The phased approach started a little over a year ago, with an application and hardware audit. Next came the application compatibility phase -- one virtual private network application will be replaced with a lower-cost version that supports 64-bit -- and then Microsoft Active Directory Group Policy settings were designed and tested against the Windows 7 operating system.

So far, he hasn't hit any snags, largely due to management-backed policies of not transferring personal applications or preferences and having to migrate and support only approved applications. "Without that management support, I probably would run into some problems," he said. His biggest concern is securing the machines, so a large portion of the planning stage was spent ensuring that the company had the right Group Policy settings in place.

Another reason the migration is going smoothly is Vista. Not that his company moved to Vista, but "the 64-bit apps and drivers we need are there thanks to Vista, so we didn't run into driver and app compatibility problems," he said.


Windows 7 migration snags

Despite the economic downturn, Johnson was able to keep his IT environment up to date. Olin moved to Internet Explorer 8 in 2009 to avoid compatibility problems between IE6 and Windows 7.

Other midmarket companies may not be as lucky. "Because of the economic downturn, a lot of organizations didn't want to update a whole lot," said Michael Silver, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "They didn't upgrade a lot of apps and kept the status quo with IE6. Applications that require IE6 break when you move to IE7 or IE8." And a move to Windows 7 "forces you to move to IE8" in terms of browser application support, said fellow Gartner analyst Stephen Kleynhans, during a recent Windows 7 and Office 2010 webinar.

"Half of the remediation problems you'll run into will be related to browser-based apps in IE6," said Kleynhans. "Browser-based apps in IE6 are a lot more tricky to fix than fixing some Windows apps."

The 64-bit apps and drivers we need are there thanks to Vista, so we didn't run into driver and app compatibility problems.


Clyde Johnson
senior network and systems administratorOlin Corp.

 Microsoft also "wants to make a clean break from IE6" and is no longer supporting it, so "if you have already moved to IE7 or IE8, you're over that hump," Silver said.

Midmarket companies will also have to weigh the pros and cons of 32-bit versus 64-bit. On the one hand, 32-bit driver support is already in place. "64-bit will be a little riskier -- it requires all 64-bit signed device drivers, and 32-bit device drivers won't work," Silver said. "So if a printer or other device doesn't have a 64-bit driver, it's not going to work in Windows 7."

More 64-bit drivers are "showing up all the time", but keep in mind that you may have older devices that will have to be replaced, which is why the planning stage is critical, Silver said.

It will take many organizations 12 to 18 months to prepare for a Windows 7 upgrade, Kleynhans said, recommending that the planning stage include three phases:

  • Phase 1: Build a project team, agree on a budget for the migration, and inventory all applications and hardware. "This gives you a solid inventory to get to know the scope of the problem you're facing," he said.
  • Phase 2: Test and remediate applications. Many companies underestimate this effort by about 50%. "Our clients are finding that it takes quite a bit longer than they thought. They expect it to take six to nine months, and instead some are taking as much as 12 months."
  • Phase 3: Pilot test. This is a shorter phase, about three months, but if skipped "come time to roll out into production, you'll run into many issues."

Tools to ease the Windows 7 migration from XP

The Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit is a free, agentless tool that inventories hardware and applications and produces a report listing missing hardware drivers. IT admins can also customize specs to run reports against their environment.

Microsoft's Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.6 assesses how applications are working in Windows 7 and offers fixes for incompatible applications.

There are also third-party options like App-DNA Inc.'s AppTitude tool, which prepares the environment for an OS migration by automating application testing and remediation. ChangeBase Ltd.'s AOK software inventories, reports on and fixes application incompatibility problems when moving to a new OS.

Arch Willingham, vice president of IT at T.U. Parks Construction Co. in Chattanooga, Tenn., is using the Windows Automated Installation Kit for his Windows 7 migration from XP. Like Johnson, he hasn't run into any major problems with the migration. In his case, user data is kept on the servers vs. desktops. "All we had to do was wipe out anything that would cause a problem and send the data back over the network to the desktops. And we don't have any complicated software, so it was easy for us."

Still, application compatibility could be an issue for many midmarket companies, so put aside plenty of time and a decent budget for the application inventory, testing and remediation stages, the analysts advised.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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I guess its really sad that this article, written almost three years ago, is as fresh or nearly as fresh as the day it was written. One additional step to consider is the user settings piece/file migration piece.