Guest post from Daley Robinson, Stone Group.
As most will already be aware of, the de-support date for Windows XP is 8th April 2014. After this time, PCs running XP will be exposed as there will be no security updates, no new bug fixes or patches to the legacy operating system – leaving networks critically vulnerable.
There’s a desperate need for those educational institutions running XP to act now and make sure their organisation’s data is protected by ensuring their entire PC estate is migrated over to Windows 8 – if not a minimum of Windows 7 – before this date.
With most educational institutions doing the majority of their hardware refresh and significant network projects over the summer break, then action needs to be taken now.
As well as the fact that migrating to a more modern Windows platform will help you to minimise the risk from any security breaches, you’ll also save money. In June 2012, leading analysts IDC, put the additional cost of running XP over Windows 7 at an incremental £460 per PC per year for IT and end-user labour costs – representing a staggering potential return on your software and hardware investment.
Recognising the benefits is one thing, but actually migrating is a different matter altogether. And while there are tools such as Windows Deployment Services that make the process of centralised Operating System (OS) deployment as simple as possible, as always with any IT change project there are common threads to follow which will help avoid the most common pitfalls:
Understanding what you have
It’s important to understand if the PCs you currently have will run Windows 8. Some older PCs in your estate (e.g. those without a dual-core processor, or without 2GB of RAM) will need replacing as they won’t meet the minimum technical specs required to run the new OS.
Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant is a handy tool for individual PCs. It’s feasible small primary school ICT suites of 30 PCs could use this individually, but secondary schools, FE colleges and universities should undertake a network-level audit of what hardware will work and what won’t.
From a software perspective, it’s critical to get a picture of what you currently have. In situations where software installations are managed, this is far more straightforward than those situations where users are free to install whatever applications they like.
If you have a managed environment, then chances are you’re already using System Centre Configuration Manager or another similar tool to keep tabs on what applications you’re managing. In unmanaged environments, the task of asking each teacher or checking the start menu on each machine and keeping a manual log in Excel or SharePoint may be cumbersome, but doable for a primary school. In larger institutions, this process would require significant time and admin overhead.
Depending on the applications you uncover, there will be varying degrees of testing required before full rollout. This will allow you to isolate any compatibility problems. Your test machines can be Microsoft Hyper-V based to save on space, time and money.
Fixing any software compatibility issues
Any applications which have software compatibility issues should be resolved wherever possible. Once you believe they’ve been resolved, test it just to make sure. The Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit has everything you may need for this kind of activity.
Establishing a pilot group
Pick individuals from each role within your organisation. In a primary school, this will be pretty straightforward – getting increasingly more challenging as you go through the key stages and into higher education. This ultimately works up towards…
By getting each member of the pilot group to sign off on application use within the new operating system, you’re building a credible and validated list of managed applications.
Once the list of applications used by each user group has been fully signed off, then pilot deployments can be completed – leading to the whole estate being migrated across to the new OS in an appropriate timescale.
Importance of training
Evaluating the different methods of training end users on their new operating system would be a new blog in its own right. No matter how much more intuitive Windows 8 may be over the legacy Windows XP, you should still plan effectively for ensuring all users can use your new technology efficiently. Depending on your institutions and the different roles, this can be done at various stages in the process and all have their advantages and disadvantages.
Things to consider:
· The experience curve – with an operating system upgrade project, experience can be everything. Consider bringing in a Microsoft partner to help with your project – and factor in knowledge transfer into your scope to give you the tools to manage future central deployments.
· Server engineering – ensuring your domain is upgraded to the latest level to allow appropriate control over your systems. Microsoft have a great collection of tools to help (Windows Deployment Services, System Centre Configuration Manager), but they must be configured correctly up front otherwise you will run into unforeseen challenges during your implementation.
· Maintenance and on-going management – if an OS upgrade spurs you into getting more serious with your asset management, look at setting up proven FITS compliant processes to make things easier going forward.
· Don’t forget, even if you have devices which won’t run your new OS, there’s a chance they still have residual value left in them. Speak to a Microsoft Authorised Refurbisher, you may get a chunk of cash to offset some of your new tech investment.