July 26, 2010, 8:29 AM — If you're a Windows shop and are planning to be running Windows 7, unless your company is so new that Windows 7 is the only operating system that's ever been on your desktop and notebook computers, you'll be getting there via migration.
Whether that's by buying new Windows 7 machines, doing in-place upgrades, using Windows 7 in virtual machines, or whatever other approaches (if there are any), it's a rare migration that is hiccup-free.
Here are some of the gotchas, lessons learned, and advice from IT professionals:
1. Devices you take for granted will fail, possibly episodically
Here's one of my own, based on trying sundry Windows 7 notebooks: Some things won't work.
For example, I've got a four-port KVM switch at my desk, which makes it easy to use my notebook computer, and try out other machines. But, it turns out, Windows 7 doesn't always work well with older KVMs. In my case, the display switches fine, but the keyboard and pointing device don't always. Sometimes rebooting the Win7 system or power cycling the KVM fixes it. Sometimes it doesn't.
Sadly -- because this isn't a low-cost KVM -- unless there's a fix I'm unaware of from the KVM vendor, the only solution is to buy a new desktop KVM switch. Simple two-port ones are fifty bucks and under, but a good four-port one with dual-link DVI (for two monitors) can be four to five hundred dollars.
2. You'll discover you've got old, sub-par machines you don't know about
"You may not know that you don't have an accurate IT inventory, and that there are machines which are sub-par," says computer/network consultant David Strom. "For example, somebody may have a notebook with only 500MB of RAM."
Notebooks in particular can be problematic, Strom adds. "They can have special drivers that weren't updated for Windows 7."
Strom's recommended solutions: Run an inventory before you deploy. For machines that can't run Windows 7 or will have driver problems, don't deploy to them.
3. You'll fail to anticipate Murphy's Law
Annette Dow, CEO, Binary Research International, which offers software and training for system administration, including a course titled "Hardware-Independent Imaging, Vista and Windows 7 Migration and Deployment," says:
"Common landmines to avoid as enterprises upgrade to Windows 7 include not doing enough up front planning, not doing enough testing, and expecting this kind of project to be completed quickly. Many conversion projects like this can take upwards of 6-12 months at a minimum. Murphy's law definitely applies in this case: what can go wrong, will go wrong."
Another pitfall, says Dow, would be "expecting your networking and installation personnel to pick up the free Microsoft Deployment Tools and expecting them to learn them in a short amount of time. There is a steep learning curve in learning all the ins and outs of these products. The old adage, you get what you pay for, definitely applies here."
One suggestion from Dow: "Other migration solutions, such as Ghost, Altiris, Acronis, etc. already are easy to use and pick up."
The keys to success, says Dow, are: Planning, testing, and training. As stated above, the tools from Microsoft, while free, do have a steep learning curve. Keeping the users and management in the loop. Management is needed for project support, and users are not going to be happy to have an upgrade shoved at them without any input to the process.
4. VPNs may not work with Windows 7
Laurie Bokuniewicz at Marketing 5x Technology was happy enough with the new Windows 7 computer she was provided with... until she signed into the company VPN, which would drop connections and had other problems. "It was discovered that the issue was indeed with the VPN and Windows 7."
Pro-tem solution: Provisioning an additional computer for her and several other people, running an older version of Windows, with which they use the VPN to get to the mail server, download email via Outlook to a USB drive. "And we have our outside IT firm working to find another solution, since our VPN is not working with Windows 7."
5. IE8 and Windows XP Mode may not be compatible with your current software
Jim Wedeking at Technisource, which has done Windows 7 migrations for dozens of SMBs and enterprises, reports:
"The two challenges that surface the most are around Internet Explorer 8, and Windows XP mode. For those organizations that are running web-based enterprise software, we've seen IE8 compatibility issues put the brakes on the entire deployment. Be sure to test this very carefully before rolling out to your organization.
"While Windows XP mode is a great concept for an Application Compatibility solution, this does have its own challenges," says Wedeking. "This Windows XP instance needs to be treated as its own system instance, which increases environment complexity (e.g. additional machines to add to AD and patch, etc.) and makes automated deployments more difficult. It should be looked at as a stepping stone rather than a final solution.
Wedeking's suggestion: "Microsoft's Automated Installation Kit (AIK) and Deployment Toolkit 2010 offer outstanding resources to help reduce the number of manual steps associated with system migrations. This improves quality and increases speed."
6. You may have slower access to NAS files
"Windows 7's CIFS access, used to get to a NAS, is four times slower than it used to be in Windows XP," reports Edward Ned Harvey, IT Manager at Lyric Semiconductor. "The problem is not sustained throughput, but latency on per-file operations. For some reason, nobody seems to notice it or care except me."
7. Not all your current software will run on Windows 7
"We're seeing firewalls and DLP (Data Leak Prevention) software that doesn't run on Windows 7, which is slowing down some of our customers' migrations," reports FiberLink's Brown. "Be ready to look for alternative programs. Or it may not run in Windows 7 64-bit, so you'll have to move to a new version or a different program."
8. Users will think they know how to use it
"Users find Windows 7 familiar enough that they don't need any introduction to be able to use it," says Lyric's Harvey. "However, they don't generally know about new features such as 'Snap' unless you tell them. So they get more out of it, if you give them some basics."