A Tale of Two Windows 7 Deployments: Security, Hardware Lifecycle, Support Benefits

Rob Enderle

In preparation for the MidMarket CIO Forum next month, we are collecting case studies on successful projects. Since I'm doing the talk on Windows 7 deployments, I'm collecting information on several of them. These first two are still in the testing phase. While I was writing this up, a story broke about Windows 7 problem from a CTO that didn't exist. I can't recall a version of Windows where anyone went to this effort to write a story on made-up problems, suggesting that Windows 7 might be living up to expectations, but let's see what testing is showing.


The Companies

The two companies are about the same size, around 500 people, but in vastly different businesses. Thiele Kaolin Co. works with kaolin a magical clay-like material used in everything from paper to cosmetics. Meanwhile, upscale home builder Wilshire Homes operates in Austin, Houston and San Antonio, Texas.


Both companies use XP at the moment for productivity applications and neither considers itself to be bleeding edge in its use of technology. Both have relatively simple ecosystems, however, Thiele Kaolin runs some manufacturing processes on old PCs using old applications.


Both companies are relatively centralized, though Thiele Kaolin is multinational and has small remote offices. Wilshire Homes' staff is split between San Antonio and Austin. Both are largely Microsoft shops.



Thiele Kaolin put 10 machines using Windows 7 into production with IT staff to assure critical applications, drivers and scripts worked. Wilshire Homes did lab testing and a majority of IT staff has moved to Windows 7 on their home systems. All indicated they were pleased with the results.



Both companies sailed through compatibility testing. Wilson Homes indicated there were no problems, though Thiele Kaolin found that a few very old applications might require XP mode or an older operating system to work correctly. Thiele Kaolin's CIO Mark Bailey indicated this was a problem for two or three machines running manufacturing-control applications and shouldn't hold up the general rollout in mid-year.


Win Hansen , CIO of Wilshire Homes, found critical applications ran without issue and plans to begin rollout during the same time period. He was particularly complimentary of the new Windows MAP (Microsoft Assessment and Planning) Toolkit, which he found a big help in resolving pre-deployment problems. Because of budgetary concerns, he plans to roll out Windows 7 department by department as resources become available over a longer period of time.


Benefits Driving the Rollout

Both cited security as a benefit -- both had had problems with employees turning off XP settings or otherwise picking up and loading viruses. The primary benefit for Thiele Kaolin, however, was extending the life of existing hardware, which typically would be replaced at three years and, post rollout, would be extended to five years. The primary benefits for Wilshire Homes were balanced between security and the need to be off Windows XP before Microsoft ends support for it. Wilshire plans to roll out in a mix of new and relatively recent existing hardware (about 50/50).


Both indicated significant performance improvements, particularly during boot-up with Windows 7. Both companies had found Windows Vista unacceptable for deployment. Both said that even though they were moving from XP to Windows 7, rather than from Vista, they expect the employee learning curve to be slight.


Wrapping Up

Overall, these two companies help confirm what is likely a major rollout of Windows 7 around mid-year and the hope that hardware cycles might be significantly extended through its use. As is typical for maintenance releases, there appear to be few problems and testing is going surprisingly well. This supports the typical best practice of avoiding major releases of operating systems and instead deploying maintenance releases like XP and Windows 7 to assure a more seamless experience. It is interesting also to note that neither plans to deploy Office 2010, although both said they might do so later, depending on user need and budget. Certainly this is a big change from the '90s when Windows and Office always went hand in hand.


I'll try to run down some actual deployments in the next few days and post what I find out.

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