The 7 Secrets of a Successful Windows 7 Migration

If you’ve clung to Windows XP for this long — or have already invested in a labyrinth of patches and workarounds for Vista —, your organisation might as well wait to deploy Windows 8, right? Not necessarily. In fact, far from it.

By the end of 2011, Windows 7 earned its spot as the most popular operating system worldwide. In 2013, Microsoft will have discontinued XP support for nearly 60 per cent of many critical business apps, withextended support for the operating systemending in early April 2014. The lack of support, combined with the worldwide acclaim of Microsoft’s current operating system, might justify the jump to Windows 7 for many organisations.

As you plan your desktop deployment, find a provider that will guide you through these seven key elements of a smooth Windows 7 upgrade.

1. Assess the environment — including the network, desktops and peripherals. Any successful large-scale desktop deployment demands an exhaustive inventory. When planning to make the Windows 7 leap, everything from servers to desktops to the dinosaur printer for Accounts Payable is affected. Completing an organisation-wide inventory will likely demand a large portion of your IT staff’s time. If your provider offers an audit of your current IT environment, the cost-benefit analysis may prove it to be a worthwhile investment.

2. Evaluate the merits of upgrades. Though the inventory might be demanding, many companies benefit from discovering how many relic peripherals, programmes and processes their departments and employees still rely on. If Windows 7 doesn’t support certain programmes or hardware, determine what will be upgraded, when and how it will affect other operations. While you might want to upgrade everything immediately, the delays and added cost might not be justifiable.

3. Ensure stable releases. Whether you do your desktop project yourself or rely on an IT provider to do it for you, you’ll need to leverage a few tools to ensure your deployment is compliant. For instance, Datacom uses tools such as Microsoft System Centre Configuration Manager (SCCM), Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT), Altiris and Acronis to enable a secure desktop deployment.

4. Include virtualisation in the mix. A Windows 7 upgrade isn’t solely focused on upgrading desktops. As you move to the new operating system, focus on virtualising many of the applications your employees use frequently to allow them access to their productivity tools from any location. This step not only helps boost productivity but also prepares for an eventual Windows 8 migration.

5. Streamline the licensing process. If you’ve yet to secure a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, now is likely the time. Some organisations can achieve discounts of around 40 per cent off. You can also ensure compliance by allowing your provider to manage volume license agreements. Your staff will save time now by reducing their paperwork load and negotiation responsibilities and have an automated system in place to alert them when licenses approach expiration.

6. Test applications for compatibility. While Windows 7 is generally very stable, no operating system is perfect. Before flipping the switch, ensure all applications have been tested. You could use application compatibility tools, but you’ll likely need to conduct a manual software audit as well to ensure all apps are accounted for.

7. Include desktop support in the contract. If problems arise after the deployment, you don’t want your IT staff scrambling to get everything back in working order. Nor do you want to spend time negotiating a contract with your provider when systems are down. Ensure your provider is obligated to work through any hiccups that arise within a reasonable timeframe.

In our experience, organisations that have followed these steps have enjoyed a smooth and productive Windows 7 deployment. What tips would you add?

3 Steps to Simplifying IT Management

Last week, we started looking at how IT complexity can cripple your organisation. This week, we look at additional actions you can take to start simplifying your IT environment.  

Your IT department’s expansions might seem at odds with one another. Just when you’ve upgraded the servers and introduced a robust redundancy system, the emphasis has immediately shifted to providing your employees with mobile productivity tools. And once you’ve launched a mobile solution for your organisation, it’s time to move an in-house solution into — yes, you guessed it — the cloud.

And all of these IT functions demand:

  • Allocating the budget for hardware,software and licensing
  • Scoping projects, evaluating options, deploying the solution and testing
  • Training end-users and refining processes and workflows
  • Keeping trained and available support staff on hand to maintain all systems — and field your employees’ questions

While it might be tempting to just issue a slate and chisel and abacus to each employee and call it a day, you’re well aware your employees need every technological advantage in order to compete. But staying abreast of tech trends doesn’t have to be as onerous and costly as you’ve become inured to.

Simplicity is the name of the game among CIOs for companies ranging from startups to McDonald’s. And how do most of them accomplish this seemingly Herculean task? In our experience helping IT executives reduce complexity, we’ve identified three common areas to cover:

1. Take a comprehensive inventory of everything IT-related: infrastructure, cloud solutions, desktop programmes,custom apps, peripherals — everything. Most IT managers and executives are amazed at how cumbersome their organisations have become. And, if your company has been involved with a merger or acquisition, be sure to tally all IT levels. After aquiring another business, one Australian financial services company was able to achieve greater IT simplicitiy in just six weeks by outsourcing the integration of the new service into their existing environment. By leveraging IT outsourcing to integrate disparate networks and systems and improving core network and storage network capacity, the company was able to consolidate and optimise their entire IT infrastructure. Just ensuring unwanted redundancies are eliminated, unnecessary programmes aren’t renewed and unprofitable processes are abandoned can greatly reduce complexity.

2. Consider what infrastructure is necessary, and what’s necessary to keep in-house. Once the inventory is complete, we like to roll up our sleeves and help our clients design an infrastructure strategy and design. With the move to cloud solutions and virtual networks, you’ll likely find your intricate systems of servers and hardware can be reduced to a few easy-to-manage systems. And it’s almost always at a lower total cost of ownership than purchasing and maintaining everything in house.

3. Determine who’s supporting what, and what’s not receiving the proper support. It’s hard to keep your organisation running smoothly and efficiently when managers and specialists are spending time assisting the help desk. We’ve found many of our clients are pulling their hair out at the cost of continuously training employees to provide phone and support  — not to mention the scheduling nightmare of maintaining the proper amount of support staffing during working hours. When you opt for desktop support services, you place the onus of training, staffing and hiring on your vendor.

Ideally, you’ll want to find one vendor that can hold your hand through every step of your complexity-reduction checklist and serve as the sole point of contact for your IT needs. That’s ultimately how organisations can transform their IT operation into simple, manageable environments.

Microsoft Open License Agreements Explained

By Lauren Fritsky

Software licensing is complicated. The difference between Microsoft volume licenses can be dictated by anything from having a single extra seat at your organisation to having a crop of employees working remotely.

For instance, the Enterprise Agreement is for organisations with 250 seats or more and offers attractive Microsoft volume licensing pricing while the Open license agreementtypically targets enterprises with between five and 250 seats that want more flexibility in the number of PCs they must license. Both can help your enterprise control costs while standardising software across all PCs to ensure continued compliance and include flexible pricing options plus Software Assurance.

Enterprises can obtain three different types of agreements through the Open license programme. The non–company-wide option is for enterprises that need to license servers or a limited number of client machines; the company-wide Open license agreement offers a single platform option for rights to the latest Microsoft-licensed products, enabling enterprises to customise desktops with various software components.

For enterprises looking for increased flexibility in their licensing agreement, the Open Value Subscription allows the ability to scale the number of licenses they need as their number of seats goes up or down. You pay a lower fixed price for each of your organisation’s machines as long as you continue to use the software. And you can subtract or add licenses as your organisation’s business needs change. This licensing agreement also permits company-wide licensed products to be added to new client PCs at no additional cost for the year and provides extra cost savings in year one if you have current or older versions of licensed products running.

If you’re unsure of which volume license agreement is best for your enterprise, let Datacom help. We have licensing experts on staff who possess deep expertise in Microsoft volume licensing and can assist in designing a cost-effective agreement while providing value add in the form of desktop support.

Help Out this Earth Hour by Virtualising Your Desktop

By Lauren Fritsky

By 2014, Australian businesses will spend US$3.1 billion on sustainability efforts. The figure undoubtedly shows the environment is an emerging concern for companies across the country. While there are many ways to tackle energy-efficiency improvements at your business – going paperless, cutting down on electricity and choosing environmentally-conscious vendors –, one way to save the environment and simplify IT needs at the same time isvirtualisation. And with Earth Hourapproaching on March 31, there’s no better time than now to take your virtualisation plan to the next level.

If you’re one of the many companies that has already virtualised its servers, you’ve most likely realised the energy-saving benefits, which include using fewer high-powered servers and stopping energy waste by unplugging underused hardware. But going a step further through deploying desktop virtualisation can maximise your energy and cost savings by:

  • Replacing old PCs with low-energy thin clients that consume up to 75 per cent less power
  • Aggregating resources in the cloud to reduce power consumption
  • Relying on fewer pieces of hardware and, therefore, less energy to power them
  • Wasting less energy during idle periods by migrating the desktop VM between the end user’s physical machine and a VM server

As an ARN Green IT Award winner in 2007, 2008 and 2009, Datacom can deliver virtualisation for your enterprise-grade businesses while keeping the environment in mind. Our consultants will also assist you in other components of desktop management.

How Software Asset Management Lowers IT Costs

By Tracy Toth

Software asset management offers enterprise organisations a smarter approach to software licensing and deployment.

Previously, on our Australian Enterprise IT Blog, we’ve discussed how software asset management can reduce enterprise risk. But software asset management (or SAM) also helps enterprise organisations lower IT costs, in both their Microsoft volume licensing process and the deployment of other software assets across the enterprise.

In our experience, the strategic nature of SAM allows organisations to target efficiencies in their Microsoft volume license arrangement, as well as in software licensing arrangements with other vendors. Armed with detailed information about their existing software license assets and enterprise needs, organisations are more prepared to enter the enterprise agreement (EA) renewal process and to minimise new purchases through the redeployment of owned Microsoft software licenses.

Saving money on software licensing is just one of many ways that SAM can lower IT costs. SAM also allows organisations to reduce the management costs associated with software and related assets, streamlining processes and creating a more efficient IT environment. For example, compliance is usually a resource-heavy and labour-intensive activity. But by utilising SAM technology and methodologies, organisations can automate compliance monitoring and management functions, creating a much more cost-efficient software licensing compliance programme.

Some of the other ways a carefully designed software asset management programme can deliver cost savings can include improvements in the organisation’s ability to forecast software needs and to track ROI on software licensing investments.

As an added bonus, for companies that leverage Microsoft software extensively, as is the case with many of our Asia/Pacific Datacom clients, we find that improving Microsoft desktop and technical support is an important element of a comprehensive SAM programme and is another way to tap into significant cost savings. Training and support help the organisation maximise the value of deployed software assets and avoid the high costs of underutilised or malfunctioning software assets.

While all of the cost savings we’ve discussed can add up, the real value of a SAM programme lies in its ability to accurately align people, technology and processes across the enterprise. Organisations that prioritise the deployment of the right people and the right technologies (as well as processes that emphasise best practices) have the greatest potential to achieve big cost savings through optimised software asset management.

Ready to get started? Talk to our experts about our software asset management services.

Hardware & Software Asset Management: 3 Surprise Discoveries

By Gary Wainwright

Like any other business assets, an organisation’s software and hardware assets need to be well-managed to ensure they deliver maximum return on investment. Logging details on a bulging spread-sheet – no matter how detailed – just can’t offer the level of detail required to deliver an effective asset management strategy.

A recent study by KPMG International revealed that 74% of the companies polled used a manual license tracking process, often fraught with human error.  The involvement of multiple departments, multiple authors and multiple lists wasted valuable time – often resulting in fragmented and incomplete reporting, which incurred steep fines for out-of-date licences.

Unfortunately, it’s only after a surprise discovery that has an impact on an organisation’s bottom line that CIOs choose to make hardware and software asset management a strategy. A few of the surprises I see most often in larger organisations involve the following:

Application downloads: During an asset management evaluation for a large mining client, original estimates reported that only 15 applications were used throughout the organisation, so only these would require migration to a new platform. However, the final count revealed more than 300 applications in use, many tied to a specific task in the mining industry, demonstrating the scale of “application creep” throughout the organisation.

Security risks: Unauthorised software can be a significant security risk. As tech-savvy staff members discover applications to assist with workflow, they often download viruses, security cracks or cookies that could present a genuine security issue for the organisation.

Soaring IT support costs: As multiple versions of popular software are released, demands on the IT team for supporting those versions escalate. For example, although staff may believe they are on the latest version of Adobe, this may not be the case. Extrapolate this scenario across the many different packages and applications being used within your organisation and you can see how IT support costs will soar.

Are you managing your organisation’s assets to avoid surprise discoveries?

During a Software Asset Management project, you’ll likely discover unused equipment, multiple gaps in information-sharing and multiple versions of the same software throughout your organisation.  Incomplete information could impede critical decision-making and escalate unnecessary costs.

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About Gary Wainwright

With more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry, Gary Wainwright specialises in providing technology solutions that result in high dollar savings and increased agility for a broad range of large clients. In 2010, Gary joined Datacom Systems to focus on achieving growth in the integrator market.  As the General Manager of Professional Services for Datacom in Western Australia, he leads a team of solution architects who work on a variety of projects, including helping organisations better understand their infrastructure and better manage their hardware and software assets.

A Pre-Project Checklist for Large-Scale Desktop Deployments

With software asset managementvolume licence management and many more tasks involved in any large-scale desktop deployment, relying on a few highly meticulous staff members isn’t enough. This undergoing will require a robust pre-project checklist delineating the most important tasks to ensure a smooth desktop deployment.

To better prepare, consider these 4 essential to-dos. While it’s by no means a comprehensive list, it should get you thinking about all of the major areas you need to cover during a desktop deployment project, and whether you have the staff and expertise in-house to complete it or you need to look to an experienced IT firm to help.

1. Conduct a comprehensive hardware and application discovery and analysis.

In order to determine the extent and depth of your desktop deployment, you must have a thorough understanding of your environment. This phase should begin with an understanding of the machines that need to be replaced and those that will remain. This will determine the hardware platforms the desktop operating system will need to support. Next you’ll need to focus on applications to provide a useful inventory and to reveal how multiple versions of software applications are used throughout your organisation. In many instances, different divisions use multiple versions of the same software, for no logical reason. With your entire organisation’s hardware and software taken into account with asset management, you can begin to decommission older versions, create consistency and save money before your desktop deployment.

2. Tally your peripherals.

Some divisions have multiple peripherals for specific business processes. For example, the warehouse may have one set of scanners to track incoming and outgoing units. But a fulfilment department may use an entirely different set of scanners to log packages that are ready to ship. While your research may reveal one peripheral that can address each business process, you’ll want to include these in your software asset management strategy.

3. Assess your infrastructure—or infrastructures – as well as your deployment mechanisms.

Can your current global infrastructure accommodate your desktop deployment? What about the network and servers in your regional offices? And how will your deployment affect security—globally, locally and regionally? How will a telecommuter receive the updates they need without forcing themselves to become IT experts? Do you have the correct deployment mechanisms to handle the size of your rollout?

If your resources are already depleted assessing your devices, software and peripherals, IT consultants may be the best option for a comprehensive assessment and deployment.

4. Ensure you have the space to accommodate a large-scale desktop deployment.

Logistics are often forgotten about during the desktop deployment planning period. During rollouts, physical storage space is required to store new computers prior to rollout and old computers that need to be decommissioned or repurposed. Do you have adequate space to store packaging and hardware? Packaging for PCs, monitors and other peripherals can take up significant space.

Following this pre-project checklist will certainly add time to your deployment timeframe, but far less than fixing myriad hardware and software issues after launch. The investment in preparation always pays dividends in a successful desktop deployment.

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About Rohit Bhuteja

Rohit Bhuteja is the General Manager of Professional Services for Datacom, Victoria, Australia. With 19 years of technology experience, Rohit leads a team of solution architects focused on designing agile IT environments that result in more productivity and overall cost savings for Datacom clients. His team’s goal is to help internal IT departments focus on strategy, including creating overall technology roadmaps, designing efficient end-user computer and infrastructure environments, and implementing a variety of vendor solutions, including Microsoft desktop software.

Keep the IT Department Strategic: 2 Desktop Management Practices

By Chad Basham

I’ve worked in IT for 20 years now and what I like most about this industry is that it changes, almost weekly, keeping me on my toes and learning constantly.  While technology never ceases to change, one big challenge IT departments face has remained the same every day I’ve been in this business – convincing the world that they are much more than a desktop management service provider.

Instead of balancing all of the responsibilities that come with desktop management while trying to find the time to focus on how technology fits into the overall business strategy, consider outsourcing the time consuming pieces of desktop management, such as software asset managementdesktop deployment and desktop support. It can free your staff to focus on big-ticket items, often for a cheaper price tag than keeping these desktop management services in-house.

The following two desktop management best practices will prepare your business to bring in a partner so the IT team can get to the business of strategy.

1. Determine the state of your environment, inside and out.

The first key to a well-oiled desktop management machine is understanding your needs. That means taking a comprehensive assessment of everything tech-related in your organisation’s domain.

As you begin examining your organisation’s environment, ask these questions:

  • Is the environment up to date? Does all of your software—including operating systems—have the most recent, secure patches and updates?
  • If you find various versions of software among employees, what’s the reason for the discrepancy? Do certain employees or groups need features only available in older versions? Or is it simply an oversight?
  • How do you plan and prepare for your desktop refresh? Is it a well-documented desktop deployment process, or an ad hoc task? Are you and your staff prepared to update your desktop every 6 or 12 months?
  • Is your software volume licence up to date? A huge time drain in desktop management is managing and updating complex licensing agreements.

Look to an experienced IT firm that can assist or assume full responsibility for assessing your environment and then help you design your volume licence and desktop support needs based on that assessment.

2.  Ensure global and local desktop deployment methods are in place.

You undoubtedly know the Patero principle states that 20% of the work will consume 80% of your employees’ time. With the proper desktop deployment measures in place, approximately 20% of your IT department’s time should be able to cover 80% of your deployments.

After your staff or an outsourced IT firm has assessed your environment, you’ll have the opportunity to manage deployment using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM).  Here’s where you can make 80% of your deployments easily manageable.

And for the remaining 20% of software desktop deployment and system needs? Delegating these desktop management and desktop deployment tasks to an IT service provider with proven methods and extensive experience will help keep your team focused on strategic goals, not one-off software deployments and upgrades.

An experienced IT firm will take critical deployment headaches off your plate, including:

  • Packaging and installing software applications.
  • Providing compatibility testing.
  • Installing security fixes.
  • Specifying the desired configuration and upgrading your fleet accordingly.
  • Measuring software usage.
  • Remotely controlling computers and providing support.

With codified deployment processes and comprehensive IT environment assessment – and the right IT partner – your staff can spend less time on desktop management services and more time contributing to the overall business strategy.

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About Chad Basham

Chad Basham, Datacom Professional Services, Desktop Management

Chad Basham is the General Manager of Professional Services for Datacom, NSW. With 20 years of global technology experience, Chad leads a team of solution architects focused on designing agile IT environments that result in more productivity and overall cost savings for Datacom clients. His team’s goal is to help internal IT departments focus on strategy, including creating overall technology roadmaps, designing efficient end-user computer and infrastructure environments, and implementing a variety of vendor solutions, including Microsoft desktop software.