Microsoft Optimistic About Rapid Windows 7 Migration

By Brian Pereira

Microsoft launched its new operating system on October 22 but many of its customers were already testing it in live environments months before the launch date. However, the fact remains that more than 70 percent of customers still use Windows XP.

Many Vista users downgraded to XP. Windows XP and Vista users are thrilled with the robustness, security and features of Windows 7, but the usual practice is to wait for Service Pack 1. Network Computing spoke to Rajan Anandan, MD, Microsoft India and customers such as NIIT and Maruti Suzuki India, to understand how soon this migration will happen. Some CIOs also shared their views and plans for Windows 7.

Microsoft launched its new operating system on October 22 but many of its customers were already testing it in live environments months before the launch date. However, the fact remains that more than 70 percent of customers still use Windows XP.

Many Vista users downgraded to XP. Windows XP and Vista users are thrilled with the robustness, security and features of Windows 7, but the usual practice is to wait for Service Pack 1. Network Computing spoke to Rajan Anandan, MD, Microsoft India and customers such as NIIT and Maruti Suzuki India, to understand how soon this migration will happen. Some CIOs also shared their views and plans for Windows 7.

When we asked Anandan to give us a timeline he instead shared his optimism and opined, “Over 1,000 companies in India among the top 5,000 are already using Windows 7. These are Infosys, L&T, Bangalore International Airport, Biocon, etc. This proves that we’ve listened well [to our customers] and Windows 7 addresses many of the concerns of enterprise users. That’s why we expect the migration to be pretty rapid.”
This time Microsoft did something that is more common in the open source world. It conducted a customer experience program and the largest beta testing program that involved 8 million testers worldwide. It ensured that the OS was used in large enterprises (including Microsoft) for the past eight months and it was in close contact with users for feedback. This helped it identify and fix bugs that usually surface after a launch.
NIIT for instance, signed up with Microsoft for the customer experience program from day one. Over time, it migrated its users to Windows 7 in groups. The system administration team was first, then the back office users, followed by the course content developers.

Says Pankaj Dikshit, GM, NIIT, “The experience has been satisfying. Windows 7 gives much better performance on any class of hardware. We installed this OS on older PCs with 512 MB RAM and to our surprise it ran rather well.”

Sunil Mehta, Senior VP & Area Systems Director Central Asia, JWT says, “From the demos that I saw prior to the launch I can see that there has been a massive change over Vista. Windows 7 will change the way people work and you can expect better performance too.”

While the feedback and enthusiasm is positive, it’s only a matter of time before organizations shift their entire base of clients to Windows 7. But Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer expects most Windows 7 installations will come with new computers. Enterprises refresh their computers every three to four years and that’s when an enterprise will really make the big change to Windows 7. Of course, those who have signed on for Microsoft’s assurance program will also upgrade or be tempted to upgrade.
Organizations such as Maruti Suzuki India, Kuoni Travel Group, India and others have skipped Windows Vista and are upgrading from XP.

Perhaps the biggest factor driving enterprises to upgrade is XP’s limited life. Microsoft has long stopped selling XP and discontinued tech or warranty support; it is offering security upgrades till 2014. It is also known that Microsoft let Vista users downgrade to XP till 2011.
Microsoft is also touting Windows 7’s lower TCO and green capabilities, as compared to Windows XP. Says Anandan, “A large enterprise or middle market company can save between Rs 5,000 – 8,000 per client device (desktop or notebook). That’s because a lot of the security software that companies buy separately is already built into the OS. VPN connectivity is built-in so you can save cost there too. We have customers who have achieved these savings already.”

Anandan also informed us that Windows 7 is greener than XP. “Microsoft has committed to reduce its carbon footprint by 50 percent in three years. Windows 7 is 50 percent more green than Vista. This is achieved through better power management features.”

While certain features of Windows 7 seem attractive to enterprises, the caveat is features such as DirectAccess and BranchCache can be used only in conjunction with Windows Server 2008 R2, which was also launched recently. Enterprises may be waiting to upgrade its servers first and that could delay the migration to Windows 7. Meanwhile, some CIOs shared their plans for the switchover.

Says Rajesh Uppal, Chief General Manager (Information Technology Division), Maruti Suzuki India, “[For us] it’s a direct jump from XP to Windows 7. Currently we are using a few licenses of Windows 7 on a trial basis. We are looking at buying 2,000 licenses within six months. We are getting an automatic upgrade as part of the software assurance program with Microsoft.”

Mehta of JWT says, “We have a global licensing agreement with Microsoft and all Vista systems will eventually be upgraded to Windows 7, Professional version.  WPP (the parent company) has 100,000 people and we go on the basis of headcount. So, that’s as many licenses that will be required. In India the upgrade will happen in Q2 next year.”

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Final Years for the Desktop OS?

On my way to the Windows 7 launch conference I pondered over the future of the desktop OS. Yes, physical keyboards and mice will eventually be replaced by multi-touch and speech recognition interfaces. Motion- and gesture-based controls are also likely. But the thought that really intrigues me is the replacement of the desktop OS with something else, like say virtual desktops or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

VDI is a desktop delivery model. The client desktop (OS, applications and user data) reside on a server in the cloud or in a data center—not on client devices. Desktop images are pushed to client devices, so it appears as if it’s all there on the PC, but in reality it’s at the backend.

Microsoft and Apple may have independent views on desktop virtualization, and may dismiss my wild thoughts on the future of the desktop OS. But let me corroborate these with some facts.

* Firstly, companies and employees are already benefiting from desktop virtualization. NIIT for instance, is using desktop virtualization at its education centers.
Says Pankaj Dikshit, General Manager, NIIT, “Being an IT training operation we face a major challenge, which is the dynamic nature of the environment. In the evening we may teach Java but the next morning it is Dot Net and later Oracle. I can’t have a PC or server that does all this. We need to quickly switch between environments. The other issue is that the environment is becoming invasive—students want to install applications, change the configuration and customize the desktop.”

Dikshit says virtualization lets him achieve all of this using a single solution. He says virtual images provide different environments on the fly. It also helps him manage the dynamic environment very efficiently.

Desktop virtualization is also a boon for mobile workers. It let’s them access their desktops from any location in the world, using any client device. It’s a blessing in disguise for companies who fear the risk of data loss due to stolen notebooks. Also, the data always remains on the organization’s servers and is always accessible, regardless of whether an employee leaves the organization or goes on vacation.

* Secondly, Microsoft itself is gearing up for VDI. Windows Server 2008 R2 has Hyper-V and System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

After virtualizing servers, Citrix and VMware are set to do the same for desktops with products like XenDesktop 4 and VMware View respectively.

* Thirdly, consider the cost advantage. Since the OS runs off the server, you aren’t paying for thousands of client licenses. Ditto for applications that also reside on the server. With VDI, one is spared the chore of upgrading OSes and applications every few years, on desktops. The recurring costs of hardware upgrades or client device refreshes, every three or four years, goes away too.

There is another threat to desktop OSes. The Web browser can perform many of the functions of an OS. But there are doubts whether it will succeed in OS-intensive tasks such as managing devices and computing resources.

I am sure CIOs are aware about all this, but the question is, will VDI replace the desktop OS? And has Windows (client) reached the end of the line?

Personally, I believe that the two will co-exist. VDIs will be suitable for certain corporate environments, while desktop clients will continue to be used, especially with home devices.