Microsoft has provided details of its own internal Windows 11 rollout to 190,000 PCs worldwide in just five weeks that began on October 7, 2021.
While hailing its own global Windows 11 deployment as a big success, even Microsoft didn't manage to upgrade all of its PCs to Windows 11. The new operating system has stringent minimum hardware requirements, which, for example, require Trusted Platform Module 2.0 chipsets that aren't present in older PCs.
"Windows 11 has specific hardware requirements, and a percentage of our devices were not upgraded. The employees with these devices will continue to run Windows 10 in parallel and get a Windows 11 device at their next device refresh," said Microsoft's Lukas Velush in a blog post.
SEE: Windows 11: Latest updates bring a wave of new features
Microsoft used its own tools to support the internal upgrade, including the Azure Update Compliance service combined with Microsoft Endpoint Manager's Endpoint analytics feature to identify devices that do and don't meet the minimum specifications.
Microsoft doesn't say what percentage of its devices didn't meet the minimum requirements but states that "190,000 devices were deemed eligible based on hardware and role requirements". Of those that did meet the minimum, the rollout was overwhelmingly a success.
"Microsoft's upgrade to Windows 11 is largely considered the smoothest we've ever had," the company says in a blogpost.
"Over the course of five weeks, Microsoft Digital Employee Experience deployed Windows 11 to 99 percent of qualifying devices," says Microsoft in a separate page about its Windows 11 rollout.
Some devices were excluded on the basis they "should not receive the upgrade", so weren't in scope for the exercise.
"Other devices, like servers and test labs – where Microsoft validates new products on previous operating systems – were issued controls and excluded from receiving Windows 11."
Microsoft used Update Compliance to determine which PCs should be ineligible or excluded from the Windows 11 rollout, allowing the deployment team — dubbed the Microsoft Digital Employee Experience — to apply controls on ineligible devices and automatically skip them during deployment.
"These controls also allowed the company to bypass deployment on any device that had been incorrectly targeted for an upgrade," Microsoft says.
Microsoft is supporting Windows 10 through to October 2025. By then, the company expects most customers to have refreshed hardware and be ready for Windows 11.
Here's Microsoft's take on how to manage Windows 10 PCs on legacy hardware: "Windows 10 and Windows 11 can be managed side-by-side and will be supported concurrently at Microsoft until all devices are upgraded or retired. As devices are refreshed, more and more employees at Microsoft will gain access to Windows 11."
Microsoft acknowledges that some devices might run into troubles with Windows 11 even after being deemed eligible for the upgrade. It recommends using Windows 11's built-in support for rolling back to Windows 10. The default auto-rollback period is 10 days after installation.
It also create an opt-out process for employees who wanted their devices to be excluded from the global deployment after an initial pilot. Employees did need to explain the reason for their exclusion, while Microsoft set a timeline for how long devices could be excluded from the upgrade.
SEE: Windows 11 security: How to protect your home and small business PCs
Microsoft used Windows Update for Business to automate the Windows 11 deployment, as well as track and handle exclusions, opt-outs and rollbacks. It also allowed employees to schedule the Windows 11 upgrade to occur overnight or during the weekend.
Of course, all major new system deployments demand attention to change-management processes. Microsoft recommends communicating the benefits of Windows 11 clearly to employees. Microsoft Digital Employee Experience communicated the deployment via its internal homepage, digital signage, FAQs on SharePoint, email, Teams, and Yammer.
Key materials it used included new Windows features, such as its Zero Trust support, the ability to schedule upgrades at convenient times for employees, the fact that Windows 11 could be installed and running within 20 minutes, and new terms related to Windows 11.
Microsoft claims it measured no uptick in support tickets during the Windows 11 deployment to 190,000 devices and says the five-week rollout was the "fastest deployment of a new operating system in company history."