The University of Canberra has joined the list of Australian organisations dumping their legacy Windows XP environments and upgrading to Windows 7, completing a 900-seat roll-out in August on student PCs.
Like many organisations, the university skipped Vista, acting team leader for the university's managed operating environment Stephen Hurst said last week in an interview. The institution's IT department was comfortable with Windows 7's much-maligned predecessor, he said, but its end users had "a lot of reservations" about Vista.
A number of Australian organisations have previously praised Microsoft's own deployment tools for Windows 7 as being robust, but in the university's case there were two tools that Hurst said were key to the success of the upgrade.
The first tool was a piece of software called Deep Freeze by a company named Faronics. The technology keeps students' machines in what Hurst describes as a "known state": similar to the way a Linux live CD works, the machines always boot up in their basic operating system.
The second tool was a product called DistriBrute by Dutch firm 4M88. DistriBute uses peer-to-peer distribution technology to deploy software; Windows 7 and an associated bundle of applications, in the University of Canberra's case.
"The first stage was that we had to enrol all the machines into the DistriBrute system," said Hurst. "Once the machines were rolled in, we could apply this Deep Freeze software onto them."
The initial DistriBrute server acts as a "seed", as in BitTorrent, from which the PCs start pulling the Windows 7 desktop standard operating environment image. And then, when they have enough of the data, the PCs themselves act as servers to help distribute the software to each other.
The deployment method is useful for other reasons as well — Hurst said if the machines need re-imaging in future, they already have the image on their hard disk drives from the initial process, so they don't need to download it from the university's network again.
The University of Canberra only has a single campus. However, DistriBrute could be additionally useful to institutions with more than one campus, said Hurst, because that campus' PCs would not need to download the image centrally as machines could share the file between themselves.
The university went with the 64-bit version of Windows 7, although it had been using the 32-bit version of Windows XP. Hurst said the reason for the choice was that although most of the university's machines only had 2GB of RAM, some specialised labs — for example, those where students learn video editing — had machines with 8GB of RAM, which would need the 64-bit version to address completely.
The university didn't conduct a mass desktop hardware roll-out along with its Windows 7 deployment, although some ageing machines were replaced as they had gone out of warranty. But Hurst said Windows 7 performed well on machines that were in warranty that had been running Windows XP due to forethought.
"We've been, probably for the past three years or so, purchasing machines with an eye that they could be running either Vista or Windows 7," he said.
The roll-out took place in August, just before students came back from holidays to start the semester. And while the university has about 130 applications in its standard operating environment, Hurst said there were only a few pieces of the software that had problems with the upgrade, and those were fixed with upgrades or by using Microsoft's AppVee application virtualisation software. A few ageing scanners did have driver problems, however.
Currently, the university is investigating how it will upgrade its staff PC fleet to Windows 7, but it will likely use Microsoft's own deployment tools for the roll-out, as the nature of how staff use their machines is quite different than how students use theirs. Hurst noted, for example, that students can't modify the PCs, which they only use on an ad-hoc basis, while select staff have administration rights on their machines.