Vista: Costs limit Education Dept deployment

After more than eight months of beta testing Microsoft Windows Vista, licensing and implementation costs have stymied mass adoption at the NSW Department of Education and Training.
Written by Munir Kotadia, Contributor and  Scott Mckenzie, Contributor

After more than eight months of beta testing Microsoft Windows Vista, licensing and implementation costs have stymied mass adoption at the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET).

Tim Anderson, DET Information Services Director, believes the battery of tests which have been conducted since February provided no compelling business case to migrate its hardware to Microsoft's first major upgrade of its operating system since Windows XP.

The possibility of running Linux-based desktop platforms is real for us

DET considers Linux on the desktop -- Tim Anderson, Information Services Director, NSW Education and Training Department

Anderson is not alone in his reluctance to quickly embrace the new OS. A majority of chief information officers and administrators of Australian companies recently polled by ZDNet Australia are in no rush either.

DET has one of the largest IT infrastructures in the country with 1.3 million users spread across 2,500 locations. Its desktop fleet consists of 250,000 devices of which 160,000 are personal computers. Macs make up 15 percent to 20 percent of the total, and are more common in primary schools. Microsoft is the dominant platform with DET standardising on Windows XP, however, because of the size of the organisation there are some Windows 98 and Windows 2000 legacy systems.

In an exclusive interview, Anderson told ZDNet Australia that the decision to deploy Vista depended on implementation costs -- which includes licensing -- as well as the benefits delivered from migrating to the new OS.

He said the migration costs and the fact that DET's enterprise agreement with Microsoft was up for re-negotiation next year were both a factor in any future deployment decision.

As a result, DET is currently taking a cautious approach to a wide scale rollout of Vista. It is considering other options such as sticking with XP, which could prove less costly in the long run.

"We can stay with XP, it's a good solid platform as it stands.

"It's taken a little while to get there but we're pretty happy with its performance and its security and the way it fits with our educational objectives," Anderson said. He didn't rule out migrating a portion of its computers to open-source software.

Despite his reservations, Anderson admitted DET would conduct a controlled deployment of Vista for training purposes, particularly in the technical and further education (TAFE) sector, where teachers and students needed to have access to the most up-to-date hardware and software.

"Under the early adopter program we are committed to doing 1,000 deployments by sometime in the middle of the first semester next year, and we'll honour that.

"I know there is already a pent-up demand for Vista from teaching staff that want to be in the position to provide current training on the latest products," he said.

Vista under the spotlight
The first beta version of Vista was released in July 2005. It is the role of DET's Information Technology Directorate, to keep an eye on the technology trends at both the operating system level and the applications level. That means taking a close look at Microsoft's roadmap for its products and see whether the technology fits with the department's requirements.

DET was interested in many questions, including: how far back Vista could be retrofitted to its current fleet and whether the upgraded OS would fulfil the particular objectives the department had in desktop management.

An extensive testing regime not only within the IT Directorate, but with a pilot program at Ashcroft High School in Sydney's South West since July has enabled the department to determine Vista's usefulness now and in the future.

"We can see where we would get benefits from the overall management of the fleet by Vista, particularly some of the capabilities it has in image management and the deployment of software," Anderson said.

DET buys hardware from a fairly narrow range of vendors, but at any one time it can have up to 100 different hardware configurations in play. This means that the department needs to maintain an equal number of system images to manage a deployment of a piece of software, which is quite costly.

For Anderson, Vista's image formatting capabilities is one of the reasons to upgrade to the OS. He said the ability that Vista has to separate the various layers of the operating system so that it could manage a single system image for the whole state was very attractive.

"We haven't got down to a dollar value yet," he said. "However, the ability for the department as a whole to deploy a standardised system image and then provide the means for local administrators to tailor that or localise that should have a significant effect on cost."

Imaging capabilities and the ability of the OS to maintain the security of the desktop aside, there are few benefits to switching from legacy systems to Vista, according to Anderson.

He believes the involvement of third party application developers -- who take advantage of Vista's kernel structure -- is needed to make a compelling business case for organisations (like DET) to deploy the OS.

"It's a bit like the changeover from DOS to Windows if you like," Anderson said. "That is until there's an application level driver for changing platforms then it's really more a question of manageability and security of the operating system."

DET is expected to make the final decision about its Vista deployment next March or April.

Editorial standards