Windows 7 migration: Calculating the costs (part 2)

Moving to Windows 7 doesn't just involve desktop hardware and software. Here we examine the additional costs you will need to plan for

In the first part of this article on costing Windows 7 migration we covered desktop hardware and software issues. Here, in part 2, we look at some of the other expenses you'll need to plan for, and consider what it might cost to not migrate at all.

Power to the people
Windows 7 is billed as easy to use, but sit your average XP user in front of it and they may not even know where to start. Given a few days they should get the hang of it, and if they're familiar with Vista, the culture shock will be far less extreme. However, training should be considered essential for a smooth and successful migration, and needs to be budgeted for right from the start.

At the very least, users need to understand the basics of moving around the desktop, starting up applications, connecting to file shares, using printers and so on. Support staff will also need extra training to deal with all the calls and queries that, inevitably, follow the rollout of a new OS.

Another major cost to take into consideration is the need to identify, capture and migrate users' files and settings. You may think that everyone saves their work to the server, but that's rarely the case. Indeed, according to some reports, up to 70 percent of data is still to be found on user hard disks. You'll also need to carry over user profiles and links to network shares, plus email and printer settings and, possibly, browser favourites and other configuration options. This will all take time and money, but you can't get by without it.

The dummy run
We've already mentioned the importance of involving IT staff in the planning and rollout of Windows 7. Equally important is the need for a pilot study — not only to familiarise those staff with the new software, but also to enable them to check for compatibility issues and come up with the disk images you'll use for the rollout.

A pilot migration for a real department will also enable IT staff to check out the tools they'll be using to deploy the software, and gauge how much downtime to expect. Companies that have migrated report around two hours' downtime for a well-managed migration, but up to six where unforeseen issues have arisen.

A pilot study will, naturally, add to the overall cost, but it will help minimise such unforeseen issues. This, in turn, will minimise downtime, making it a very worthwhile investment.

Possible gotchas
Of course, there will still be things you haven't planned for that will add to the time and expense of migrating to Windows 7. Here are a few we've come across that you might want to think about before they catch you out.

Back-end upgrades
To take full advantage of Windows 7 you may need to upgrade back-end servers and applications — especially if you're still running old versions of Windows Server. This can be a significant cost, but there are gains to be had in areas like security, remote access and desktop management.

Thin client systems
Typically, but not exclusively, used to support task-oriented workers, thin-client technology is widespread, but often overlooked when it comes to desktop migration. Where custom thin-client hardware is employed this isn't an issue — things simply carry on as normal. However, where the technology is used to host applications, you may have to upgrade client software (such as Citrix MetaFrame and XenApps) to make it work with Windows 7.

Smartphones and handhelds are now key business tools, but will users be able to sync their devices with Windows 7, or will new software be required? You'll need to plan for this and manage it centrally, rather than leaving users to sort it out themselves — which they will, but at a much higher cost.

Mixed networks
On networks where Windows PCs are deployed alongside Apple Mac and Linux systems, additional compatibility issues can arise when switching to Windows 7. Catch these early or they can be costly to resolve.

Don't forget to include desktop backup solutions in your costing exercise. Backup is clearly important from a security point of view, but it can also be expensive to bring into line — especially where changes are required across hundreds of PCs.

The price of standing still
Finally, if all this talk of outlay and budgets has put you off, let's consider some of the implications of not migrating to Windows 7.

The costs involved here are a lot harder to quantify, but there are obvious things like sourcing an older version of Windows, such as XP, when new or replacement PCs are purchased. Licensing isn't a big issue — at least not for companies with volume agreements and standard disk images. However, getting hold of copies of XP and having it installed can be difficult and costly for smaller businesses. Also, new PCs may employ technology — such as USB 3.0 and the latest Wi-Fi encryption systems — that are not easily exploited by older versions of Windows, which means effectively paying for things you can't use.

The cost of maintaining hardware as it gets older needs monitoring, as you'll need to negotiate new agreements when existing warranties and service plans expire.

And then there are the hidden costs of sticking with older desktop technologies when the rest of the world is — arguably — moving on. Microsoft's next browser, Internet Explorer 9, for example, won't be available for XP, which will mean either forgoing the functionality it affords or switching users to an alternative such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.

No big deal, you might think — but what if you want to take advantage of the various cloud computing services being released, many of which require up-to-date browser software? And what about loading updated frameworks and other prerequisites to handle new applications, and protecting users against constantly evolving security threats? Continually updating and patching older desktops to keep them up to the mark can be quite a task, and a costly one to boot.