Windows 7 migration: Calculating the costs

Planning, the most important part of a Windows 7 migration, involves an inventory of what you have, a clear vision of what you need, and accurate information on the costs involved

Having discussed the business and technical pros and cons of Windows 7 migration, it's now time to look at the costs involved — whether you go ahead with the move or stick with the status quo. And, yes, there are costs to staying put, which we'll cover in detail once we've looked at how to budget for what's involved in moving to the new OS.

Know what you've got
Before you can even begin to cost out your Windows 7 migration, you'll need a detailed list of the hardware and software installed in your organisation.

You may think you know this already, but it's surprising just how much will have crept in under the radar to take you by surprise, especially low-cost netbooks bought on expenses. Equally, you may find that systems have gone missing, got lost in a move or merger or simply been mothballed.

An audit of some kind is definitely called for here, whether you send someone round to do it manually or use an inventory tool. The latter isn't a cheap option, but we'd definitely recommend it — especially in companies with lots of kit, spread across multiple locations, where manual auditing can be even more costly as well as error prone. Moreover, inventory tools can also be used to flag up the systems that will need to be upgraded to run Windows 7 — which leads nicely onto the next issue.

Know what you need
Having determined what you've got, the next step is to work out what you'll need to buy to facilitate the move to Windows 7.

Hardware is relatively easy: check out the minimum requirements published by Microsoft and see how many systems meet or — preferably — exceed them. It's then a matter of deciding whether to replace any desktops that fall short of the mark or upgrade them, according to the budget allocated to the task.

You may also want to run some tests of your own, to come up with a specification for the performance levels you think you'll need. Be realistic, however, and bear in mind that not everyone needs an ultra-fast desktop: you may be able to move systems around rather than junk everything and start from scratch.

Pricing the hardware
Some upgrades, such as extra RAM, can be very cost effective. A simple 2GB uplift can be had for less than £25 (ex. VAT), although it still has to be fitted, which, in a large organisation, can double the cost involved. Remember also that you'll need a 64-bit processor and 64-bit Windows to take advantage of more than 4GB of RAM.

Other upgrades, such as processor, hard disk and video changes can run into hundreds of pounds and may not even be possible. Indeed, in a lot of cases it will be simpler and more cost effective to replace the whole PC, especially older systems where warranties no longer apply and replacement parts are difficult to source. Life will also be a lot easier if you don't have lots of different setups, each requiring a custom set of drivers and configuration options.

The ideal here would be one standard desktop requiring a single hard-disk image, but that's not always achievable. Most companies will need different images for notebooks and desktops and maybe more, but try and keep the number to a minimum.

As well as PCs you'll also need to check on...

...printers, scanners, external storage devices and other peripherals. In a lot of cases you'll find the required drivers already built into Windows 7, but others will have to be downloaded from vendor websites. Some may not be supported at all, in which case you'll have either to upgrade to something new or exclude affected systems from the migration to get around the problem. Either way, you'll need to factor in the time required to sort out such issues, which can be significant.

Pricing the software
You'll need to check out application compatibility and cost in any updates needed to make existing programs work with Windows 7. In the case of mainstream applications, such as Office, you'll probably be able to carry on with what you've got, but there is a cost to reinstalling that still needs to be accounted for.

Accounting programs, development tools and other more specialist apps are much more likely to need patching. In many cases you could end up having to upgrade to a later version, which could push the migration bill up considerably. Virtualisation can help here, and is included as part of Windows 7, but you still need to make sure it will work with your applications and train the users involved — again, adding to the costs.

Then there's the little matter of Windows 7 itself. As mentioned in an earlier article, companies with Microsoft Software Assurance should be able to get the update at no extra charge, but for others there's a price to pay. That price will vary depending on the numbers involved, whether you're upgrading from XP or Vista, the edition employed and so on. If you're a large company, you may also be able to get your hardware supplier to preload a custom configuration onto any new kit you need; smaller companies can also have Windows preinstalled to save on deployment costs.

Planning to succeed
Unfortunately, that's not the whole story, as there are lots of other overheads to consider, which we'll look at in the second part of this article. In the meantime, it's worth stressing the need for a dedicated and knowledgeable team to cost, plan and manage the migration, even if you end up outsourcing some of the work.

Don't just take our word for it. In a recent survey commissioned by Symantec, companies that had successfully migrated to Windows 7 typically involved over half their IT staff in the process. Moreover, planning was rated as the most important part of the job, if also one of the most expensive. To misquote Benjamin Franklin: "by failing to prepare you prepare to fail". Get your Windows 7 migration wrong and it'll cost you.