Here we go again. New releases of Microsoft’s flagship operating system are typically greeted with a combination of angst, curiosity, confusion, and dread in equal measure. It seems just as folks have gotten used to a particular Microsoft version, a new one is released with a completely different interface and requiring a whole new set of operational practices. Even worse, upgrading large numbers of desktops to the new edition in a large enterprise environment is a daunting task often avoided by IT operations teams until and unless it is absolutely necessary to perform a mass migration. More often, new OS platform adoption occurs due to device attrition (i.e., replacing old devices hosting old OS versions with new devices hosting the new OS version). The upcoming, late-July release of Windows 10 will likely be no exception to this.

Beyond natural device circulation, however, there are still compelling reasons to migrate to Windows 10 – usability being the most critical. Just as the initial adoption driver for Windows 7 was to get users off of Windows Vista, organizations that adopt Windows 10 early will principally do so to free their users from the challenges of Windows 8. In fact, while the Live Tiles interface has been retained, Windows 10 has a look and feel more akin toWindows 7 than Windows 8. Interface features like the traditional Start Menu and Taskbar have been reintroduced while the much reviled Charms menu has been retired. Perhaps the most important feature of Windows 10, however, is its ability to port applications from other environments (e.g., Linux, iOS, Android). This is particularly advantageous for mobile editions of Windows 10, as previous versions broadly lacked availability of key applications.

It should also be noted that roughly 15% of organizations still rely on the retired Windows XP OS to perform critical business tasks. XP was released way back in 2001 – when a “mobile device” referred to little more than a pen and paper. It is long past time to abandon XP, and, for many organizations, the release of Windows 10 provides the best opportunity to finally do so.

While Windows 10 was designed to unify the OS architecture across devices (i.e., to support common apps), Microsoft is actually releasing seven different versions of the platform: Home edition, Enterprise edition, Professional edition, Education edition, Mobile edition, Mobile Enterprise edition, and an Internet of Things (IOT) Core edition. The much-maligned Windows RT tablet environment has been retired. For existing Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 systems, the Windows 10 Home and Professional editions will be available as a free upgrade for one year, providing a strong incentive for early adoption.

Of course, the biggest challenge for organizations is to reliably transition a large number of PCs and mobile devices with minimal impact on business productivity. While Microsoft offers a migration tool for Windows 7 and Window 8 devices, Windows XP and Vista devices will require a full system installation. Either way, manually performing OS migrations on hundreds, thousands, or even millions of devices is simply not practical or cost-effective for most organizations. A much more effective approach is to adopt an automated OS deployment and migration solution that enables the centralized scheduling, configuration, and implementation of Windows 10 editions. Key features to look for when evaluating available solutions include:

  • Asset Management – Preparation for migration begins with a deep understanding of enterprise resources and requirements, so a full inventory of the support stack is essential and should include both hardware assets (e.g., system model, CPU, memory, devices, peripherals, etc.) and software assets (e.g., applications, drivers, and system tools). This information will be used to establish a baseline for identifying issues that will need to be addressed during the migration, and it helps prioritize which system, service, and task deployment activities should be performed first.
  • Role-Based Management – User profiles identifying permissions and configurations are grouped based on the user’s job function (e.g., accountants, marketing reps, IT support staff, etc.). Ideally, these user roles are imported for an enterprise IT listing service, such as Active Directory or LDAP, to ensure consistency across the enterprise.
  • Centralized System Packaging – With this feature, all OS, application, driver, and patch elements are packaged (as either a bundled deployment or an image) in order to meet specific requirements for the endpoint. Additionally, any configuration requirements (such as usage preferences and security settings) should be automated and included in a deployment package.
  • Deployment Multicasting and Scheduling – Multicasting allows multiple systems to be migrated simultaneously. While it is fast, this approach may also saturate a network that is also used to support production services. With deployment scheduling, migrations can be initiated during low-use hours (e.g., evenings and weekends) or can be spread out to minimize impacts to the network.
  • Reboot Management – Some OS, application, driver, and patch installation processes require a system restart to complete. With reboot management, solutions can ensure implementations are automatically tracked and managed through each phase of the installation without requiring administrator interaction.
  • Migration Process Monitoring – With a broad number of deployments happening simultaneously, it’s easy to overlook critical installation and configuration failures. The quicker migration difficulties are identified, the faster they can be remediated, reducing the number of occurrences of similar problems on other endpoints in the migration schedule.

With the proper automated migration tools in place, transitioning to Windows 10 can be eagerly embraced, rather than dreaded. The new OS’s improved application availability and standardized user interface across all devices will only increase user productivity while simplifying IT management. With change, there is always apprehension. But if wielded correctly, strategically planned change can provide a competitive edge at a time when both markets and organizational requirements are rapidly changing.