In recent months, it has become increasingly clear that a shift to Microsoft Vista, by many measures, compares to the complexity of the early 90’s mass transition from MS-DOS to Microsoft Windows. And while organizations assessing their timeframes for OS migrations correctly factor budgets, hardware capabilities, and IT resource availability into their decisions, many IT professionals preparing for this upgrade are overlooking a vital consideration that is especially relevant in the case of Vista: Will the software that is the lifeblood of the business still run after the transition is made?
There are many tools available to help IT professionals evaluate the enterprise’s hardware and software readiness. They are generally known as IT asset management (ITAM) tools, which, in addition to other capabilities, provide a snapshot of the installed assets on each desktop, as well as a general picture of overall migration readiness. With this information, IT professionals can begin to evaluate the potential impact and realistic timeframe of a Vista transition.
Prior to spending a single dollar on any software upgrade—particularly for a new operating system—an ITAM tool should be deployed to inventory every PC and server within an organization. Such tools generate reports on key indicators such as available memory and processor speeds, often providing a comparison against a baseline of specified recommended or minimum requirements.
When aggregated, this information can help IT professionals make a reliable estimate of how much investment is needed to prepare computers for the migration. If the investment is greater than the expected ROI of the upgrade, it may be best to save the money and wait until a more strategic opportunity arises to upgrade both the hardware and operating system at the same time.
However, to focus on IT hardware exclusively would be losing sight of the larger picture. A second benefit of ITAM relates to obtaining a clearer picture of the software environment. IT asset management tools can inventory every computer in a network and report what software and version is on each computer – which then provides an IT manager the information needed to begin checking for Vista compatibility.
Knowing which applications need to be upgraded in order to achieve compatibility will help IT managers to plan their timelines and budgets accordingly. Microsoft offers a few tools meant to help IT administrators cross-reference their applications with compatibility data; however its database of applications is currently very limited and therefore does not present the entire picture.
In an age where businesses are increasingly reliant on specialized software that is critical to their operations and revenue streams, downtime during an operating system upgrade could lead to a significant loss of productive output. In fact, less than 30 percent of all enterprises with 5,000 or more employees have a formal IT asset management process, meaning these companies will likely experience immense challenges during the Vista migration process.
As with any major OS migration, thorough testing of all mission-critical applications is highly recommended; if this is not possible, organizations should strongly consider delaying until software vendors have certified the compatibility of their software. The testing process, at a minimum, should include the following: 1) Utilize an ITAM tool to inventory all software deployed across the organization, 2) Categorize each application as critical or non-critical to business or operations, and 3) Test all critical applications for Vista compatibility.
In summary, IT professionals should look beyond hardware requirements for a successful upgrade, and seek to establish an equally clear picture of software readiness. This will allow for reasonable planning and preparedness not only for Vista, but for any technology migration. The assessment can be accomplished by deploying ITAM tools to physically inventory the hardware capabilities of each computer, identifying all the software applications and version numbers, and cross-referencing this data with published Vista compatibility information from Microsoft and software vendors.
At a minimum, this close examination could warn against rushing into an upgrade in favor of holding off until the time is right to simultaneously make investments in hardware and software upgrades. Or, in a scenario where the migration is imminent, the evaluation will go a long way toward preserving the operational capacity of the business during the migration, not to mention the IT staff’s sanity.