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10/1/2009
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Rolling Review: Windows 7 Deployment Tools

We put six software packages through their paces rolling out Windows 7.

The conventional wisdom is to never deploy a new operating system before the first service pack. But that thinking might be misguided with Windows 7, which is scheduled for release on Oct. 22.

First, Windows 7 shares much of Vista's core code base, and that code has been improved and enhanced during Vista's troubled tenure. This means the new OS will look and feel more like what Vista should have been from the get-go. Second, Microsoft is combating the "wait until SP1" notion by maintaining its position in regard to Windows XP, which has passed from mainstream support to the purgatory of extended support. What does that mean? You'll only get critical security-related updates for XP.

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Your first thought might be, "So what?" And depending on the complexity of your environment and the resources available, that may be an appropriate response. Deferring an upgrade for as long as possible will save cash in the short term and make your Windows XP ROI numbers look great. Companies with a significant number of Vista systems have a complicated decision process as well.

But consider the pitfalls of waiting. For Vista systems, the next service pack will largely dictate strategy. But how much driver support will you get on XP for new hardware devices, particularly as PC refresh cycles bring new machines into the organization? Then there's application support. Eventually, developers will stop ensuring the newest Web and on-premises apps work with XP.

Our take is that, for most IT shops, now is the time to plan XP's funeral. To that end, we're launching a Rolling Review of Windows 7 deployment and management software. We've built a lab with a wide variety of client machines distributed across four sites, all connected by MPLS T1 links. All back-end servers and systems will reside on the corporate network at the hub, with clients evenly distributed among spoke sites connected across a WAN.

Our review will focus on a standard OS deployment, meaning we won't look at rolling out Windows 7 in a virtual desktop environment.

The goal of this Rolling Review is simple: Simulate how easy, or painful, it will be to upgrade client systems to Windows 7 in a distributed environment. Each deployment software product will handle a multitude of deployment scenarios, including the ability to preserve existing user profiles as efficiently as possible and retrofit them to a Windows 7 master image. We'll test the range of features offered for packaging and deploying Window 7 itself. We'll look at post-installation client management features, remote administration, reporting, deployment of the management system itself, and, of course, pricing. We've invited a diverse slate of vendors, both leaders and emerging players:

Rolling Review
WINDOWS 7 DEPLOYMENT
The invitation
We're reviewing client management software packages to discover how they handle a Windows 7 upgrade.
The vendors
Novell ZenWorks, Symantec Altiris, Avocent LANDesk, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, Kace KBOX, Acronis
The test bed
Our lab simulates a business comprising four geographically distributed sites. We'll deploy Win 7 over the LAN, the WAN, and via removable media. We'll test how well user apps and data transition to Windows 7, and what the admin experience is like. We'll also uncover how well each suite can manage the client desktop environment, including remote management, reporting, and software distribution.
Acronis
Though Acronis' deployment tool is designed only for enterprise imaging, migration, and bare-metal restoration, without additional client management features, that's all some organizations will need for their Windows 7 upgrades. We'll test how the product's deployment capabilities stack up against more full-featured rivals.

Avocent LANDesk
As with most vendors in our Rolling Review, LANDesk offers a software suite that accounts for the entire systems management life cycle, including OS imaging and migration, software distribution, remote management, software licensing compliance, and reporting.

Kace KBOX
Founded in 2003, Kace is an innovator in the client management market and is emerging as a real competitor to established players. The company offers both low-end and high-end KBOX appliances. We'll test the high-end version, which includes inventory, control, software distribution, reporting, OS imaging and deployment, user state migration, and system recovery.

Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager
Our review wouldn't be complete without Microsoft's own System Center Configuration Manager. In our review of SCCM, we'll also touch briefly on the Windows Deployment Toolkit, a free set of utilities for migration and upgrades that comes with Windows 7.

Novell ZenWorks
Novell has developed one of the most robust and heterogeneous offerings of any vendor. On the client management side, ZenWorks is compatible with an array of Windows operating systems, from Windows 2000 on up. ZenWorks lately has lost some market share to LANDesk and Altiris, but Novell is still an active player.

Symantec Altiris
Acquired by Symantec in 2007, Altiris is broken up into several product lines. We plan to test the Client Management Suite and the Deployment Suite. If we find a strategic and important feature contained within another suite, we'll test it as needed.

chart: Impact Assessment Windows 7 Deployment and Managament Suites
(click image for larger view)

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