Deploying a new operating system across a company is a bit like conducting an orchestra: You need the proper instruments in place, and your timing and execution must be right to evoke harmony. Get it wrong and all you get is noise. So for all those would-be maestros of Windows 7, now is the time to take a close look at OS deployment software, which we've tested in our Rolling Review.
Our review focuses on fat client deployment, so we tested products that provide the deployment, migration, and post-deployment management tools necessary to accomplish the task. The jump to Windows 7 from Windows XP, which is what most companies are contemplating, is a rip-and-replace upgrade, so user state migration was a key feature we examined.
We tested products from Acronis, Kace, Microsoft, and Avocent. We invited Symantec/Altiris, and while the company was willing to participate, its product was still in a pre-beta version for Windows 7 deployment and unable to meet our deadline for this Rolling Review. We also invited Novell for its ZenWorks product, but our publishing schedule didn't allow enough time to get the software into our labs.
We also tested XP7, a product from a company called Zinstall. Instead of migrating user applications, files, and preferences from XP to Windows 7, Zinstall installs Windows 7 while also preserving XP on the same machine. Users can toggle between XP and Windows 7. The software works well and is useful for organizations that aren't ready to let go of XP, but it doesn't meet our definition of a full-fledged migration and management product, so we didn't include it in this wrap-up.
Acronis Snap Deploy 3.0 provides a quick option for Windows 7 deployment. Installation was easy because all the server components came packaged in a small executable. Snap Deploy includes a PXE server with a Linux bootloader and Universal IP packet driver, which made it simple to get clients to the pre-boot environment over the network. Within the pre-boot environment, you can connect to the OS deployment server for image cloning and multicasting operations. Acronis offers some functionality to inject hardware drivers into the image, so Snap Deploy met one of our requirements for being able to deploy a single master image to multiple flavors of client hardware. On the whole, Snap Deploy is a good imaging tool, but desktop administrators will have to rope in several other tools to orchestrate the entire upgrade process, and the product offers no client management capabilities. As a result, Snap Deploy is only suitable for the smallest and simplest of deployment scenarios.
Kace KBOX is a series of appliances instead of software. Kace, which is being acquired by Dell, offers KBOX 1000 for client management and KBOX 2000 for OS deployment. You can use each appliance independently or link them together. Of all the deployment products we tested, KBOX 2000 was easiest to get up and running because the appliance takes all of the guesswork out of implementing the product.
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