Tackling An SP2 Upgrade: How One Company Is Doing It - InformationWeek

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4/6/2005
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Tackling An SP2 Upgrade: How One Company Is Doing It

Consumer-electronics retailer Crutchfield, hoping for improved PC security, is halfway through a Windows XP SP2 migration.

Consumer-electronics retailer Crutchfield Corp. is halfway though what's expected to be a seven-month-long upgrade to Windows XP Service Pack 2. The migration is intended to combat spyware and increase PC security, while simplifying certain tasks for the company's busy systems administrators.

With more than $200 million in sales last year, Crutchfield sells audio and video equipment in retail stores, on its Web site, and through catalog orders that come into its customer-contact center. Based in Charlottesville, Va., the company has about 560 Windows-based PCs spread among five Virginia locations. "The big driving reasons [behind an SP2 rollout] were the security of it," says Steve Weiskircher, director of IT and acting CIO.

Crutchfield uses approximately 350 different applications across its business, with internally developed software doing the heavy lifting: order entry and processing, warehouse management, inventory, and general ledger, for example. The challenge for the company's 18-person software-development team was to test all of those applications for Windows XP SP2 compatibility before deploying the operating system in order to avoid lost functionality or broken applications. "We didn't have an enormous lot of time to devote to SP2 testing," Weiskircher says.

To expedite testing, Crutchfield is using Identify Software Ltd.'s AppSight Black Box technology, which creates a log during application testing to help developers identify and address incompatibilities. In its first month of testing about 30 applications used in the company's customer-contact center, IT staffers identified about a dozen problems, most involving registry or file connections that no longer worked with SP2.

"Our development staff was able to make very quick changes to our code to become SP2 compatible and run without incident, or provide feedback to [independent software vendors] to make modifications as required," Weiskircher says.

Crutchfield tackled its largest department first, the 250-PC call center. Application testing took place in December, and then, after a six-week hiatus, the PCs' hard drives were wiped clean and "reimaged" with Windows XP SP2 and the applications used by call-center workers. The call-center upgrade was completed two weeks ago.

Weiskircher and colleagues are turning their attention now to the 300 or so remaining PCs. The company's warehouse-distribution applications are being testing now, with SP2 deployment planned for warehouse PCs within the next week or so. Beginning last December and scheduled for midyear completion, the entire SP2 project will take about seven months, Weiskircher estimates.

That time line puts Crutchfield ahead of many other businesses when it comes to deploying SP2, which Microsoft touts as its most-secure operating system. A study released earlier this week by AssetMetrix found SP2 had been deployed on only about 9% of PCs at the companies surveyed, and Microsoft calls that "in line" with its own expectations.

Why go through the effort at all? A primary goal is to rid the company's call-center PCs of spyware, which has become a problem as employees visit other Web sites during the course of customer calls. Crutchfield is also using SP2's firewall as a way of providing desktop defense if worms or other malicious software were to get through its network perimeter of Cisco Systems firewalls. Weiskircher calls it a "defense-in-depth" approach.

The upgrade should also make things easier for Crutchfield's small IT support team. Instead of deploying patches to a variety of Windows versions, IT support personnel will be able to focus on just one release, SP2. Says Weiskircher, "Patchwise, it's considered a big win for our administrators."

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