Virtualization is your ticket to a smooth ride on the Windows 7 OS-migration train. If you know the virtual route, fewer things will break, conflicts will disappear and time will remain an asset rather than an enemy.
Of course, traditional methods may also get you to your destination — but you’ll find they soon cumulate in a dead-end.
“Know this: Going forward, you will find that the virtualized client and sandboxed apps will become a pillar in future design and deployment scenarios,” says J. Peter Bruzzese, exchange instructor at Train Signal, a global company specializing in professional computer training. “Getting a head start on the concepts and solutions now will benefit you in future releases.”
Nuts, Bolts and Virtual Screws
This is a new approach with a learning curve; a basic schematic of sorts is in order. “Let’s face it: The majority have never even considered a virtualized deployment of an OS before Windows 7,” says Bruzzese. “The technology is still new and still developing.”
“Virtualization technologies decouple hardware from operating systems, operating systems from applications, and applications from one another,” explains Ryan McCune, director of Workplace Infrastructure Solutions (and resident Windows 7 expert) at Avanade.
Desktops traditionally have been monolithic with a tightly coupled architecture, McCune says. By decoupling these components, organizations can reduce dependencies and migration cost and complexity. “These technologies make it easier, less costly, and less risky to migrate to Windows 7,” he says. “In addition, proper implementation ensures that subsequent migrations become a business-as-usual activity as opposed to a costly and painful ‘event.’”
Tools, Toolkits, and Virtual-in-a-Box
Fortunately, most, if not all, of the tools you will need to use virtualization in the deployment process are already included in Windows 7.
“Microsoft has provided a variety of different tools to help, like MAP 4.0, the Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.5 which includes the Standard User Analyzer; the Automated Installation Kit which includes the USMT; the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010; and a host of other tools. They assist in migrating user personalities over to Windows 7, deploying clean installs of Windows 7, upgrading existing scenarios, including apps, to Windows 7,” explains Bruzzese. “For every possible mixture you can imagine, they have a tool to assist you in your deployment.”
To help you get the most from these tools, Mike Karp, founder and principal analyst at Infrastructure Analytics, offers these insights:
The Nitty-Gritty Scuff on Boots
There are several advantages to sandboxing applications through a virtualization solution that can directly integrate with the operating system itself:
- It’s invisible to the user. Aside from the lack of the aero opacity effect, the user has no indication that any given app is running virtually. Sandboxed apps can be added to the Start Menu and opened easily, thereby greatly easing the learning curve for users.
- Incompatibility issues can be avoided. “Virtualized apps will run… something they may not do — or may not do smoothly — directly on Windows 7,” Bruzzese says. “Why worry about the issue of compatibility for an XP app if that issue can be removed completely from the picture.”Annette Dow, chief executive officer of Binary Research International, concurs: “A sandbox is generally used for testing or isolation — provided an application works under XP, then it will continue to work under Windows 7 in the XP mode —where the XP mode is a virtual machine running on Windows 7.”“This means large enterprises could ignore application incompatibilities if they have to – e.g. if they have no time to figure out why something won’t work under Windows 7 — yet still continue with a Windows 7 deployment project,” explains Dow.
- Additional cost control. You can control costs by sidestepping upgrade costs from third parties. “The ability to sandbox the application and not pay a dime in upgrading is a tremendous cost savings for larger enterprises,” Bruzzese explains.
Thinking Outside the Sandbox
However, there is more to leveraging Windows 7 virtualization than simply sandboxing.
“The ability to supply a file as a virtual hard drive could possibly remove the need to image systems, or provide a way to have a dual boot system with a virtual hard drive file containing the Windows 7 install,” Dow explains.
Indeed, the use of virtual hard drives opens many new avenues.
“Microsoft offers some mild virtual desktop solutions that incorporate the use of a virtualized system, through a
vhd file, where you can boot the
vhd directly,” says Bruzzese.
Essentially, the machine physically boots and uses the single vhd file with the system and apps included within. “The only dilemma is the lack of management tools for larger enterprises to use with this solution,” says Bruzzese.
There is also the concept of VDI virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) which goes beyond a terminal service thin-client connection. With VDI, the Windows 7 system is hosted on a server data center. “The users get the same experience of working with Windows 7 on their desktop but they will have a remote connection to their virtual desktop in reality,” explains Bruzzese. “You can have this hosted in-house or go with a hosted virtual desktop (HVD) service provider.”
How Virtualization Eases Windows 7 Deployment in Large Enterprises
While the schematic and planning discussions are interesting, there’s still the matter of the real-life play. What does using virtualization to deploy Windows 7 actually mean in practice?
“Windows 7 is the right time to buck the one-size-fits all traditional approach and align platforms such as presentation virtualization (remote terminals) and virtual desktop infrastructure (hosted, dedicated virtual desktops) to worker segments which can best utilize the TCO-cutting capabilities and new flexibility that virtualization enables,” explains McCune.
Specifically, these two advantages spring to the forefront, he says:
- Power users such as developers and engineers can provision additional processor and memory capacity as their job requires it from a shared pool without upgrading their desktops. Compare this to situations where these workers maintain multiple desktops and frequently refresh them.
- Task-based workers can access their hosted virtual desktop from a multitude of devices and locations. If any device breaks, their productivity is unaffected; the user signs into a different device and is back up and running.
Fall Back Position
Perhaps the biggest advantage to using virtualization with Windows 7, however, is the safeguard found in a newly formed back-up system.
“In the past, folks that didn’t plan properly for an upgrade still had some measure of functionality to fall back on. Not so here if you are moving from Windows XP to Windows 7,” says Mark Kadrich, chief executive officer of The Security Consortium. “Organizations are going to have to plan very carefully to ensure that critical applications have some form of fall-back solution.”
He expects software compatibility issues, a la Vista-related whining about drivers, and hardware compatibility issues that will force organizations into buying more hardware. “We’re recommending to our customers that they set up a few big servers, create [virtual machines] of their critical systems, and archive them on those servers,” says Kadrich. “In a disaster management scenario, they can fall back on the VMs and still get some work done.”
“We’re also recommending that our customers try to locate the oldest system they have and see what problems they run into during the upgrade,” he added. “This will give them a lowest common denominator for the baseline hardware that they will need before they start.”
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