How to Successfully Migrate to Windows 7

By Christine Ewing  |  Posted 2011-03-04

How to Successfully Migrate to Windows 7

Most IT professionals are familiar with the issues and frustrations that can come up during an operating system migration. Machines need to be inventoried, hardware requirements need to be checked, and applications need to be reinstalled-not to mention the planning, pilot tests and actual upgrade itself. With that many moving parts and tasks to be accomplished, it is easy to run into problems that lengthen the process and may even slow down productivity. This is especially so if the migration causes a longer amount of downtime than anticipated.

As with any task though, we can learn from the past experiences of others. If a company is looking to migrate its systems to a new operating system-Windows 7, for example-some tips and tricks from other businesses who have already done so may come in handy. Why should an IT department reinvent the wheel if they can learn from others' insights and mistakes? Finding out about helpful tools and potential problems could save that company a good amount of time and money.

A recent survey collected many of those tips and experiences by surveying 1,360 businesses that have already migrated to Windows 7, providing an information source for those still considering the upgrade. Into what road bumps did these companies run? How many of them automated the process? Which factors led to an efficient and smooth migration? The results were interesting and identified some important points for organizations looking to migrate.



The survey respondents came from 16 different countries worldwide and had anywhere from five to 10,000 employees. They were asked how long a company should wait before upgrading to a brand new operating system? To avoid the issues and bugs that often come to the first users of an operating system, most of these IT professionals recommended waiting six months to one year after the release to migrate. Only eight percent of the respondents immediately migrated to Windows 7. There are a number of ways to determine the best time to migrate.

"We usually wait a significant amount of time for things to stabilize," said one respondent, an IT director at a midsize enterprise. "Sometimes that's a service pack, sometimes it's a significant number of patches, and sometimes it's the industry-when other companies of large scale migrate."

Actually, very few respondents said that they would wait for a particular service pack before making the upgrade. Specific motivations for these companies' migrations varied from increased performance and reliability to user experience and better security. Plus, their return on investment was significant: 62 percent set ROI goals and 90 percent of those achieved their ROI goals.

The same IT director said, "We felt that the cost to migrate to Windows 7 was a bit steep, but if you look at the TCO, it's actually a great investment. Even though it cost our company a lot of money to make the migration, it was well worth the investment. It was much better than anything we had seen from Vista or XP."



An important factor in determining the cost of a migration has to do with resources: the percentage of IT staff involved, whether it is worth it to purchase an automation solution and what parts of the upgrade process will take the most time.

Survey respondents indicated that approximately half of their IT staff was needed in the migration process and 54 percent used automation to simplify the upgrade. Many of the IT professionals surveyed felt that investment in an automation solution was justified for any company with 10 or more PCs.

"We picked a smaller department and used them as guinea pigs until we got all the kinks out," said an IT manager for a midsize consulting company. "At that point, we knew where we stood and could automate the rest."

As expected, the typical migration to Windows 7 takes a good amount of time from a company's IT staff. On average, 17 percent of the upgrade process was spent in the planning stage. The actual execution took 12 percent of their time. Reinstalling applications and inventorying existing machines consumed 10 percent each, while nine percent of the process was taken by pilot tests. Other tasks that took close to that amount of time were capturing user settings, user training, writing and testing scripts, and troubleshooting.



A key factor for a smooth migration is preparation. Survey respondents indicated that their IT professionals typically spent 10 hours preparing for the switch to Windows 7. Plus, 85 percent stated that it was somewhat to extremely important to capture data-user files and documents, specifically-before the migration. More than 80 percent said that links to network drives and e-mail were also important to capture. Many also recommended including information such as office settings, user profiles and contacts.

The hardware requirements for a Windows 7 upgrade were another significant consideration identified in the survey. The decision of whether to upgrade to new PCs or install the operating system on their current machines was impacted by factors such as RAM capacity (75 percent), processor speed (74 percent), the age of the older PC (73 percent) and budget (71 percent). Plus, 52 percent of respondents used the Windows Experience Index to determine whether their processors were suitable for Windows 7, while 51 percent used processor speed in GHz and 42 percent used analyst reports.

Other specific recommendations were made with regard to processor speed (2.5 to 3GHz), storage (500GB to 1TB) and video RAM (VRAM) (1GB or more).

An IT manager of a midsize enterprise stated, "For each upgrade, we have a minimum of at least two gigs of RAM. For some of the higher-end systems, we need a lot more processing of RAM because we're multitasking or running MySQL and running some proprietary code software on the back system."

In North America specifically, IT professionals used CPUID, analyst reports and published reviews most often.



Any company looking to migrate to Windows 7 wants the migration to be successful-while minimizing costs, making the process as easy as possible and reducing the amount of work that needs to be done after the upgrade. Survey respondents recommended some steps to help achieve a successful migration. Planning, training and pilot tests were three that were most mentioned.

"The only advice I could give is to have users go through a tutorial," one IT director of a small communications business stated. "Once they've learned the system and are up to speed, they're going to be extremely pleased. They'll overcome their initial concern very quickly."

With regard to pilot testing, another IT director (this time of a midsize Aerospace enterprise) recommended, "Before migrating, everyone should test their applications and do as much pretesting and application testing as you possibly can. After you successfully test those applications, do a small pilot. Do a small rollout to make sure that there isn't something you missed."

Many survey respondents indicated that they used the operating system migration to implement or upgrade technologies such as standardization, virtual desktop interface (VDI) and security:

"Upgrading security was the first thing we decided to do because we had issues in the past," said one IT manager. "This time we figured we'd nip it in the bud since we're moving to Windows 7. Then, we just carried that through for all our migrations."

Another issue faced by companies as they upgrade their operating system is incompatible applications. It was found that 71 percent of survey respondents simply replaced those applications and 69 percent found it effective to use application virtualization or other solutions.



Overall, companies had a good experience with their migration to Windows 7. The survey found that 78 percent of the respondents said their upgrade was somewhat or extremely smooth. Only 11 percent of them said it was more difficult than their most recent Windows migrations-and 63 percent said it was easier.

Other positive outcomes included increased performance (80 percent), better user experience (76 percent), increased reliability (75 percent) and increased security (80 percent).

Most of the IT professionals surveyed said that they achieved their key motivations for the upgrade. Delays occurred, of course, and most were caused by issues around application compatibility, hardware compatibility and budget constraints. But in terms of user experience, more than half of survey respondents said they were somewhat or extremely satisfied during the migration phase (as well as during and after the learning phase).

Best Practices

Best practices

So, what best practices can organizations take away from the survey results? Preparation time was an important indicator of whether the migration went smoothly and efficiently. Companies whose IT managers spent an average of nine hours preparing for the migration faced six hours of offline time for their users-and only 25 percent of their users were extremely satisfied. In contrast, companies with IT managers who spent an average of 20 hours preparing faced only two hours of offline time-and 60 percent of their users were extremely satisfied.

By spending the appropriate amount of time planning before a migration and learning from the comments made by companies who have already been there, organizations can greatly increase their chances of having an efficient and successful upgrade to Windows 7.

Christine Ewing is Director of Product Marketing for the Endpoint Management group at Symantec. Christine has more than 12 years of experience in IT software product management and marketing. In her role at Symantec, Christine is responsible for identifying and analyzing market trends and working with the product management team to create market-driven products.

In addition to being a seasoned product marketing manager, Christine has held a number of product management roles inside of Symantec, where she delivered new technologies to the market and managed existing endpoint management products. Prior to her current role in marketing, Christine was a senior product manager for the Endpoint Management group at Symantec and at Altiris (before it was acquired by Symantec in 2007).

Before joining Symantec/Altiris, Christine held positions at Compaq and Thermo Electron, working in various roles of engineering, product management and marketing. Christine holds a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry and History from Northwestern University. She can be reached at

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