Microsoft Invests Heavily in Swift Vista Deployment

The software giant has invested at least $40 million in making Windows Vista deployments faster, simpler and cheaper with the new System Center Configuration Manager 2007.

REDMOND, Wash.—An important distinction between the Windows Vista rollout and previous Microsoft operating system upgrades is the amount of effort Microsoft has put into reducing both the cost and time to deployment for Vista.

When Vista launches later this month, there will be at least $40 to $50 million worth of investment in making Vista deployments faster, simpler and cheaper with the new System Center Configuration Manager 2007 (SMS V 4), according to Brad Anderson, general manager of the Windows and Enterprise Management Division in Redmond, Wash.

"The version [of SMS] coming out next year has four times the investment in it—half of it in operating system deployment," he said.

Key to the new System Center Configuration Manager 2007, due to ship next in the summer of 2007, is a new task sequencer, which coordinates tasks in the process of upgrading a desktop from Windows 2000 or Windows XP to Vista. Windows NT 4 and Windows 9X versions are not supported.

"SMS drove requirements from the enterprise into Windows utilities and we used the task sequencer to build end-to-end [deployment] scenarios that can be customized. It leverages the investment and technologies that ship with Windows," said Anderson.

The task sequencer steps users through the deployment process, from verifying that a PC is ready for Vista, to capturing user settings from the existing operating system, repartitioning the hard drive, installing Vista, ensuring all required drivers are in place, deploying required applications and restoring the user state.

Task sequencer brings a new level of automation to those steps, including rebooting, and allows users to execute the steps remotely over a network. Each machine performs its own upgrade and then reports back to a central SCCM server, according to Michael Kelley, lead program manager for SCCM.

A task sequence is sent to each of the machines being upgraded, and the machine executes the sequence. As each step is completed, the software sends a status message back to the SCCM server to allow the IT administrator to view the progress, Kelley explained.

The task sequencer exploits a number of Microsoft utilities that have been upgraded to integrate with SCCM to create an end-to-end upgrade process. Those include the Windows Imaging Manifest, User State Migration Tool, Windows Preboot Environment, PXE Server and Sysprep System Preparation utility.

"The tasks call the utilities and tools that ship with Vista, which allows us to create that set of tasks for end-to-end deployment, not just go re-image the PC," said Anderson.

One customer Microsoft worked with in its Technology Adoption Program documented that its upgrade to Windows 2000 cost $1500 per PC.

With SCCM, that customer now estimates "their deployment costs will go down 90 percent to upgrade to Vista," he said, adding that they can deploy Vista to 100,000 PCs around the world for less than $30 per PC.

"Its clear there will be some pretty significant savings going on. They put a lot of money, time and effort into developing the entire product family to work within itself," said Fred Broussard, research manager at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Anderson estimates that with SCCM users will be able to upgrade thousands of PCs per day to Vista, depending on how distributed the company is and how many road warriors it has.

But because the new SCCM 2007 is not due to be generally available until July, Microsoft took the innovations it created for it and released it to the existing base of SMS 2003 users.

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To further streamline Vista deployments Microsoft also worked to reduce the number of images required.

Managing image files for larger enterprises is a costly exercise. Some organizations have to maintain hundreds of images, partly because Windows XP requires different images for different device drivers.

To reduce the number of images that must be maintained, Microsoft separated drivers from the images by creating a catalog of different drivers and having the machines scanned for the drivers they require. Only those drivers are installed, creating a "much more precise targeting method," Kelley said.

With the new SCCM 2007 Microsoft also simplified configuration and administration of the tool itself, enabled desktops in a branch to act as the distribution point from with images and applications are deployed, rather than requiring a server, and allowed SCCM servers to be connected directly to the Internet without requiring a VPN.

SCCM 2007 will also allow enterprises to track configuration changes to servers such as Exchange to see when a desired configuration state has changed.

"We can scan systems to see if there is a deviation from that and report back what has drifted from the desired configuration," Anderson said.

SCCM 2007 also integrates with Longhorns Network Access Protection.

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