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Preparing for a major OS release

It’s an event which comes only once every four years or so, one which can easily throw off businesses and individuals alike. It’s something we expect but don’t always fully anticipate – a special occasion but also a real headache.

I’m not talking about leap years, of course, even if Chris Conley and Bob Speller enjoy such erratic birthdays. I’m talking about the release of a new version of a major operating system… which in IT today essentially means Windows. Today, I’m going to share some of Epicentre’s experience in preparing for the introduction of unpopular, awkward Windows Vista and its charismatic younger brother, Windows 7.

Writing an awkward intro to a blog post is easy: planning and preparing for the rollout of a new operating system is not. There are a substantial number of factors that must be borne in mind before you can even begin to prepare. Fortunately, at Epicentre we’ve had a lot of opportunity to practice this process, and over the years have gotten it as smooth as it’s possible to be…

The first thing to do is to get a confirmed set of hardware requirements for the new OS, both minimum and recommended. You’ll want instances of the new OS that sit on the baseline hardware as well as some that soar above it and can take full advantage of flashy features such as Aero, widgets, thumbnail tabbing etcetera. For the release of Windows Vista, with its significantly boosted minimum requirements, we purchased a large number of new machines. For Windows 7, with its requirements that matched or were just below Vista, our outlay on updated hardware was smaller.

The next thing to bear in mind is licensing. Typically, businesses can purchase a Volume License from Microsoft which allows them to use any number of instances of an OS up to a pre-determined cap. However, this type of license only applies to certain ‘flavours’ of Vista and Windows 7 – Business/Professional and Enterprise. For the versions aimed at home users, licenses must be purchased individually for each copy of the OS. These costs can very rapidly mount up, so it’s important to carefully plan out how you can cover as many requirements with as few licenses as possible.

This ties in closely to selecting which OS language version you’ll need. For many businesses this isn’t a concern – purchase what you need in your native tongue, and you’re away! But Epicentre has always offered OS’s in a bewildering array of languages from Basque and Brazilian Portuguese to Ukrainian and Urdu. It’s important to plan out not only which versions you’ll acquire but also in which language.

On top of that, it’s important to have up-to-date market research (for example, concerning which operating systems BECTA is recommending that UK schools upgrade to) as well as discussing future requirements with clients (primarily, this means target markets and what they know about future trends within them).

The final consideration rests upon the way in which Epicentre is able to offer such a wide variety of operating systems and language versions. We use a clever tool known as Ghost to create and store ‘images’ of installed OS’s on a number of servers. These images can be retrieved and re-applied to their source machine in a matter of minutes. However, it’s still necessary to plan where you’re going to install your chosen OS’s. There’s no point placing a dozen copies of Vista in obscure and rarely-required languages on one machine and a dozen copies of Windows 7 in oft-requested Spanish and Italian on another.

Of course, every new operating system brings with it unique surprises and challenges. But by bearing in mind the core considerations I’ve outlined above it’s possible to avoid the most painful pitfalls and ensure your new range of OS’s is up and running in a minimal amount of time.

This blog first appeared on the LINE website on May 21st 2010