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As we’ve been saying for a while, we continue hearing feedback from our customers that they are excited to test and deploy Windows 7. Baker Tilly, an accountancy firm in the UK, has taken this to the next level and has already completed deploying Windows 7 across their infrastructure. I chatted with Simon Harding-Rolls, Director of IT at Baker Tilly, to get more information on their Windows 7 deployment.
Rich Reynolds: What operating system was Baker Tilly using before their Windows 7 deployment?
Simon Harding-Rolls: Windows XP. This formed the basis of what we called "Standard Build 4" which was deployed to all desktops and laptops used throughout the firm.
We have a policy to standardise and commoditise the provision of IT as much as possible hence the imaginatively named "Standard Build."
Rich Reynolds: Why did Baker Tilly choose to deploy Windows 7?
Simon Harding-Rolls: We needed to change, feeling that there was little more business benefit we could squeeze out of XP. After evaluating the beta versions of Windows 7 we found it to be robust, compatible with the vast majority of our applications and delivering greater performance. This was the platform we needed for (an also imaginatively named) "Standard Build 5."
Rich Reynolds: How many seats of Windows 7 did you deploy?
Simon Harding-Rolls: We have deployed to 2,318 seats over some 30 sites.
Rich Reynolds: When did you complete your deployment?
Simon Harding-Rolls: Deployment was organised by site with the last being "hit" on 17th July.
Rich Reynolds: What version of Windows 7 are you running? Assuming you’re using Windows 7 RC, when will you upgrade to the final version of Windows 7?
Simon Harding-Rolls: We have based our "Standard Build 5" on the Enterprise Edition of Windows 7 and deployed using build number 7201. This contains a number of improvements on the standard RC and was released just in time for us to deploy - but only just! A little midnight oil was required to assimilate it into our build and complete our regression testing. We plan to deploy the final version of Windows 7 during November at the same time we are rolling out Windows Server 2008 R2.
Rich Reynolds: How long did it take you to deploy Windows 7?
Simon Harding-Rolls: We deployed the system to the first site on 22nd June, so the whole task took exactly four weeks. All the work was done outside of normal office hours so as to minimise the disruption to our users. About three hours of evening effort was required for a site of about 100 users.
Rich Reynolds: I believe Baker Tilly has a strong partnership with Dell; how did this partnership enhance your Windows 7 deployment experience?
Simon Harding-Rolls: Our relationship with Dell was absolutely crucial in that it gave us access to the technical resources and knowledge we needed to ensure the project's success.
Rich Reynolds: What steps did you take before deploying Windows 7? Any application compatibility testing? Did you have an IT Solutions provider help outline your deployment process?
Simon Harding-Rolls: Preparation started in February and involved detailed planning, prioritising which benefits we were attempting to realise for our users, developing test builds, deploying these to a selection of users representative of the different disciplines within the firm as well as our own formal testing. Application testing started early by completing the tests and developing regression test plans under Vista. These were then ported to the release candidate when it became available. We have a long tradition of "self sufficiency" and therefore did not employ an "IT Solutions Provider.”
Rich Reynolds: Did you use any tools to help deploy Windows 7 across your infrastructure?
Simon Harding-Rolls: CA's Unicenter, which we have used for many years.
Rich Reynolds: Did you encounter any issues with your Windows 7 deployment? How did you overcome them?
Simon Harding-Rolls: We didn't hit any significant issues during the deployment itself. This was almost entirely down to the amount of testing we had performed prior to pressing the "green button.” Prior to the deployment there were, as you would expect, a number of issues particularly with the early builds of Windows 7: functionality not behaving quite as expected and some application compatibility issues. The former were overcome with assistance from Dell and Microsoft and the latter issues have mostly been resolved in more recent builds of Windows 7. Where this has not proved possible in the time allowed, we have deployed Terminal Server based solutions as a temporary measure to cover a couple of apps whilst the suppliers are making their software fully compatible.
Rich Reynolds: What benefits are you expecting from Windows 7? Cost savings? Energy efficiencies?
Simon Harding-Rolls: While there will be cost and energy savings, these are not our prime drivers. Windows 7 delivers greater performance and flexibility to our users. That means they can do more, wherever and whenever is most appropriate to meet the needs of our clients.
Rich Reynolds: Have you seen any benefits from your Windows 7 deployment already?
Simon Harding-Rolls: Thus far we have received over 300 emails from users. Over 70% have mentioned improved performance. That's without any prompting!
Rich Reynolds: Are there specific features you expect may save your company money?
Simon Harding-Rolls: We will be deploying DirectAccess, BitLocker and BranchCache later this year. Again, rather than pure cost saving, we will be looking to maximise the performance and flexibility of the system for our users enabling them to be more responsive to our clients' needs.
Rich Reynolds: What is your favourite Windows 7 feature?
Simon Harding-Rolls: As a partner: more productive members of staff. As Director of IT: a system that is manageable. As a user: I just love the uncluttered task bar!
Rich Reynolds: Are you using Windows Server 2008 or planning to migrate to Windows Server 2008 R2?
Simon Harding-Rolls: We are currently using both 2008 and 2008 R2 for specific production tasks. We plan to standardise our estate on R2 with the migration projects currently in development / testing with deployment planned for November.
Rich Reynolds: Are you using Internet Explorer 8?
Simon Harding-Rolls: Yes - and the users love it, both for its speed and tabbed browsing.
Rich Reynolds: What advice would you give to another corporation looking to move to Windows 7?
Simon Harding-Rolls: I'd love to say "go for it,” but every corporation's needs will be different as will their resources. For us, having seen the results of our initial evaluation, the decision was a no-brainer. In our case, programme and project risk was identified as coming from the scale of the enterprise and NOT from the fact that we were deploying new or "bleeding edge" technology. If you do "go for it,” at the risk of stating the obvious: plan, develop, test, test again and DON’T take steps that are too big – it’s just like climbing Everest really!
Rich Reynolds: Thanks for your time, Simon!
To the other Windows 7 early adopters out there: leave a comment and let us know how you’re deployment is going. We love hearing from you and would be happy to share your story.
Two Windows 7 deployments in order to delay deploying the new features? I'm chomping at the bit to roll out 7 too but doesn't that seem excessive?
Sorry to rain on the parade. I assume there was some additional incentives offered. Fair disclosure?
Great interview! Would love to see more real-world, in-the-trenches examples of Windows 7 deployment. Same goes for Vista deployment, as many enterprises may yet go that route before moving to 7.