Windows 7 ushers in a new era of security and reliability

21 Oct 2009

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Ireland’s Microsoft partner community is ready for the rollout of a new operating system – Windows 7, on 22 October.

IT is a little-known fact that companies in the Microsoft ecosystem in Ireland employ 41,000 people; IT-using organisations employ another 17,000 IT professionals who work with Microsoft software or the products and services based on it.

For every unit of local revenue that Microsoft will earn in 2009, other companies will earn an average of €8.70.

In 2009, the companies in the Microsoft ecosystem across the globe will generate more than US$535bn in revenues for themselves. These revenues, IDC insists, will remain in local economies.

New platform

These companies no doubt are eagerly awaiting the onset of Windows 7, Microsoft’s newest operating system, which will provide a new platform on which they can peg growth in the form of new services and future generations of Microsoft technology such as SharePoint, Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) offering, to name but a few.

“We have been engaging with our key solution partners over the past six months on Windows 7, providing training and supporting their early adoption customers,” commented Ronald Dockery, client manager, Microsoft Ireland.

“The partner experience and feedback has been incredible. We’ve been working closely with our partners to launch Windows 7 to their customers and the process has been seamless. We have provided them with our simple infrastructure assessment and deployment tools which gives them a simple out-of-the-box solution to deploy Windows 7 at their customer sites,” Dockery added.

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Early deployment

One of these partners Novosco, a Microsoft Gold Certified partner has used its early deployment of Windows 7 as an integral part of its bid for an ISO compliance qualification.

In December 2008, soon after the ISO auditor finished reviewing the internal processes and systems at Novosco, the beta version of the Windows 7 operating system became available. “The timing couldn’t have been more perfect,” says Colin Rainey, technical manager at Novosco. “We knew immediately the benefits of implementing Windows 7 to aid us in achieving ISO compliance.”

For its initial rollout, Novosco let its technically-savvy employees rebuild their own computers and manually install Windows 7. The company did not run any formal application compatibility because the company has a lean application footprint, including primarily Microsoft products such as the 2007 Microsoft Office system and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Windows 7 applications are also compatible on Windows Vista. The company found one low-level compatibility issue with Citrix Password Manager, but is working with Citrix to deploy a software update.

Security and control

For enhanced security and greater control of hard drives and removable media, and to meet ISO compliance requirements for encryption, the company implemented BitLocker To Go. It is also taking advantage of the Problem Steps Recorder to help IT support staff troubleshoot system issues for an even faster response time. Problem Steps Recorder is a feature in Windows 7 that records the steps users completed leading up to an error message or other IT support steps by documenting mouse clicks and key strokes.

The company has already installed Windows 7 on 35 of its 70 computers. It will continue the deployment with the next release candidate. Although Novosco performed manual, clean installations of the operating system for its initial deployment, it is evaluating deployment automation tools for Windows 7, including Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2008 and Microsoft System Center technologies. 

Seeing the benefits

As a result of deploying Windows 7, Novosco has high security procedures, which has aided ISO compliance and has improved support response times to an even higher standard. The company also enjoys a significant improvement in general system performance.

Achieved compliance with security enhancement: With BitLocker To Go, the company can extend its data security beyond the hard disk drive to external drives. As a result of implementing BitLocker To Go, Novosco achieved ISO compliance easily at the end of January 2009—just one month after its initial ISO audit. “The ISO auditor was very impressed with the security provisions in place using Windows 7,” explains Rainey. “We’re now ISO-compliant, which is key to winning more business from the public sector.”

Increased expediency for IT support calls: Novosco is taking advantage of the Problem Steps Recorder to help troubleshoot system issues. “When a user calls support with an issue, much of the troubleshooting time is devoted to users trying to explain the problem. Now, with the Problem Steps Recorder, support staff can quickly see the exact steps that resulted in the error and resolve the issue. It’s simple, but brilliant, and complements our customer service orientation,” says Rainey.

System performance

Improved system performance: When internal users experienced performance issues in the past, they would often call the help desk, resulting in internal support time.  With Windows 7, however, Novosco users have experienced improved system performance. “Everything is faster,” explains Rainey. “From the boot-up sequence to finding files on the corporate network to connecting to the domain, our employees have noticed phenomenal improvements in performance, resulting in less internal system calls.” He continues: “The help desk is now focused at all times on external customer support and keeping their systems running efficiently.”

Another Microsoft partner company Maxima Ireland implemented Windows 7 system to gain hands-on knowledge to better serve its customers.

Maxima Ireland started its internal deployment by upgrading five of its 32 computers in March 2009. For its initial deployment, it installed Windows 7 Beta from DVDs on existing hardware. Maxima Ireland upgraded both portable computers and desktops that were previously running Windows Vista or Windows XP. In one example, a computer that was running Windows XP up to then had a lower memory specification than other computers in the company’s fleet: 512 megabytes of RAM.

“I wanted to see how well Windows 7 ran on a computer with low memory specs,” explains Brendan Matthews, Operations Manager at Maxima Ireland. “We decided to use that as a benchmark, running multiple instances of Microsoft Office, VPN, and remote Citrix applications. I was surprised with the excellent performance. It ran as well as computers with significantly more memory.”

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Upgrade in the works

As part of its Windows 7 deployment, Maxima Ireland decided to decommission some of its older productivity and line-of-business applications that were running on a Citrix farm and instead use Microsoft applications as part of its Windows 7 operating system image. For instance, the company plans to install the Microsoft Office Visio 2007 drawing and diagramming software to the desktop, rather than running MindManager diagramming software from its Citrix farm.  In addition, Maxima Ireland is planning on upgrading its domain to Windows Server 2008 Active Directory.

Maxima Ireland is evaluating BitLocker To Go and AppLocker features in Windows 7 for enhanced security. “We currently use third-party products for some of our security solutions and we’re looking forward to taking advantage of secure, out-of-the-box functionality,” explains Stephen Black, operations director at Maxima Ireland.

To showcase the versatility of Windows 7 with other platforms, Maxima Ireland will use Citrix XenServer to provision desktops to its users.

Maxima Ireland was able to extend encryption beyond the hard disk to removable media such as USB thumb drives. This helps to ensure that company data and critical customer information is safeguarded in the event of portable storage being lost or stolen. In addition, by implementing AppLocker, the company will be able to block users from downloading malicious software.

Cost savings

In addition, as a result of using out-of-the-box security enhancements, the company will be able to eliminate other third-party security products, resulting in a savings of US$5,000 in product cost, annual software maintenance charges and support time. “Most importantly, we’ll be able to offer customers the same cost savings,” says Black.

With the improved file system in Windows 7, employees are able to search the corporate file shares for critical information and see results more quickly. Searches that previously took an hour are now almost instantaneous. “Users see relevant results as they type,” explains Matthews. “Using a conservative estimate of saving two hours per week for each of our 10 sales and support staff that are constantly searching for data, we’ll save 1,000 of man hours per year, representing an approximate productivity cost savings of US$25,000.”

As a result of implementing Windows 7 during its beta release, Maxima Ireland is able to gain expertise using the operating system prior to implementing it for customers. The company can evaluate features in Windows 7 and take the lessons learned from its own internal deployment and pass along those key learnings and business value to customers.

User-friendly

“It is quickly apparent that Windows 7 is simple and easy to use,” explains Dockery.

“It a delivers the security, efficiencies and the ability to innovate that all businesses are looking for to bring them through economic recovery with a stronger and more competitive edge.

“Partners like Novosco and Maxima can deliver solutions such as Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 because they know first hand the benefits they will provide. By deploying and testing early, they are able to discuss the  impact  it is has on their own business and show how they have been able to increase productivity, security, and discuss the real savings to their own businesses,” Dockery concludes.

By John Kennedy

Photos: The Windows 7 operating system: The desktop (topmost photo), a view of Windows Media Player (centre), and the Windows Flip.

Don’t miss Seven Cool Things About Windows 7 and First Look: Windows 7.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com