By Jason Snook, Practice Manager at Flexera Software
Later this summer, Microsoft will release Windows 10. Windows 10 is a unified platform that runs on computer devices, tablets, and mobile phones, and enterprises are expected to widely adopt the new platform. Unfortunately, some enterprises view OS migrations as a single point in time event and most of the solutions and processes they developed for the Windows 7 migration were thrown away, and must be developed again for the next migration project. This is extremely costly and leaves no lasting solution, or value for continually updating systems and applications. When delivering OS deployments through an enterprise app store, Flexera App Portal, provides a solution framework that is agnostic to the OS version. The App Portal OS Deployment solution simplifies the imaging process, reduces the downtime that the end user experience, helps to eliminate post deployment support commonly experienced with individual application installation, and lessens the burden on the administrator by empowering the end user to be in control of their own operating system upgrade.
There are many complexities and challenges with OS deployment. There are five key challenges that are common in the enterprise.
- Administrator Driven: Most OS deployments in the enterprise today are driven by the administrator. This means that the user has very little input or control of how and when a migration will occur. This current standard approach means that the chance of negatively impacting the end user is relatively high, even with excellent communication and coordination by the migration team. App Portal empowers the end user to be able to be a part of the scheduling process. This means that the user is able to schedule the migration to occur when it would least impact them. Administrators are still able to have a great degree of control over the deployment window, so it really presents the best combination of administrator control and end user flexibility.
- Addressing Applications: Probably one of the most challenging components of an OS migration is dealing with all of the applications that users depend on in the enterprise. Most organizations address this by providing a base set of standard applications within the deployment process, and then address the additional applications as one-off installations following the imaging process. This approach is extremely time consuming. This means that the end user is without a computer for a longer period of time, and also that the administrator is losing precious time to ensure that the applications the user needs are a part of the newly imaged computer. App Portal is able to intelligently map the application estate and ensure that the correct application gets placed onto the freshly imaged computer during the imaging process. This greatly reduces the imaging time and helps to avoid human error that is introduced with the administrator, one-off installation process.
- Task Sequence Complexity: Many enterprises attempt to lessen the burden by adding some basic logic to include applications during the imaging process. These applications are typically standard applications, which are common across all desktops. Some organizations make further steps by adding applications that would apply based on the users business role. This solution still misses many of the applications that the end user leverages, so there is still the need for the one-off application installations. Further, developing and maintaining the logic, and application list, within the Task Sequence greatly increases the complexity of the Task Sequence. This can make it extremely challenging for changes to be made due to increased testing times to validate each image. By separating the application identification process from the Task Sequence, App Portal is able to simplify what the Task Sequence has to do. This provides more flexibility for the administrator, and lessens the testing time to verify the Task Sequence prior to production release.
- Lower Security Posture: Like me, security is a primary concern for most enterprises. Traditional OS imaging processes mean that the deployment technicians have to be within the Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) console. This opens the risk that the deployment technician can impact other areas of the SCCCM environment, with unintended negative effects to the enterprise. I have a personal experience with this. Many years ago I was a part of a migration team that was moving a financial institution from Windows XP to Windows 7. Part of the deployment team members where migrating a few of the executives PCs. One of the installations failed to install Microsoft Office correctly. The deployment technician attempted to resolve this through SCCM, but accidently uninstalled Microsoft Office from every computer on the executive floor, in the middle of the day. This was immediately noticed by the end users, who were executives and executive assistants. The entire deployment was halted immediately. The team ensured that Microsoft Office was placed back onto each machine, and new processes were developed to reduce the risk of that situation occurring again. If I had been using App Portal, there would be no need for the deployment technicians to be within the console, so the risk of impacting the enterprise would have been greatly reduced.
- Desk-side Visits: The final challenge with OS deployment has to do with desk-side visits. Many deployment scenarios require that a deployment technician be present at the location where the deployment will occur. This may be okay for smaller companies with one site location, but this has a greater impact on enterprises that are scattered across the globe. Not only is it expensive to have a technician present at each computer, but it also slows down the cadence of the migration. App Portal resolves this by enabling the end user to become the “deployment technician” for the migration. Further, the deployment team still has the ability to request a migration on behalf of the user through the enterprise app store. This greatly reduces the need for a desk-side visit, and enables a much quicker cadence for the OS migration.
The App Portal enterprise app store provides six key features that help to address the core challenges of traditional OS deployment.
- User Readiness: The User Readiness feature of App Portal enables administrators to create a deployment window and identify the users who will be a part of that deployment window. Users are notified by email of the deployment window and are able to schedule the deployment to occur, within the deployment window, when it will least impact them.
- Constraints: Scheduling Constraints can be created to limit times of the day when deployments can occur. Constraints also supports blackout days, and restrictions on the number of requests, or size of requests, that can occur within a day. This provides an additional level of control not found within most OS deployment solutions.
- App Survey: App Survey leverages installation evidence and usage data to identify the applications that exist on a source computer, and allow for those applications to be selected to be included as part of the imaging process. The selected applications are then installed during the imaging process. This eliminates the one-off application installs for any piece of managed software that is discovered as part of the survey process.
- Roles: The administrator is able to create Roles within App Portal that can be applied conditionally during the imaging process. Roles can contain applications, task sequence variables, and even configurations for different user state migration profiles. Roles grant additional flexibility to apply applications and configurations that would be specific by role. For example, a role could be created for the Marketing team which includes applications that are unique to the Marketing group.
- Upgrade / Replacement: The Upgrade / Replacement feature of App Portal provides a way to map a discovered application to either a newer version of the application, or to a replacement application. For example, if Microsoft Office 2010 is discovered, use Microsoft Office 2013 instead. Additionally, you could configure it so that if Primo PDF is discovered, use Cute PDF instead.
- Clone / Migration: The Clone / Migration feature of App Portal provides a break-fix tool. The Clone / Migration feature evaluates the installation evidence on a source computer, and then installs the selected applications onto a target computer. Clone / Migration is especially useful when a computer breaks, and no data is recovered. App Portal will use historic inventory data to identify the application estate on the broken computer and schedule the installation of those discovered applications onto the freshly imaged replacement computer.
By utilizing the enterprise app store in the OS deployment process Flexera App Portal enhances the entire OS deployment experience and greatly extends the native capability of OS deployments through SCCM. Simplifying the application installation process, empowers end users, and lessens the burden on IT and desktop administrators. The App Portal solution provides an OS imaging framework that can be leveraged for future migration events, desktop transformations, and will improve the everyday experience of your end users.