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Windows Vista upgrade challenges

Most users will have to upgrade hardware to migrate to Vista, but that's not the biggest Windows Vista upgrade challenge for value-added resellers (VARs).

Before they can take advantage of a Windows Vista upgrade — assuming they've decided to migrate in the first place — users will probably have to upgrade their hardware.

In addition to fixed systems-replacement cycles, legacy application conflicts and other potential problems, the hardware question is an obstacle for channel companies selling Windows Vista upgrades, according to Mark Toporek, chief technical officer at Computech Services Unlimited Inc., based in New York. "With business users, it won't happen right away because it will require a major commitment," he added.

In its specifications, Microsoft recommends a minimum of an 800 MHz processor and 512 MB system memory, with a preferred requirement of a 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor, 1 GB of memory, 128 MB graphics memory and 40 GB hard disk space. Solution providers, however, warn that real-world performance requirements might require even heftier hardware.

Some customers may be able to make their systems Vista-ready with some inexpensive additions though.

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"Some customers will be upgrading existing equipment, predominantly with RAM," said Becker. "Also, we've been working with clients for the past year as they buy new systems. We are recommending a faster processor, more RAM and a SATA hard drive — which is the difference between $1,200 and $1,295 in most cases. To upgrade the box later would cost a lot more in time and materials, not to mention lost productivity for users."

Market analysts, however, predict that corporate customers won't change their standard hardware replacement cycles.

"From the survey work we've done, it appears that Vista will be the first version of Windows that a majority of companies are planning to move to through hardware attrition," said Gartner's Silver. "When XP releases, many did a forklift migration where they tried to convert all machines in six months or a year. Vista migration is more likely to take three or four years."

Complicating even that long an adoption cycle are the companies that may buy new hardware but keep using Windows XP or older operating systems – even migrating backward onto older versions in order to keep from having to rewrite client-side custom applications or other potential conflicts with legacy IT.

"In reality, the business community starts buying systems with the new OS as it is available but they don't necessarily use it," said Al Gillen, research vice president, systems software at IDC. "These volume license customers typically have downgrade rights which gives the customer the right under the current activation code to install a previous version of the product."

Companies cite the cost and time involved in a quick switch. "Organizations are trying to get off the treadmill of having to react to these major releases," said Silver. "They are coming to the conclusion that having a single operating system makes sense intuitively but the cost and trouble of doing it may not make sense."

Companies also want to clearly understand the advantages to be had with the change. "Microsoft has high expectations for Vista and believes that they have knocked down a lot of barriers to adoption," said Gillen. "They have but they can't knock down the tendency to adopt on a way that makes busienss sense."

Solution providers can be a critical component to helping corporate customers know when the time is right to move to Vista. "Right now, there is a great deal of uncertainty among IT managers about what Vista does," said David Daoud, analyst at IDC. "Over the next year, you'll see them going through a learning phase that will be instrumental about whether they will make the step."

Some are working to help customers find ways to ease into Vista use.

ArmorCore Technologies, a solution provider of data recovery and data security services based in Saint Paul, Minn., for example, is recommending customers consider a dual-boot system that would allow some experimentation. "We are helping our customers create procedures for their organization that allow people to boot into Vista or XP until the organization feels that Vista is ready to go and wants to move to it," said Chaim Lowenstein, chief information officer at the company.

Getting connected

From a networking standpoint, Vista will be relatively easy to manage. "As with most Microsoft products, there is backwards compatibility, so as long as a PC can run Vista it can run on the network without changes," Becker said.

In addition, the OS includes a new implementation of the TCP/IP protocol suite known as the Next Generation TCP/IP stack.

This complete redesign of TCP/IP functionality for both Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) and Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) meets the connectivity and performance needs of today's varied networking environments and technologies.

"We've come to realize in the last few years that the number of IP-based devices, such as phones, smart phones, PCs, servers and printers, are gobbling up the number of Internet addresses available in the current addressing scheme," said Becker. "Vista is compatible with IPv4, which solves that."

Although a desktop operating system, Vista does have implications for the network, especially when used in conjunction with Microsoft's Longhorn server OS due out next year. "Longhorn is a minimum of 10 months away," Gillen said, adding that full adoption will take a period of one to three years. "It will be a factor in calendar year 2008, so the better together story [of Vista and Longhorn] is meaningless until then."

In the meantime, business users and their channel partners should be considering the use of Active Directory and Group Policy objects. "All of the new security and network features in Vista are Group Policy-enabled so that they can be set up remotely and automatically," Gillen said. "Where users haven't moved into group object or Active Directory, they should be thinking about it since it will allow them to better leverage Vista right out of the box."

Particularly for small businesses, though, hosting both XP and Vista may be confusing. "Small businesses will have to deal with both XP machines and Vista machines and there may be interoperability problems that haven't been discovered yet in all the testing," said Chris Novak, a POD leader at Nerds on Site, a service provider in Chicago. "As customers discover these issues, we're going to have to help them deal with it."

Clearly, the opportunity to support customers and build their practices abound as Vista comes on the horizon. Whether educating customers, helping create migration plans, or simply helping upgrade hardware and software to meet the requirements of Vista, solution providers will be leading the pack in getting the message about Vista out.

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