Picking the right time to deploy Vista

When possible, switch to Vista as part of a hardware refresh

Windows Vista is known for its much higher resource requirements than Windows XP, such as needing a minimum of 2GB of RAM, a fast processor, and a recent video card. That's why most analysts suggest that a Vista deployment be paired with a hardware refresh.

"We encourage customers to integrate these two cycles," says Jeff Dimock, vice president of Microsoft solutions at the IT consultancy Dimension Data Americas.

The goal is to confine the user and IT disruption, and to avoid the performance and compatibility issues that older hardware can have with Vista, adds Gartner analyst Michael Silver. (A possible exception: PCs less than a year old could be Vista upgrade candidates, Dimock says.)

Capacitor manufacturer Kemet followed this integrated-cycle approach in its Vista deployment, notes Global Infrastructure Manager Jeff Padgett, who began planning his Vista upgrade 18 months ago, several months before the first version was available to businesses. Because the company was already planning an upgrade of its 5,600 desktop PCs and 2,000 laptops when Vista's availability became clear, Padgett decided to combine the OS and hardware upgrade into one IT migration plan, not treat them as separate projects. (To be safe and to keep on schedule, he did install XP on new systems deployed in the first year of the hardware refresh, knowing that they would all support Vista when he was ready to bring it on board, which he plans to do this spring after ensuring application compatibility.)

Gary Wilhelm is following a similar strategy at the Englewood Hospital Medical Center in New Jersey, where he is the hospital's business and systems financial manager (a combination of CTO and CFO). For Wilhelm, the gating factor on deploying Vista was also software compatibility: The Encentuate single-sign-on software that the hospital uses was only recently updated to support Vista and is now being tested, notes Wilhelm.

Unlike Kemet's Padgett, Wilhelm will not upgrade the Vista-capable hardware he bought last year; instead, he'll keep those on XP until they are replaced in 2010, from now on the hospital's normal three-year hardware refresh cycle. "I didn't want to spend the time," he says. But with the SSO issue all but resolved, Wilhelm plans on bringing Vista into the hospital with the next department scheduled for a hardware refresh -- the 100 or so nursing floor computers will all run Vista later this year, he notes.

In both cases, IT can handle having two OSes to support because the PCs in each department run one OS. This means the support team has a consistent environment for each user group, minimizing the complexity.

The YMCA Milwaukee is taking a different strategy. It doesn't have a regular refresh cycle for its equipment; instead it brings in new hardware as new employees come on board, says IT director David Fritzke. He had considered "downgrading" the new Vista laptops to Windows XP so he could do an all-at-once upgrade later on, but that plan turned out not to be viable. The reason: The generic "downgraded" XP installations didn't run as well as the OEM-tuned Vista installations -- and there were, of course, no tuned XP installation discs from the OEM for these new Vista-oriented laptops. Fortunately, Fritzke could handle a mix of Vista and XP systems even in the same departments because the number of laptops involved -- 130 -- is small. (Fritzke is moving the YMCA's 520 desktop PCs completely to Windows Server-provisioned thin clients on Linux-based terminals, so there will be no individual configurations to support.)

The Vista deployment guide:

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