Microsoft

XP deployment: Choosing a one-time or staged rollout

You've made the decision to upgrade to XP. Next, you'll approach deployment options. Learn about the pros and cons of deploying XP to the enterprise in one large project or via a staged rollout.


Once the IT department has discussed and examined the merits of migrating to XP, it’s time to evaluate the potential deployment options and alternatives.

Essentially, you can take one of two viable paths toward upgrading to the XP platform: en masse or via a staged rollout. Both approaches present unique issues, and no matter which approach is chosen, there are some specific steps to take before embarking on a deployment.

Deployment alternatives
The first alternative is an en masse upgrade of all existing workstations within a fixed time period—three to nine months is considered a reasonable timeframe, though it depends on the scope of an individual project and the level of automation available. In a staged deployment, a complete migration to the XP platform would likely take about 15 to 18 months.

The second alternative is a staged deployment, in which upgrades are made as new PCs are acquired and as existing PCs that meet key business and/or technical criteria are upgraded. The remaining PCs that are not upgraded will be deferred until they are replaced. Within a staged deployment, many organizations subscribe to a three-year “evergreen” cycle, in which one-third of all PCs are replaced annually so that within three years a complete technology refresh is complete.

Regardless of the deployment method chosen, a complete and accurate hardware and software inventory is essential to ensure proper planning, budgeting, and testing. Without complete hardware inventory data to work from, the costs of an upgrade or a replacement are difficult to determine.

A key assumption that enterprises should include is that a reasonable minimum system requirement for running an XP platform is a Pentium III processor with at least 256 MB of RAM and 2 GB of free disk space.

Conducting a mass upgrade to XP
The mass upgrade alternative requires the upgrading of all existing PCs to Windows XP and Office XP. This approach will affect all of your organization’s PCs in a relatively short period of time and will require an extensive amount of planning and preparation to ensure each upgrade is a smooth transition and has minimal impact on the clients. Hardware upgrades or replacements will be required for those workstations unable to support the XP platform. These hardware upgrades may be in the form of entire PC replacements or simply memory and/or disk drive upgrades. There are both advantages and disadvantages to the mass upgrade approach:

Advantages
  • Earlier realization of reduced support costs by creating a homogeneous environment in a shorter period of time
  • Reduced data compatibility issues by keeping technology aligned with the organization, external clients, and business partners

Disadvantages
  • High impact on multiple clients, especially those requiring hardware upgrades
  • Support resources could be overwhelmed. By upgrading all clients over a short period of time, support staff could be taxed beyond their ability to respond, and service level agreements may not be met.

Conducting a staged upgrade to XP
A staged deployment is conducted in several steps once a standard configuration has been agreed on.

New PCs need to be automatically configured with the new standard XP platforms. Assuming a three-year evergreen cycle, upgrading one-third of an organization’s PCs each year, this approach includes these steps:
  • PCs that already meet the XP system requirements are upgraded.
  • Computers purchased the prior year could likely be upgraded to the XP platforms without additional hardware costs.
  • The remaining computers not replaced or ones that did not meet the XP system requirements for upgrading are upgraded the following year, at the time the hardware is due for replacement.

The advantages and disadvantages to a staged upgrade include:

Advantages
  • Allows some portions of an organization to begin upgrading without having to wait for the entire organization to upgrade.
  • Smaller project stages allow IT staff to handle upgrades on a regional basis. Development of a project plan “template” allows local support staff to handle upgrades as miniprojects.

Disadvantages
  • Delayed realization of benefits accruing from standardized environment
  • Having to support multiple operating systems (Windows 3.x, 9x, NT, 2000, XP) over a longer period of time
  • Possible compatibility data issues between sites, or departments and external clients and business partners
  • Continued technical issues due to prolonged use of legacy Windows operating systems
  • Lack of support from Microsoft for very old legacy systems
  • Elevated exposure to security threats until all systems are on a common (more secure) platform

Deployment recommendation
I recommend a staged deployment of Windows XP and Office XP for several reasons. First, the scope is more manageable and will be much less taxing on existing support staff. It will allow time to formulate configuration standards for both Windows XP and Office XP in preparation for the first deployments. In addition, software compatibility testing is more manageable since fewer PCs are being deployed with XP at one time.

Also, new computers can be deployed using the new standards and thereby deployment duplication—once with the present company standards and then upgrading again during an XP mass-upgrade project.

A decision to perform a mass upgrade to XP is not necessarily bad if investigation determines it would be better for your organization; a staged approach is strictly my personal preference.

Regardless of the deployment method, a decision to move forward with an all-XP platform is a solid choice and one that will serve any organization well for years to come.

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