Jan 17, 2013 (05:01 AM EST)
Windows 8 Rollout: One SMB's Story
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
Kleine, the chief technologist for McCoy Tree Surgery, is an early corporate adopter of Windows 8, Microsoft's revamped operating system. He recently kicked off a deployment that includes roughly 25 employees in the home office who will jump straight to Windows 8 from Windows XP boxes. Another 50 or so managers in remote offices -- McCoy operates more than 30 locations across six states -- will upgrade to Windows 8 later this year; most of those users are currently on Vista or Windows 7.
The Windows 8 upgrade is just a single piece of a much larger, deliberately planned tech refresh that also includes Windows Server 2012, Microsoft Office 2013 and other moving parts and pieces. In fact, a primary reason the home-office staff is still using XP is that Kleine wanted to wait and do a single, integrated upgrade across the organization.
"We obviously had the XP deadline, which we didn't want to pass, on the one side, and we had the latest and greatest on the other side," Kleine said in an interview. "We tend to try to match the server and the client software as best we can."
[ Here are a few reasons why some companies are staying with Windows XP. Read 3 More Reasons SMBs Stick With Windows XP. ]
He was comfortable sticking with XP while waiting for Windows 8 and Server 2012 because McCoy's Norman, Okla.-based headquarters is a relatively static environment. The older OS had continued to serve the company's back-office needs well. As a result, Kleine similarly decided to postpone new hardware purchases so he could upgrade PCs, servers and other gear simultaneously. "One refresh, one time" is Kleine's mantra of sorts, and now the strategy is coming to fruition with a broad IT investment.
"We've designed and spec'd machines that include the best of the current technology, virtualization, dual monitors, lots of memory and SSDs that we'll load up with the newest software, and hopefully be ready for the next five-plus years of operation," Kleine said.
The upgrade is also happening just in the nick of time, thanks to a rapidly evolving set of business needs and challenges. Technological changes to how McCoy operates -- Kleine said the company "quickly changed from office-based to mobile-based" -- have recently left it short on digital storage space. Likewise, a recent ERP upgrade necessitated a corresponding back-end refresh to ensure optimal performance.
McCoy's operations span thousands of miles of physical space. The company's 500-strong field crew members cut back trees and other vegetation so they don't interfere with utility lines and similar infrastructure. The 50 managers that oversee those crews comprise a mobile workforce that relies on netbooks, wireless access cards and a variety of productivity tools ranging from the mundane (email) to the not-so-much (specialized mapping readers and a custom real-time Google Earth management reporting system). The firm's legacy back-end was built around Server 2003 and had held up well as IT deployed new systems to meet the growing mobility needs. These included an organization-wide management reporting application, vehicle-mounted computers that report dashboard diagnostics and GPS locations via cellular modem and a paperless office document management system. But the storage infrastructure ultimately couldn't keep up.
"These new applications now require significantly more storage and have consumed our excess capacity," Kleine said, adding that he'd developed a positive pre-release impression of Server 2012 from a storage standpoint. "This software would be able to integrate local, building and cloud-based storage. As a SMB, our problem set includes redundancy and resiliency, and this type of storage would serve us well." McCoy is en route to 100% server virtualization as part of its technology overhaul.
Kleine isn't diving blind into the Windows 8 waters; he has been using it on his own machine since early preview versions were available. "We [tested] our entire [software] suite on Windows 8," he said. "We were paying great attention to the beta." Testing has produced plenty of application compatibility issues with Windows 8, but Kleine said the OS has done a good job of identifying and helping to resolve those problems in largely automated fashion. "It has been more events, but the machine has taken care of it for us," Kleine said.
The single, integrated tech refresh will also help Kleine clear a key Windows 8 hurdle: User training. Microsoft's new "modern UI" need to be planned for in a corporate deployment.
"My adaptation is to teach people that [the] Windows key is their friend and make sure that they know how to tap that once to get the old style, and once to get the new style," Kleine said. "[Windows 8] is not something you just lay out in front of [users]. You do need to spend five to 10 minutes going through some of the keystrokes and the mouse positions to train that new user interface. I will say that everyone we have pushed in that direction has [eventually] liked it better than the XP or Windows 7 model, but it is change."
To ease the pains associated with such change, Kleine started with smaller Windows 8 installations with key staff to get them comfortable with the new OS. Those employees will ultimately help evangelize and train other folks as the deployment widens. "I always liken it to putting your toes in the water," Kleine said.
Touchscreen capabilities are on Kleine's radar, but not really for PC users. Rather, the next phase of the IT upgrade involves rolling out Windows Phone 8 devices to employees in the tree crews. They'll use their smartphones primarily for entering timesheets and productivity.
Tablets, on the other hand, are not a big part of McCoy hardware portfolio -- Windows-based or otherwise. "It's probably going to be desktops [and] laptops," Kleine said. "For our environment -- outdoors and high sun -- tablets don't tend to work too well. We tend to have contrast issues."