Microsoft Partners See Savings In Windows 7

The uncertain economy would seem to be a less-than-ideal environment for launching a new version of Windows. But Microsoft enterprise partners who've been rolling out the OS internally say the improved deployment and management tools for Windows 7 can quickly add up to measurable cost savings.

Microsoft says it's on track to release Windows 7 to manufacturing in time for the holidays, and has hinted at a possible August time frame. Key Microsoft enterprise partners Dimension Data and Getronics got a head start on Windows 7 by conducting small-scale internal deployments, and they're optimistic about the operating system's ability to shave costs.

Getronics, a global Microsoft Gold partner, has deployed the Windows 7 on 400 PCs thus far and plans to boost that number to 750 PCs by the end of July.

"We'd originally planned 100 or so clients, but Windows 7 had a viral spread -- the moment people saw it and had a chance to use it, they wanted it," said Lee Nicholls, global solutions director for Microsoft technologies at Getronics.

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For Getronics, which has offices spread all over the world, Windows 7's new features have had the biggest impact in the remote management of IT infrastructure. For example, Direct Access securely connects mobile workers to corporate networks without VPN, and BranchCache stores frequently used data locally to improve network performance at remote locations.

Windows 7, deployed in conjunction with System Center Operations Manager and System Center Configuration Manager, will enable Getronics to reduce its user support costs by 2,000 hours annually when compared to XP and Vista, according to Nicholls. That's particularly important for Getronics, which despite its global market presence, has a small IT staff.

"The labor savings we're seeing have come from the amount of time it takes to deploy and the ongoing management," Nicholls said. "Deploying a handful of machines in advance is a good way to estimate the cost savings you'll see from Windows 7."

Michael Del Sarto, group manager of Windows Commercial Channel Marketing at Microsoft, describes the Windows 7 early market success as "a big deal" for Microsoft as it moves toward a possible late summer RTM.

"Windows 7 lowers help-desk calls and brings in image management and deployment of the OS as a cost-savings factor. That's in addition to the productivity improvements from the improved performance of Windows 7," Del Sarto said.

Curt Wheadon, global vice president for Microsoft solutions at Dimension Data, which specializes in automated deployment of operating systems for large enterprises, said companies have been putting off PC upgrades to avoid Vista, and might still be in a holding pattern due to the economic turmoil.

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But unlike Vista, Windows 7 runs well on older hardware, and Dimension Data is advising customers that they do have options in terms of getting more life out of existing assets and avoiding an expensive forklift refresh.

Dimension Data has about 200 PCs running Windows 7, and Wheadon says it has been "a great experience" compared with previous Windows beta deployments.

"One big positive is the fact that we haven't had to consider getting the latest and greatest PCs to run Windows 7," Wheadon said. "It typically runs faster than Vista, and even runs well on older machines that we didn't even try putting Vista onto."

Dimension Data still has customers using XP, but many are considering new hardware to better manage their state and to take advantage of virtualization and supporting technologies that go around the desktop, Wheadon said.

"This is probably the first operating system from Microsoft where upgrading to a new OS will actually give you better performance than the previous OS did," Wheadon said.

From the dawn of Windows 7 development, Microsoft has painstakingly gathered feedback from partners to ensure that it doesn't end up being a sequel to the horror show that was Vista. The Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Ecosystem Readiness Program, which gives Microsoft's software and hardware partners access to beta software builds, development and testing tools, community interaction and technical documentation, is an example of this.

Nicholls expects Windows 7 deployments will be less expensive than Vista as a result of the improved migration tools in the new OS. But to realize this, companies should deploy Windows 7 in conjunction with the System Center suite, Nicholls said.

"Windows 7 deployments are going to be much easier than they were with Vista. That represents a huge cost savings," Nicholls said.

"Windows 7 is a huge psychological correction: It's a much better product, and we're more optimistic about it."