Managing the Cost and Complexity of Vista Deployments

For many already overburdened IT departments, the simultaneous release of Exchange 2007, Windows Vista and Office 2007 has created challenges.

CIO’s are asking their IT departments, already reeling from the Daylight Savings Time changes in North America, to deliver plans to migrate to a new client operating system, deploy a new desktop productivity suite and redeploy their entire enterprise messaging and communications infrastructure.

Given the high price and time cost of the upgrade, as well as the software’s steep learning curve, organizations might wonder why they would want to upgrade sooner rather than later.

Windows App Triad

About 250 million corporate e-mail accounts are currently serviced by IT organizations; over and above that number, there are literally billions of Windows-based clients deployed in companies around the world.

A redeployment of severe magnitude, several key features of Vista and Exchange 2007 make this effort worth the pain of the learning curve — some companies are turning to a new class of managed service providers that can make the move less costly and complex.

Exchange 2007 and Vista perform separate functions within the network operations system: Exchange is an enterprise communications application and platform, whereas Vista is a client operating system.

However, it is the third new set of programs, the Office 2007 personal productivity suite, which makes the solution complete.

Office 2007

The three are a triad of software that work seamlessly together. Once Office 2007 is configured and installed in a Vista environment, the new file management capabilities of Vista make it easy for users to search, access and edit files in multiple different formats.

In addition, free downloadable Adobe Acrobat PDF publishing support for Office 2007 makes it simple to publish documents that can be shared and read on both Microsoft and non-Microsoft platforms, providing significant cost savings and a personal productivity boost that will be attractive to today’s multifaceted corporate environments.

By adding Exchange 2007 to the mix, Outlook 2007 shines — adding support for such new client features as unified messaging, the resource assistant, and a Web-based offline address book.

Exchange 2007

Exchange 2007 offers a number of new features that can deliver significant benefits to enterprise communications infrastructure, including server consolidation, high reliability, highly available e-mail support, unified messaging and enhanced Web and mobile device access.

Benchmarks show that a quad core, dual-processor 64-bit server with 32 GB of RAM and an appropriate storage device can now support up to 6,000 users on a single Exchange 2007 server — 2.4 times greater than can be supported easily on Exchange 2003.

In large organizations, this can significantly reduce the number of e-mail servers required.

Another feature of Exchange 2007, Local Continuous Replication (LCR), addresses one of the most significant high-reliability issues plaguing IT departments — Exchange store corruption.

LCR enables a second copy of the Exchange databases to be kept up to date in near real time through the magic of log shipping. In the past, it might take 3.5 hours to restore a corrupted 60 GB Exchange database. With LCR, the restore can be nearly instantaneous; of course, this will require twice the amount of storage to be made available to Exchange 2007.

Exchange 2007’s new Cluster Continuous Replication (CCR) features add new high-availability capabilities that enable two mailbox servers to back each other up in an Active/Passive clustered configuration.

However, this feature will require a third server to make a file share accessible to both servers (even a CIFS file share will work). In addition, if you want high availability across the Exchange infrastructure you will need a minimum of four servers.

However, until Exchange 2007 Service Pack 1 ships — which is expected in August — beware using CCR to enable a Stretch Cluster configuration of Exchange.

Outlook Web Access

The high-reliability and high-availability options alone make moving to Exchange 2007 worthwhile for IT organizations, but when you add in the new advanced Outlook Web Access, mobile device support and unified messaging capabilities, you also stand to delight users with dramatic personal productivity improvements.

For companies with big budgets, Vista can also provide the motivation to acquire the latest laptops, desktops, speakers, network cards and monitors to take advantage of new, high-end graphic and audio capabilities as well as addressing many of the painfully slow Internet connectivity issues plaguing earlier Windows versions.

Still, because of a long familiarization period, many IT organizations are developing plans to roll out Vista as part of a hardware refresh cycle, providing Vista to personnel when they acquire a new laptop or desktop system.

As deployment increases, IT organizations will need to devote more and more resources to maintain the combination of Exchange 2007, Vista and Office 2007. Some companies may to choose to deploy Vista to corporate desktops as part of an “appliance-like” upgrade.

First Step: Assess

In determining whether or not to take this approach, the first step before deploying Exchange and Vista is to complete a thorough assessment of a company’s existing IT infrastructure.

This is the time to determine what areas should be core competencies of the IT department and which should be considered “utility functions” that might better be managed by a service provider.

In the past few years, such services have sprung up in the industry as expert providers of managed services for Windows, Exchange and Office environments — in some cases, customers save over 20 percent of their IT costs. Some services even offer automatic migration of existing systems to the latest Microsoft technologies.

As the cost and complexity of new software rises, managed services companies are becoming more frequently utilized, freeing IT professionals to concentrate on more strategic areas such as integration of business applications, software-based personal productivity enhancements, and unified communications.

Managed services companies also can help IT departments better leverage the core building blocks provided by Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007, and invest their valuable resources in activities that drive business value.

Keith A. McCall is the CTO and Founder of Azaleos, a managed appliance and services company.

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