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One insurer shares Vista deployment early hiccups

The IT manager at Puerto Rico's largest insurance provider shares the good and the bad of his team's Vista migration -- and why virtualization will play a key role.

V-Day, as Victor Rivera calls it, will hit Triple-S Inc. in the first quarter of 2008.

That's when Rivera and his team plan to start putting Vista into production across 2,200 desktops located in six different companies that make up the Triple-S brand in the largest insurance company in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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It's a pretty massive hardware and application compatibility undertaking, with only 37% of his current desktops equipped with enough memory to support Vista. By comparison, at least 65% of the company's desktops had enough gigabytes to migrate from Windows 2000 to XP six years back.

In his testing, so far, machines running Vista need at least 7 GBs of hard disk space to run the OS and security patches and that does not include third-party applications. (With XP, he needed three gigs of space for the same installation.) To meet Vista's memory requirements, Triple-S will begin buying 200 to 300 new clients this year -- and every year moving forward, said Rivera.

"Microsoft has said 512 megabytes is enough. Maybe that's enough for the OS to boot," Rivera said, "but it's not a realistic specification to install anything or really do anything else."

Triple-S is at the assessment and testing phase now with a control group of users reporting back the problems they have with Vista. But the desktop team, in which Rivera is in charge, has also been testing the OS against the company's Win32-based applications and has come up with some alarming application incompatibility numbers.

The IT team is shifting much of its application development from Visual Studio 6.0 to the .NET Framework to stay current with Microsoft and third-party application development. The company currently has 400 software packages to keep in mind for such development and for the move to Vista.

Given the 2008 timeframe, Rivera estimates that 45% of Triple-S' applications will have to be virtualized because they just won't work with Vista in time for the production deployment. The remaining 55% will be converted to the Vista OS, he said. The company is considering both Microsoft SoftGrid and Altiris Inc.'s Software Virtualization Solution for application virtualization to address that 45%.

"I kind of feel like this migration is being forced with application development," Rivera said. "Microsoft is moving away from Visual Studio in favor of .NET and we need to develop applications based on that, and we have to have the right infrastructure -- Vista -- to be ready for .NET applications."

Why the migration is worth it

Improved security and new application development are what is driving the company's move to Vista.

Rivera said he admits that many of the new security features in Vista will make null and void much of Triple S' past security investments in such areas as antivirus and hard drive encryption. But, he said he believes the trade-off is less management of a lot of different technologies and savings from getting rid of a lot of third-party security applications.

"In our testing so far, Vista does make a lot of what we've invested in unnecessary," Rivera said. "If we have well-thought-out policies, the OS should be able to defend itself because a lot of the security technology is already built in."

He also wants Vista to be stable enough to handle new .NET applications the company's development team is working on. "When all of that [application development] is finished, it will put a lot of demand on my infrastructure, so that's another reason we're testing Vista now and deploying it to handle our future environment," Rivera said.

The company is using Altiris' server and client management suites to migrate to the new OS and manage system updates, such as patches.

Win32-Vista lessons learned

Rivera advised other IT managers to prepare for a long test phase.

Win32 applications that have any interaction with the OS are causing quite a few hiccups with Vista. Visual Studio-based applications running on XP for example could make calls to OS DLLs to show screens and Windows being used on the OS itself.

You could substantiate how the OS was working, but interactions like that are now considered a security violation," Rivera said. "So it's things along those lines that you have to keep in mind. Certain features will have to be unplugged, and applications will just have to be virtualized to maintain the old functionality that you're used to."

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