Software transitions are complex, difficult, and time-consuming. But with support for Windows XP due to expire next year, Windows 8 and Windows 7 migrations are now a high priority for many enterprises. In addition, because of the rapid evolution of technology, the life cycle of operating systems will continue to get shorter, which will ultimately result in more migration challenges.

Although IT departments must be quick to adapt to software transitions, deploying a new operating system is complex and requires extensive planning. Migration involves accounting for hardware and software upgrade needs, as well as for potential conflicts between the new operating system and browsers, existing software, and new software titles and versions.

Many enterprises are also considering other initiatives, such as application virtualization and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). These initiatives require similar planning procedures and add to the difficulty of software migration.

The significant effort involved means that organizations must implement best practice processes to ensure they're continually ready to deploy new applications when and where they're needed. Application readiness is the new standard for addressing these migration concerns.

The Path to Application Readiness

To successfully undertake any application deployment, IT staff must follow these best practices:

  1. Identify—Obtain an accurate view of the applications that are deployed across the organization. In order to avoid post-deployment compatibility issues with systems and applications, identifying all applications deployed across the organization is necessary. Identifying applications also helps to get an accurate picture of the effort that will be involved in the migration. In addition, this is a good time to take stock of which deployed applications are actually being used. When organizations undertake a major migration, every app they move to the new environment requires time, effort, and money. Reducing the number of applications that must be migrated is an important goal.
  2. Rationalize—IT staff should verify the need to continue support of necessary applications or the need to consolidate applications to a reduced number of products and versions. Rationalizing the work to be done saves time and cost associated with the migration and enables the company to reduce the amount of money spent on unused application licenses.
  3. Assess compatibility—With a platform migration project, all applications need to be tested for compatibility with the new environment. Applications should be tested against the operating system, the browser, and the hardware. In addition, they should be tested against other applications that will be running with them in the new environment. Given the volume of applications involved, manual testing isn't practical. Several general rules can be applied and specific app compatibility tests can be conducted to speed up the testing process. Without automation, it's difficult to quickly know which applications will have compatibility issues and which will require additional time to migrate. If an enterprise wants to virtualize its applications, assessment must go further than simple application compatibility and include an assessment of end-user compatibility. To accomplish this goal, organizations must collect in-depth information on usage from each user to determine virtualization suitability and the complexity of virtualizing specific applications. Next, IT staff should rank devices and users based on virtualization suitability, into low-, medium-, and high-complexity groups. Only applications assessed to have a high level of suitability should be deployed.
  4. Plan—At this point, IT staff can accurately calculate costs and duration timeframes. The operating system migration represents only a small portion of the overall migration effort. Enterprises must also consider hardware requirements, software requirements, and potential conflicts between the operating system and software. Insufficient hardware is a major cause of problems during migrations; enterprises should ensure they have sufficient horsepower to run the new operating system and applications—on-premises and in virtualized environments.
  5. Fix and package—As organizations prepare to deploy in the new environment, they need to make any custom changes required, as well as convert applications to the required format. They need a solution that offers full visibility and control into the contents of application packages. This can be a time-consuming and manual process; however, you can achieve considerable savings, as well as ensure a consistent approach to application readiness, by utilizing technology that implements the company's desired workflow, automates the necessary steps, and leverages the company's investment in existing packaged applications.
  6. Deploy—After the previous steps are completed, IT staff can hand off the packaged applications to the deployment system for delivery to end users. Costs can be cut even more by streamlining the end-user experience for application request and fulfillment. Some organizations create app portals for self-service to give users an iTunes-like enterprise app store. If the app portal is linked to an application readiness solution, the process of deploying packaged applications and making them available to users can be simple. If the app portal is tied on the back end to an enterprise license optimization system that checks the availability of licenses before the apps are deployed, IT can create a seamless Windows app store experience for end users while still maintaining continual software compliance, financial accountability, and control.

Migrations don't happen in a vacuum—while an operating system migration is occurring, the IT staff must also continue installing new applications, updating software, fixing bugs, and deploying software patches. Smart organizations implement application readiness best practice processes and support them with solutions and tools that can streamline and automate those best practices on a continuing basis.

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Steve Schmidt, Vice President of Corporate Development, Flexera Software