Although Windows Vista's progress to market has often resembled a dance of one-step-forward, two-steps-back, the OS continues making its way steadily toward the enterprise. As more details about Vista's functionality emerge, many IT professionals have questions about how the OS will affect IT departments. For example, just how tough will the transition be, how will migrating to Vista affect an existing environment, and will it be worth the effort? Scott Parkin, a product manager for LANDesk Software, has worked closely with LANDesk customers on implementing Vista. Senior Editor Dianne Russell spoke with Scott about what IT pros need to know to prepare for transitioning to the new OS.

What benefits will Vista bring to enterprise IT?

The first major improvement is in baseline performance: Vista is a 64-bit environment that will support the latest hardware. Just as important, Vista includes additional management capabilities at the OS level that will give enterprises more access to and control over desktops, servers, and mobile devices. It will also let IT finally bring consistency and standardization to the enterprise environment. Microsoft has stepped up and added instrumentation to the OS that gives systems management solutions the ability to get in and look at low-level performance issues with more insight and better view the data. As well, Vista is a fundamentally more secure platform that will enforce more secure computing and better access control.

What makes Vista more secure?

Microsoft has moved to a more UNIX-like security model that, among other things, separates low-level services from high-level applications. What this amounts to is a more secure kernel-level operation, which enables the applications and services running above it to be more protected. We can talk about some of the obvious improvements, such as Windows Defender, but in addition to that, at the enterprise level things such as network-access–protection capabilities are built in. Vista is written in such a way as to be accessible to any number of major systems management vendors, who can provide content that determines whether computers are given access to network resources. One big advantage to this is that you can create layers of security that will let centralized IT departments or network control groups determine who gets on the network and what access to resources is allowed.

What will Vista mean for an enterprise's already-installed applications and hardware? Will be a difficult transition?

We all remember the original transition to Windows 2000 from Windows NT or, more accurately, from Windows 95/98. That was a fairly painful transition. I think Vista's going to be similar in scope but somewhat easier to implement. There are many reasons for that, one being that Microsoft has been doing more work up front to provide technology resources for Vista and to build links with the IT community for feedback. But migrating to Vista will be a difficult process no matter how you look at it. Vista is a 64-bit OS and presents a new way of doing OS work. Although the fact that Vista is 64-bit isn't a problem in itself, it does mean that the OS won't directly run 16-bit applications. So, organizations must know what applications are in their environment, must be able to validate whether or not those apps will run under Vista, then must make plans either to upgrade, replace, or virtualize those apps.

Vista also has substantial hardware requirements. I think a lot of enterprise-level organizations will find that they've got a lot of hardware in their environment that simply won't run under Vista. So one of the things they must do is a full hardware inventory to identify whether the hardware they've got is going to be capable of running Vista. Then, they must evaluate whether to upgrade their existing hardware or refresh it with the next hardware purchase cycle.

Those are substantial requirements. If companies are looking at those kinds of upgrades, they'll need to have a good idea of whether Vista will help users be more productive.

From an end-user standpoint, the benefits are real. Vista gives you what amounts to a brand-new UI that, if you've got the graphics card to drive it and a sufficient processor to support it, will give users substantially better access to their files and resources and much more ability to control the things they're doing. Vista includes utilities for synchronizing data from the local machine to network shares, and from one machine to another machine. One positive result is that Vista will require IT to think a bit more about how resources are allocated, how applications are deployed, and who has access to what. You're going to find that a lot of processes that are kind of ad hoc right now will become formalized out of necessity. The ramp-up will be interesting, but once you get there, Vista should be quite revolutionary for both IT departments and end users.

Do you think Vista has the potential to help IT departments become more strategic?

Absolutely. One of the big struggles for IT during the past few years has been proving its business value. After Y2K, IT was suddenly required to show business accountability for the costs of systems maintenance. And a lot of the easy expenditures that didn't have to be justified before started coming into tighter and more substantial control. Then along came Sarbanes-Oxley and other federal regulations, and suddenly IT has found itself back in the foreground and demonstrating its value. What Vista will do is help IT departments, or technology departments in general, simplify their operations and be able to take data from a user's machine and use it to determine whether service levels are being met. The Vista architecture makes it much easier to look down into the service level of the OS above the server and client to make sure that the right services are running and to enable the right services. You'll be able to model a transaction and test it, and troubleshoot and repair it. You'll also be able to generate reports that collect data, then convert that static, meaningless data into a service-monitoring program or service level agreement (SLA) that you can use to generate continuous improvement.

Do you have any final advice to readers about migrating to Vista?

If I were to choose a single piece of advice to give people, it would be to start now. Get in your environment and understand what you've got. Read the technical documentation; get involved with the Community Technology Previews (CTPs). Get involved with Vista because it's a substantial evolution in the way enterprise computing is done, and if you'll take the time to learn what it means, you'll derive substantial benefits. Microsoft is providing fabulous resources to help, so you don't have to leap into the transition without taking your time and planning it out up front.