Africa East and Southern Africa Microsoft's Virtualization solution enables a seamless Windows 7...
Uganda Telecom Limited (UTL) is an information and communication technology company in Uganda.
Friday, March 30, 2012
East and Southern Africa

Uganda Telecom Limited (UTL) is an information and communication technology company in Uganda. Following the passage of the Communications Act in 1997, the then Ugandan parastatal, Uganda Posts and Telecommunications Company Limited (UPTCL), was unbundled into four entities of which UTL was the fourth product. It was established in 2000 with the Ugandan government holding a minority share of 31% and the remaining 69% held by Ucom. With its head office in Kampala and more than fifty branches in five regions, the company today employs more than 600 employees and has developed a formidable reputation as a provider of world-class telecommunication services to its growing customer base.

Of the country's approximately 32 million people, more than 10 million subscribers to various telecommunication services are serviced by a highly competitive market. Seven prominent service providers compete with UTL, including MTN Uganda, Airtel Uganda, Warid Telecom, Orange Telecom, i-Telecom and Smile Telecom.

Uganda Telecom offers a broad range of services, including fixed lines, mobile services, data and Internet, broadband, wireless and managed services such as cloud, and Information as a Service. Other breakthroughs include the first Ugandan mobile money transfer service and the introduction of the first solar powered mobile phone, locally known as Kasana. The IT department's 39 staff comprises specialists in various fields of application, not only servicing the needs of the company internally, but also offering its customers a range of selected services.

Situation

With its rapid growth and calls for faster innovation and more personalised services from its customers, it soon became clear that the company's Windows XP operating system was no longer the best fit for effective desktop management as more and more applications and hardware called for Windows 7 support. This caused frustration with users who were keen to move forward with their software and equipment to remain competitive and to deliver top service consistently. Windows 7 promised faster performance as well as quicker response when starting up or returning from hibernation. It also offered a host of other significantly enhanced features that attracted the eyes of the UTL users.

Management and UTL's IT Infrastructure and Security Manager, Emmanuel Serunjogi, also wanted to scale up the security of the organization's operating system: "It was imperative that we find better ways to secure the company's computers and laptops, particularly against the negative effects of malware that often comes from unauthorised software downloads on individual laptops. The switch to the Windows 7 operating system would facilitate this almost as a bonus."

On Windows 7, data security had been given significant attention. Windows Defender is designed to help protect users against pop-ups, spyware, malware and other security threats. A notification is generated every time an unauthorized program tries to run or change settings. All notifications are consolidated in Action Center that puts the user in control of maintenance and security. Here notifications can be switched on or off according to the user's needs and when Windows needs attention, a notification gives one suggested fixes for any problems. The user can identify problems, run scans and ensure that system protection is up to date.

Windows 7 Enterprise uses Encrypting File System (EFS) on individual files and folders; offering the strongest protection available in Windows. It also lets users control who has permission to open or use files.

Windows 7 Enterprise uses Encrypting File System (EFS) on individual files and folders; offering the strongest protection available in Windows. It also lets users control who has permission to open or use files.

From a business perspective, however, they were confronted with a significant challenge. They could not simply roll out Windows 7 as several key programs, particularly their Customer Relations Management (CRM) application, depended on the Windows Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7 browsers. Windows 7 supports Internet Explorer 8 and later. And as it is not possible to run more than one version of Internet Explorer on one operating system, Serunjogi could not retain their version of Internet Explorer 6 or install its web-based applications on Windows 7 devices.

Having only been installed in 2008, the CRM system was relatively new. As it was performing its intended purpose quite adequately, there were no immediate plans to upgrade it. From a financial point of view a replacement program for outdated hardware was receiving higher priority at the time.

The new computers and laptops derived from the replacement program were all designed for Windows 7. To get the best value out of their investment in the new equipment and latest versions of software, the switch to Windows 7 had to be done sooner rather than later, putting further pressure on Emmanuel Serunjogi to find a viable solution to the compatibility issue.

What may have looked like a Catch-22 situation was very soon elegantly addressed by Microsoft's Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP).

Solution

The solution presented itself in the form of Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), an integral part of MDOP, which is used to run older applications in a virtual Windows XP environment on a Windows 7-based desktop. MED-V made it possible for Uganda Telecom to continue with the Windows 7 roll-out in phases and without any significant hiccups, allowing the CRM application to run uninterrupted until the full switch had been completed.

Users were immediately given the Windows 7 image on UTL's existing management tools. As MED-V requires no additional server infrastructure, its installation and deployment was surprisingly easy and effortless. Better still, it allowed users the full benefit of what Windows 7 has to offer as soon as they were converted.

Roll-out started in July 2011 with the replacement of, amongst others, 160 outdated laptops (30% of users). In January 2012 the physical switch to Windows 7 started. UTL's call centre with its 100 users were first in line and within the first five weeks 150 users had already been accommodated on the new operating system. Currently 50% of user workstations have been upgraded to Windows 7 Platform and the exercise is still on-going.

Existing applications were first tested for compatibility with Internet Explorer 7 before their conversion. Where they were found not to be compatible, they were either put on hold if they were not critical to the company, or converted to run on the virtual Internet Explorer 6 with the use of MED-V. MED-V effectively served as the bridging technology that enabled UTL as customer to make a more fluent transition to new technology; effectively serving as a virtual respite where the old could be parked temporarily without losing its use and effect, while the remainder of the roll-out continued.

Benefits

With the assistance of MED-V, IT Support team did the entire switch internally at considerable cost savings to Uganda Telecom. This included researching and identifying the solution, project planning, implementation, launch and roll-out. The advice and guidance of Microsoft specialists was always available on demand in the wings. The further deployment of Windows 7 to all computers and laptops can now continue at a fast, yet relatively risk-free pace.

Several key advantages of Windows 7 are now available to all users as soon as they are placed on the new system. Windows 7 was designed with speed and fast access to all kinds of applications and networks as a key feature. This includes running programs faster and responding much quicker to sleep, resume, and reconnect to wireless networks. It consumes much less memory and runs background services only when the user needs them. The impact of these features on productivity speaks for itself.

Offering bigger buttons and full-sized previews, the taskbar allows users to pin programs to it for one-click access. Jump lists provide shortcuts to files, folders and websites while yet other features deliver new ways to juggle already open windows, all making for much faster browsing and searching.

Results appear instantly, grouped by category, as soon as a user starts typing in the Start menu search box while folder or library searches can be fine-tuned with filters like date or file type. A preview pane allows the user to peek at the contents of results before opening them, all adding speed to applications such as research and extensive writing or editing.

Finally, improved power management ensures a substantially longer battery life.

Line management has the peace of mind that all essential applications will continue to run irrespective of their compatibility with the new operating system. Where compatibility hitches are detected, these can still be addressed within minutes rather than hours.

MED-V also allows trouble-shooting to be done on applications that have symptoms of incompatibility to verify whether the application itself really is the root cause of the problem. In some instances the apparent incompatibility could well be due to a problem with the operating system. MED-V will facilitate this process of troubleshooting and will continue to be available for this kind of application long after the Windows 7 roll-out had been completed. Informed decisions can then be taken to upgrade an application; or to run it as an Internet Explorer 6-based application on Windows 7 or to investigate and fix the real reason for the malfunction if this proves not to have been one of incompatibility. The declared ideal, however, is to switch all new software, as far as this is possible, to Windows 7 compatible applications.

All potential limitations on using Windows 7 have been mitigated. Users can use the CRM application effortlessly and with confidence while enjoying the full bouquet of features offered by the new operating system and its associated software. Any compatibility issues that may still surface in future can easily be managed with the assistance of MED-V. Web applications that are incompatible with Windows 7 could pose problems that would be very difficult to overcome Without MED-V and which would mostly require collaboration with the application designer and licence holders to address.

Edward Mugerwa, Head of Information Systems, said of the solution: "With Med-V Desktop optimization solution, legacy applications are no longer a limitation to newer operating systems roll out in an enterprise, thanks to Microsoft for its strategic innovations."

IT Infrastructure and Security Manager, Emmanuel Serunjogi has the last say: "What started off as a daunting task became a relative breeze once Microsoft's MED-V was deployed. It certainly made the roll-out much easier, allowing us to gain the full advantage of Windows 7 right from the outset. There were several inhibitors that could have jeopardised the project without the help of MDOP. Today, just a few short months after the project was initiated, we already have a large number of keen users of Windows 7 who vow that they could never return to the slower days of Windows XP."

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