As part of its plans to optimize its IT infrastructure, the City of Miami had to find an effective way to centrally store user data—a model that didn’t work as well as desired with the Windows® XP Professional operating system. The city chose to upgrade to the Windows Vista® operating system, which offers improvements to Offline Files that will make the central storage of user data virtually transparent to end users. The city’s move to Windows Vista will yield other benefits as well, including greater ease of use, increased user productivity, improved reliability, enhanced security, reduced IT effort, and lower costs. The desktop operating system upgrade is just one element of the city’s plans to eliminate its costly mainframe and standardize its IT infrastructure on Microsoft® software, which is expected to yield an annual savings of U.S.$1 million.
Encompassing 34 square miles in southeastern Florida, the City of Miami offers warm temperatures, beautiful beaches, a dynamic urban center, and a wealth of cultural, historical, and recreational attractions. The city’s 4,500 employees work in 83 locations, relying on a centralized IT department to provide reliable, cost-effective services.
Among the systems supported by that IT department are 2,800 desktop and portable PCs, which, until recently, all ran the Windows® XP Professional operating system. Those PCs, which are on a four-year replacement cycle, reside within an IT infrastructure based on the Windows Server® 2003 operating system, on which approximately 60 percent of the city’s business applications are hosted.
The other 40 percent of the city’s business applications run on a Unisys mainframe. However, the City of Miami has aggressive plans to move those applications to the Windows Server platform as well, with a goal of eliminating the mainframe by June 2009. To achieve that goal, which is expected to deliver U.S.$1 million per year in cost savings, the city must first implement equivalent functionality on Windows for all existing mainframe-based applications.
One such application is a mainframe-based data archival utility that the city uses to back up the data on its 2,800 PCs to a central location. In addition to using expensive mainframe resources, the backup utility has other shortcomings:
- Only data in the My Documents and data directories on user PCs is backed up, meaning that other important data—such as the .pst files that contain e-mail, contacts, calendars, and so on—is not protected against loss.
- Even though it runs from 6:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M., the mainframe-based backup utility can handle only 300 PCs per night, mean-ing that each user’s data is backed up less than once per week. Thus new data since the last backup is lost if a hard drive fails.
- Vendor licensing and support costs for the utility are $27,000 per year.
||We’ve found Windows Vista to be highly reliable. The operating system itself is highly stable and, through its built-in protection of system files, is able to better recover from problems than Windows XP could.
Network Administrator, City of Miami
The city’s initial approach to addressing these problems was to combine two features of Windows XP Professional: Folder Redirection, in which users’ My Documents folders and other important data are stored in a central location; and Offline Files, which caches copies of the centrally stored files on users’ PCs for access when network connectivity is unavailable. However, when the City of Miami tested the approach on Windows XP, it determined that the synchronization process at the start and the end of the day would result in unacceptable delays for many users—especially high-level managers who often take their portable PCs home.
“If users need to wait several minutes as files are synchronized when they log on and log off, the move to centralized storage will be seen as a failure,” says Jim Osteen, Assistant Director of IT for the City of Miami. “For the project to be successful, we needed to find a way around that issue. Were we unable to do so, it would have delayed our ability to move off the mainframe. Of course, in looking for a solution to this one challenge, we were also open to how we could improve other aspects of our desktop infrastructure, such as power conservation. We spent lots of time trying to reduce power usage with Windows XP but eventually gave up, resulting in most PCs remaining on around the clock.”
The City of Miami decided to upgrade to the Windows Vista® Enterprise operating system, which includes enhancements to Offline Files that eliminate the unacceptable synchronization delays that some users would have faced with Windows XP. As of September 2008, the city has deployed Windows Vista on approximately 50 PCs. By the time it decommissions its Unisys mainframe in June 2009, the City of Miami will transition all users to a centralized storage model and upgrade 950 to 1,000 of those users to Windows Vista, focusing on upper-level managers and others who will require the improvements to Offline Files. The city also will deploy Windows Vista on PCs that support its digital empowerment program, called Elevate Miami, through which technology access and training is provided to citizens at public locations such as parks and senior centers.
“With the improvements to Offline Files in Windows Vista, we can implement Folder Redirection in a way that works well for both the IT department and end users,” says Osteen. “We’ll first upgrade the PCs of people who will benefit from the improvements to Offline Files the most, such as directors and department heads who do a lot of work with Microsoft® Office documents—including when they take their PCs home at night,” says Osteen. “In parallel, we’ll deploy Windows Vista on every new PC that we buy as part of our normal hardware refresh cycle.”
The City of Miami began testing Windows Vista in late 2007, when the IT department started installing the operating system on IT employees’ PCs. The city also installed Windows Vista on all PCs in its software training room, using Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 to revert to an instance of Windows XP when needed.
During the pilot period, the City of Miami tested application compatibility—in some cases waiting for vendors to deliver versions of their software that meet the standards of the “Certified for Windows Vista” logo program. “We had to wait for a few vendors—such as Oracle—to deliver Windows Vista–certified versions of their software, but we no longer view application compatibility as an issue,” says Osteen.
The city also assessed the reliability of Windows Vista. “We’ve found Windows Vista to be highly reliable,” says Marco Sanchez, Network Administrator at the City of Miami. “The operating system itself is highly stable and, through its built-in protection of system files, is able to better recover from problems than Windows XP was. Many of us in the IT department have been using Windows Vista at home as well, and haven’t seen any reliability issues there either.”
Centralized Storage of User Files
By August 2008, the city finished testing Windows Vista and began to prepare for broad deployment. Under the new centralized storage model, Folder Redirection will be used to store user data on an EMC storage area network, and Offline Files will be used to cache a copy of that data locally on users’ PCs for offline access.
The City of Miami will take advantage of several improvements to Offline Files, which uses a faster algorithm to determine which files or directories have changed and must be synchronized. Offline Files in Windows Vista also uses Bitmap Differential Transfer when copying changes from the client to the server, sending only those blocks of the file that are modified when the user is offline. (In Windows XP, Offline Files copies the entire file, even if only a small part of it was modified.)
||With the improvements to Offline Files in Windows Vista, we can implement Folder Redirection in a way that works well for both the IT department and end users.
Assistant Director of IT, City of Miami
End users will experience smooth transitions between online and offline modes, with no user intervention required in either direction. This is another improvement over Windows XP, with which the transition from offline to online mode required the user to close all applications and then initiate synchronization. In Windows Vista, when the user is working offline and Offline Files detects that a central storage area is available, all open-file handles are re-created on the server, the user is immediately transitioned to online mode, and synchronization takes place automatically.
Users also will benefit from transitions between online and offline modes at the directory level rather than at the server level. With Windows XP, if a network error occurred or if a directory on the server was unavailable, Offline Files transitions to offline mode for the entire server, even if the other directories on that server are still available. With Offline Files in Windows Vista, only files on the unavailable directory are transitioned offline.
Finally, users who share PCs will benefit from per-user synchronization for Offline Files in Windows Vista. This will result in faster synchronization times than with Windows XP, in which Offline Files always attempts to synchronize all files in its cache, including files for other users.
The City of Miami plans to take advantage of the improved power management capabilities provided by Windows Vista, as a way to reduce electricity usage and costs. “The new power and performance options and Group Policy settings to manage power consumption in Windows Vista will give us the tools that we need to significantly reduce power usage,” says Sanchez. “For example, we’ll be able to take advantage of the operating system’s new Sleep power state, and can centrally define and push out power plan settings through Group Policy.”
Adds Osteen, “With the new PC hardware that’s available, Windows Vista will enable us to wake up computers to deploy updates and applications or take remote control of user PCs, even if they’re in Sleep mode. That capability will allow the City of Miami to keep computers in Sleep mode for more than 75 percent of the time.”
Through the operating system upgrade, the City of Miami will achieve several key benefits, a major one being the ability to keep the mainframe migration on schedule. For end users, the move will deliver increased ease of use, productivity, reliability, and security—especially for mobile users. For the city’s IT department, the benefits will include reduced IT effort and lower overall costs.
“Without Windows Vista, we would have had to delay our move from the mainframe—and thus our ability to begin realizing the associated $1 million in annual cost savings,” says Ely Greenspan, Systems Software Manager at the City of Miami. “The improvements that Windows Vista delivers in other areas—such as reliability, security, and ease of use—will all be very welcome too, helping us better execute our mission of delivering great, cost-effective IT services to both citizens and city employees.”
Greater Ease of Use
Osteen cites the speed with which users in the training room have adapted to Windows Vista as evidence of the operating system’s ease of use. “We’ve had Windows Vista in the training room for several months now, and we’ve had very few questions on how to use it,” he says. “I’ve experienced the same thing at home, in that I’ve given Windows Vista to both my wife and my son, and neither has had any questions.”
The ease of use provided by Windows Vista will make a difference to citizens who take advantage of the Elevate Miami technology learning program. “In 2000, 30 percent of Miami’s citizens were at or below the poverty level, and access to technology is one way to help lift them out of that situation,” says Osteen. “However, many of the people the program is designed to serve have very little experience with PCs. The ease with which Windows Vista helps people get things done on the computer and on the Web will enable the citizens of Miami to make the most of the technology that we’re making available.”
Increased User Productivity
City of Miami employees will benefit from increased productivity as they carry out their various responsibilities. “Many of the features that make Windows Vista easier to use than Windows XP also increase productivity,” says Sanchez. “The Instant Search feature in Windows Vista is especially useful, in that users can simply type a few letters and find exactly what they’re looking for, whether it is a Control Panel item, a Microsoft Office document, or an e-mail message.”
Productivity gains will be even greater for portable-PC users thanks to the many mobility-related improvements in Windows Vista. “We’re seeing more and more mobile users, so the ability of Windows Vista to switch smoothly between our wired network, 802.11 wireless networks, and our Verizon mobile broadband service is very useful,” says Osteen. “Other features such as Sync Center and improved mobile power management will also be greatly appreciated by mobile workers, especially high-level managers and executives who are always on the move.”
Improved Reliability and Availability
The city’s move to Windows Vista and a centralized storage model for user data will help improve reliability and availability, in that user data residing on the city’s storage area network will be backed up every day—and now can be restored much faster as well. “In the past, if a user’s PC hard drive failed, it could take two to three days to rebuild that person’s PC and restore his or her data from the mainframe,” says Osteen. “Moving forward, with user data in a centralized location, we’ll be able to replace the PC and get that same user back to work in less than one hour. Offline Files will also increase availability by providing users with access to their documents when the central servers are offline for maintenance.”
The improved reliability provided by Windows Vista itself also helps reduce user downtime. “Windows Vista is at least as reliable as Windows XP, if not more so,” says Osteen. “The operating system itself is just as stable, and the mechanisms that are built into the operating system to protect system files help keep it that way, even if users unintentionally do something that might otherwise destabilize the system. I’ve personally been running Windows Vista on my own work desktop for about nine months, and I haven’t experienced a single crash.”
||The new and improved power management features in Windows Vista will give us the tools that we need to reduce power usage by 70-plus percent. We expect to save $80,000 in power costs in the first year, with that number increasing to $190,000 by year four.
Network Administrator, City of Miami
With deployment of the latest operating sys-tem, the City of Miami is improving desktop security in several ways. “Enhanced security is another key reason that we’re deploying Windows Vista,” says Osteen. “Windows Vista includes Windows Defender, which gives us an additional layer of protection against spyware and other potentially malicious software. The fact that it’s built into the operating system and updated using Windows Update—the same mechanism that we use to help make sure the latest security updates are installed in a timely manner—means that we can benefit from the additional security provided by Windows Defender without additional complexity or IT effort.”
Osteen sees the Windows User Account Control feature in Windows Vista as another improvement over the city’s current means of protecting user PCs, in which users run Windows XP without administrative rights. User Account Control provides additional privileges so users can perform common tasks without administrative rights, such as changing the system clock and calendar, configuring Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) to connect to secure wireless networks, creating and configuring a virtual private network con-nection, changing display and power manage-ment settings, and adding printers or other devices when the required drivers are available.
“User Account Control provides a better way for us to lock down user PCs while still giving those users the freedom that they need to perform everyday tasks, making it easier for us to strike the right balance between addressing security concerns and maintaining end-user productivity,” says Osteen. “And with Windows Vista, we’ll also be able to lock down PCs in ways that we don’t do today, such as preventing users from installing their own USB devices. Many other features in Windows Vista help improve security as well, such as the more advanced Windows Firewall, new security-related Group Policy objects, and network location awareness.”
Reduced IT Effort
The City of Miami expects the improved reliability provided by Windows Vista to decrease the amount of end-user support required by more than 15 percent, thereby freeing IT resources to focus on other tasks. Moreover, the Windows Imaging (WIM) file format will enable the city to support its entire PC environment with fewer system images, thereby providing yet another way of reducing the IT department’s workload.
“Instead of maintaining eight to ten different system images, we’ll be able to get by with two or three and save at least a 60 percent in image support time,” says Sanchez. “Moving forward, we plan on looking at how we can take advantage of Microsoft offerings such as the Business Desktop Deployment tools to further optimize and automate the desktop deployment process.”
Significant Cost Savings
By moving to Windows Vista, the City of Miami will realize cost savings beyond the $1 million per year associated with its move from the mainframe, of which $27,000 per year will be directly attributable to the elimination of the mainframe-based backup system. For example, the ability to optimize PC power management is expected to yield a significant savings.
“The new and improved power management features in Windows Vista will give us the tools that we need to reduce power usage by 70-plus percent,” says Sanchez. “We expect to save $80,000 in power costs in the first year, with that number increasing to $190,000 by year four. Not only will this save us money, but it also will enable the city to do its part to reduce the impact on the environment—with the resulting power savings equivalent to a 355-ton reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the first year alone.
“We’ll also save money by reducing the amount of third-party software that we need,” Sanchez says. “For example, with the Snipping Tool in Windows Vista, which can meet the needs of most users, the city won’t need to acquire as many copies of a third-party screen shot utility. Similarly, the free PC imaging tools provided by Microsoft will eliminate the need for a third-party imaging utility.”
Part of a Broader Strategy
The city’s desktop operating system upgrade is just one element of its strategy to standardize on Microsoft software. “We can’t expect to be experts in all technologies, so we need to concentrate on those that make the most sense,” says Osteen. “And for us, that’s Microsoft software. One big advantage to our use of Microsoft software is the abundance of skilled IT resources and implementation partners. Another is security. Microsoft has made huge strides in the area of security over the past few years—and provides what we believe is one of the most secure options available today, with response times to new security threats that are some of the best in the industry.”
Just as important, the decision to standardize on Microsoft software provides assurance that the city will be able to meet its functionality needs. “No matter what we need to deliver, we know we can do it on Windows,” says Osteen. “For example, we’re migrating our mission-critical fire dispatch application to Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server® data management software, and are building our city’s Web portal on Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007. We’re also working with Microsoft Office PerformancePoint™ Server 2007 for business intelligence and plan to begin deploying BizTalk® Server and Office Communications Server in the first quarter of 2009.
“Given the benefits of desktop and server operating system standardization, there’s no other single vendor that can offer the broad range of options for meeting our needs that Microsoft can.”
Windows Vista can help your organization use information technology to gain a competitive advantage in today’s new world of work. Your people will be able to find and use information more effectively. You will be able to support your mobile work force with better access to shared data and collaboration tools. And your IT staff will have better tools and technologies to enhance corporate IT security, data protection, and more efficient deployment and management.
For more information about Windows Vista, go to:
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