Villanova University is committed to using the latest technologies to support its students, faculty, and staff. To ensure an optimal IT environment that is easy for its 16-member Technology Support Services team to manage, the university embarked on a campuswide upgrade to the Windows 7 Enterprise operating system. By using the 64-bit version of Windows 7, Villanova has boosted performance and eliminated memory limitations that affected productivity and reliability. It reduced its number of operating system images by 95 percent and cut the time needed to update images—from two days to two hours. IT staff now can repair corrupted computers by restoring rather than replacing images, which means that it can preserve student data and deliver a higher quality of service. IT also supports the university’s environmental initiatives by reducing power consumption.
Founded in 1842, Villanova University is a private higher education institution based in Villanova, Pennsylvania. More than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students attend its colleges of liberal arts and sciences, engineering, business, and nursing, and its school of law. The university, which earned a top ranking in U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges 2011, has been a pioneer in using IT to enhance learning.
“Information technology is a key part of the Villanova value proposition. We’re committed to providing students with the technology and services they need to achieve their academic potential,” says Matthew Morrissey, Director of Technology Support Services at Villanova University. Villanova began providing students with laptop computers in 1998. Today, in accordance with the Villanova required Laptop Program, the university gives a laptop computer to every incoming freshman and then replaces those devices with new computers when students become juniors.
The 16 workers in the Villanova Technology Support Services group support about 10,000 computers, nearly 7,000 of which are used by undergraduate and graduate students; the remaining ones are used by faculty, staff, and in campus labs. The IT group is augmented by about 25 students who are paid to work in the Villanova TechZone, a walk-in help-desk center. A majority of the university’s computers previously ran the 32-bit version of the Windows XP Professional operating system.Challenges with Reimaging Computers and Maintaining Images
“In 2009, more students started coming to the TechZone with problems stemming from malware [malicious software]. A lot of this was due to web use and online video consumption,” says Jill Morrison, Manager, Software Support Services at Villanova University. The IT staff attempted to clean the corrupted computers and repair any damage. If that wasn’t successful, IT had to reimage the devices. This took about a day, during which time students would potentially be without their computers. But downtime was not the biggest issue. The real problem was that reimaging a computer that is running Windows XP wipes out all the data because reimaging technologies for Windows XP replace every sector on the hard drive.
“Students place tremendous value on their digital lives and it’s not unusual for them for have about 100 gigabytes of data on their computers. Although the university backs up all faculty and staff data, we can’t provide backup services for all that student data—and students often don’t do their own backups,” says Morrison. “Our students were understandably upset when they discovered that the process of fixing their computers could delete all of their personal and academic information, and that they would have to recreate or reload all their documents, pictures, songs, and videos.”
Maintaining images for the many Villanova computers that ran Windows XP was time consuming. Windows XP uses hardware abstraction layer (HAL) technology, which enables the operating system to communicate directly with the hardware. However, this means that different computers require different images—and Villanova had about 35 computer models. “We did regular maintenance updates for all 35 images about every three months and had to do additional updates when there were issues that required fixes. Each round of updates took about two days to complete. Image maintenance consumed too much of our time,” says Morrison.Need for Higher-Performing Computers
In addition to continually refreshing student computers, Villanova replaces staff and faculty devices on a four-year cycle. Since 2009, Villanova has ensured that all its new computers come with 4 gigabytes (GB) of RAM. “We wanted to give students and employees powerful computing environments so that they could be as productive as possible. But because we were still using the 32-bit version of Windows XP—and 32-bit operating systems can only access 3.2 GB of RAM—people couldn’t take advantage of all the RAM. Students, in particular, were running into memory limitations that affected their ability to get work done and interfered with their digital lives,” says Rose Bandru, Project Manager, Technology Support Services at Villanova University.
Morrissey adds, “We needed a solution that would let everyone use the full power of their hardware. And because we knew that employees would need to keep their computers for at least four years, we wanted to future-proof the devices so that people wouldn’t have to wait for the next refresh cycle to use new technologies.”
||Windows 7 Enterprise met all our expectations. Now desktop management is much easier and we can provide a reliable, powerful computing environment that facilitates teaching and supports our students.
Director of Technology Support Services, Villanova University
Any solution that the university adopted also had to support its commitment to environmental responsibility. Villanova, which was recognized as an Overall College Sustainability Leader in the College Sustainability Report Card 2011, has extensive “green” initiatives. “IT needs to do everything we can to support our environmental policies and conserve resources,” Morrissey notes.
Villanova needed a way to improve computer image management, enhance productivity, and provide a high-performing, sustainable computing environment for students, staff, and faculty. Solution
In August 2009, the IT department began planning for the next year’s computer refresh projects and had to decide what operating system to install on the new devices. “Windows 7 was scheduled to be released in a few months and we thought that its improved performance and management capabilities could provide the solution we needed. We also were intrigued by security features such as User Account Control, BitLocker drive encryption, and AppLocker—all of which could help reduce the chances of malware being downloaded, control our application environment, and secure our data. The question was whether to upgrade to the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Enterprise for the next set of refreshes or stay with Windows XP for a while longer,” says Morrissey.
Preparations for the Upgrade
Although Villanova was eager to take advantage of the newer operating system and 64-bit architecture, the IT staff had to make sure that the university’s applications would run in Windows 7. In October 2009, it kicked off an application compatibility testing project for about 60 applications. Villanova used Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit to determine whether some applications would run in Windows 7 and also checked directly with vendors. Application owners tested their applications on new Dell Latitude and Dell OptiPlex computers running the 64-bit version of Windows 7. By December 2009, the university had completed the application compatibility testing. “The vast majority of applications—about 85 percent— worked without any problems in Windows 7. And we were able to easily remediate the few that didn’t,” says Morrissey.
The IT staff used Windows XP Mode in Windows 7 to run some older applications in a virtual Windows XP environment on Windows 7. “By using Windows XP Mode, we could bridge the gap until the vendors certified their software for Windows 7 or provided updates that would make the applications compatible with the operating system,” says Ben Alfonsi, Technical Support Manager, Technology Support Services at Villanova University.
After confirming that its applications could run on computers with Windows 7, Villanova finalized its decision to upgrade the operating system. “Our IT staff had been testing Windows 7 while the application compatibility project was going on, so by January 2010 we felt confident that we could move into production deployment as soon as we were ready,” says Alfonsi.
Before beginning its deployment, which was due to start in May 2010 to accommodate the academic and business calendars, Villanova needed to figure out how to migrate data for all full-time staff. “I had read an article in Windows IT Pro magazine about Windows Easy Transfer, which helps you move files, email, and settings stored on computers running Windows XP to new computers running Windows 7. Although it is often thought of as a solution for small businesses and home-based users, our evaluation of Windows Easy Transfer indicated that it would do an excellent job of moving data on an enterprise scale,” says Morrissey.Rollout to Staff, Students, and Faculty
In mid-May 2010, the university began moving Villanova staff to the 64-bit version of Windows 7 on new Dell computers. It supplied a gold image of Windows 7 to Dell, which installed it on the computers. Villanova then used Windows Easy Transfer to migrate the staff data. Using Windows Easy Transfer to move data with a USB flash drive was up to 95 percent faster than moving it over the network. “Instead of taking up to 12 hours to transfer 20 to 40 GB of data, it took only 30 to 60 minutes—and we retained the employees’ entire Active Directory profiles, all their email, and all their settings,” says Bandru. “By using Windows Easy Transfer to speed migrations, we were able to upgrade 1,000 staff to new computers running Windows 7 in just 45 days. It really helped us keep migration costs down and remain on schedule.”
Villanova IT members met with representatives of 45 university departments before deploying Windows 7 to each group, and then met with the university’s staff following the data migration to ensure that everything went smoothly. “The rollout gave us an opportunity to showcase our commitment to providing personal service and helped us build stronger relationships with Villanova staff,” notes Morrissey.
After the staff refresh was complete, Villanova repurposed about 900 of the older computers and distributed them—along with a 32-bit version of Windows 7—for use in campus labs and departments. The university began upgrading Villanova faculty laptops, which had been replaced during a 2009 refresh project, to Windows 7 in September 2010.
From May 2010 through August 2010, Villanova installed 3,265 Dell Latitude laptop computers with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 for all students who would be freshmen and juniors when the new school year began. When sophomore and senior students returned for the fall 2010 semester, the university also offered to upgrade their computers to Windows 7. “More than 2,500 students took us up on our offer. They were eager to take advantage of the innovative user interface and great performance of Windows 7,” says Morrissey.
By January 2011, Villanova had upgraded 80 percent of its approximately 7,000 undergraduate student computers. The university expects to complete its rollout of Windows 7 Enterprise on its approximately 10,000 campuswide computers by August 2011.Benefits
Villanova University now uses Windows 7 to deliver a high-performing, energy-efficient computing environment. The IT staff drastically has reduced the number of computer images it needs to maintain and the amount of time required for image updates, and can restore corrupted images while keeping all student data intact.
“Windows 7 met all our expectations. Now desktop management is much easier and we can provide a reliable, powerful computing environment that facilitates teaching and supports our students,” says Morrissey. Boosted Performance and Productivity, Improved Power Management
By using the 64-bit version of Windows 7, Villanova eliminates the memory barrier that previously affected computer performance. “Now our students, faculty, and staff can take full advantage of their computers’ power. They don’t have to worry that running too many applications or videos will slow or even hang their computers. We don’t have issues with blue screens or applications freezing anymore. Not only can our users work more productively, but IT can more easily troubleshoot because we’re no longer in danger of taking a performance hit if we have too many windows open while we’re addressing problems,” says Bandru. “Windows 7 also starts very fast, which means users can get up and running quickly. And its intuitive user interface makes it very easy for students, faculty, and staff to navigate.”
||Because we reduced our image count by 95 percent, we were able to speed our update process. Instead of taking two days to update all our images, it takes no more than two hours.
Director of Technology Support Services, Villanova University
Because its Windows 7 implementation can support so much more memory than its previous 32-bit version of Windows XP, Villanova is better prepared for the future. “With Windows 7, now we can use 4 GB and even add more RAM to our computers if needed. We feel much more confident knowing that our computers will be able to handle whatever workloads our students, faculty, and staff require for many years to come,” says Morrissey.
Villanova also is better able to support its environmental initiatives. “Thanks to Windows 7, we can reduce our power consumption. Windows 7 has great power management tools. Its Sleep and Resume feature is incredibly efficient and by customizing the power saver settings, we’re able to maximize efficiencies,” says Alfonsi. Consolidates Number of Images by 95 Percent, Cut Image Update Time by 87 Percent
With Windows 7, Villanova can install the same Windows 7 image on different computer models. “Whereas in the past we maintained 35 images for 35 models, today we maintain just two images for twelve models: one image is for the 32-bit version of Windows 7, the other is for the 64-bit version of Windows 7. Because we reduced our image count by 95 percent, we were able to speed our update process. Instead of taking two days to update all our images, it takes no more than two hours. And if we add new models to our computer fleet, we won’t have to create new images. The same Windows 7 image can run on any computer,” says Morrissey.
Villanova has not had to perform any image updates to address security risks since it began using Windows 7. “Windows 7 has very strong security features. We’ve only had to do one image update so far and that was for regular maintenance. We’re saving a tremendous amount of time,” Alfonsi says.
Easily Restored Images, Preserved Student Data
Villanova IT staff now can fix corrupted student computers without deleting their data. “Windows 7 is architected in a way that allows us to do file-based imaging instead of sector-based imaging. This is really important. With Windows 7, we can restore an image rather than replace it and keep all the files and data intact. Now we can repair students’ computers while preserving their digital lives. Needless to say, our students are much more satisfied with Villanova TechZone services,” says Alfonsi.
To help reduce the chances of malware affecting computers and to enhance security, Villanova is investigating the use of Windows 7 features such as User Account Control, BitLocker drive encryption, and AppLocker. “With the great security enhancements in Windows 7, we can make our computing environment more reliable and ensure that it conforms with university and industry policies,” Morrissey notes.Windows 7
Works the way you want: Windows 7 will help your organization use information technology to gain a competitive advantage in today’s new world of work. Your people will be able to be more productive anywhere. You will be able to support your mobile workforce with better access to shared data and collaboration tools. And your IT staff will have better tools and technologies for enhanced corporate IT security and data protection, and more efficient deployment and management
For more information about Windows 7, go to:For More Information
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