Qualcomm is as dedicated to providing advanced technologies to its work force as it is to developing innovative technologies for the wireless telecommunications industry. To ensure that employees have an optimal IT environment, the Fortune 500 company is upgrading more than 20,000 desktop and portable computers to the Windows 7 operating system and implementing Microsoft Application Virtualization enterprisewide. With Windows 7 already installed on approximately 7,800 computers, the IT staff is seeing a dramatic increase in user satisfaction stemming from interface and mobility enhancements. Qualcomm is improving the performance and security of its computers and expects to speed application deployment by more than 80 percent—all of which will decrease help-desk calls and infrastructure costs, potentially saving the company millions of dollars.
Qualcomm is the world leader in next-generation mobile technologies. For 25 years, Qualcomm ideas and inventions have driven the evolution of wireless communications, connecting people more closely to information, entertainment, and one another. Today, Qualcomm technologies are powering the convergence of mobile communications and consumer electronics, making wireless devices and services more personal, affordable, and accessible to people everywhere. The company was named one of the “Most Innovative Companies in 2010” by Fast Company and ranked ninth on the FORTUNE “100 Best Places to Work For” list in 2010.
“Our success depends upon providing talented people with the tools they need to do great work,” says David Hewett, Director of IT for Qualcomm. One of these tools was the Windows XP operating system. An early adopter of the product, Qualcomm began using Windows XP when it was released in 2001. The company chose the 32-bit version of the operating system because it had much more vendor and driver support than the 64-bit version. Qualcomm was pleased with much of its functionality, but as the years went by, Qualcomm employees’ needs for high performance, increased security, and easier mobility outgrew the capabilities of the 32-bit operating system.Performance, Security, and Usability Issues
Many of the core applications that Qualcomm employees use are resource-intensive and put a lot of demand on system memory. A 32-bit operating system can only address 3.6 gigabytes (GB) of random access memory (RAM). For Qualcomm, this meant that when applications opened and began competing with the operating system for memory, their response times often slowed considerably. “This was a big issue for engineers, who make up the majority of our user base. When performance became a problem, we’d move the application off the desktop and onto our server infrastructure, which could better handle the memory requirements. Or we’d provide each of the affected users with two computers so that they didn’t run up against RAM limits: one would run office productivity applications and the other would run key engineering line-of-business applications,” says Hewett. While these actions solved the performance issue, adding servers to handle the increase in applications and providing users with a second desktop computer became expensive.
Like most companies, Qualcomm also encountered security challenges. The company had to grant certain elevated privileges so that employees could effectively use their applications. “Employees had little visibility into what would actually be installed, so they couldn’t make informed decisions about whether to proceed with downloads that might corrupt their computers,” Hewett says. “The problem was exacerbated by the nature of 32-bit operating systems which, because they have relatively large attack vectors, are prone to virus outbreaks.”
Usability was also an issue, particularly for the approximately 75 percent of Qualcomm employees who have portable computers. “These employees are heavy users of docking stations and they experienced rather significant docking-related problems with Windows XP,” says Michael Doose, IT Architect at Qualcomm and Technical Project Lead for the Windows 7 rollout. “Sometimes profiles and settings got mangled. Other times, the devices simply didn’t work when users snapped them in the stations. As you can imagine, it was a huge headache for employees and consumed a lot of our help-desk staff’s time.”
Mobile users experienced similar problems when they tried connecting their computers to projectors in Qualcomm conference rooms. According to Doose, “Employees were always struggling with the equipment, trying to make sure that their laptops synchronized with the projectors, that the projected image had the correct resolution, and that the devices didn’t go into power-saving modes in the middle of presentations.”Lengthy Application Deployment
Issues also arose concerning application deployment. IT staff did extensive testing to mitigate application-to-application compatibility problems. As a result, it took an average of 30 days from request to delivery. “The ticket queue for new application requests could grow quite large. Users had to be very patient when they couldn’t get software as quickly as they wanted,” says Stephen Dula, IT Staff Engineer at Qualcomm. “Because of the backlog, IT staff also couldn’t process as many application updates as we would have liked. Hiring more staff members to devote to deployment projects could have eased that burden, but expanding our work force wasn’t an option.”
User frustration did not always end when they received the applications. Qualcomm has a highly complex desktop computing environment. With more than 20,000 computers comprising several hardware manufacturers and thousands of different applications—resulting in countless configuration permutations—it was impossible to test for every scenario. “Users continually ran into problems when applications that we had tested conflicted with existing software on their computers,” says Dula. When that happened, IT support staff had to take possession of the employee’s computer to troubleshoot the problem. That could easily take hours, during which time users wouldn’t have use of their computers.
Fixing the computer issues was expensive. “When you consider that, according to industry analysts, the average desk-side visit costs about $250 in labor, and that we might do thousands of those visits a year, the costs added up quickly,” says Hewett.
Qualcomm needed a way to alleviate the usability, security, and performance issues and make application deployment faster and more cost-effective.Solution
The need to resolve its challenges spurred the IT department to embark on what Qualcomm called the “Next-Generation Desktop,” which would entail a complete refresh of the desktop computing environment to the Windows 7 Enterprise operating system, including upgrading to 64-bit hardware, adding several gigabytes of random access memory, and converting to solid state disks (SSDs) to help enhance performance and reliability. “Being an innovative company not only means developing advanced technology for the marketplace, but also pushing the boundaries of technology for our employees,” says Hewett.
||Using Windows 7, we can provide the next-generation desktop platform that our employees need to drive innovation—a high-performance, secure, and agile environment that is extremely easy to use.
Director of IT, Qualcomm
“We were privy to the Windows 7 Enterprise roadmap and felt that the product would provide the capabilities that our environment required and make life much easier for our employees and IT staff,” Hewett adds. For instance, Qualcomm believed that employees would benefit from usability features such as Snap, Windows Search, and the enhanced Windows Taskbar. IT staff also wanted to employ the User Account Control feature, which notifies users before changes that require administrator-level rights are made to their computers and asks for permission to implement them.
“The User Account Control feature in Windows 7 is much more granular and flexible than it was previously, with fewer Windows 7–based programs and tasks requiring user consent in order to run,” Hewett explains. “This makes it a compelling solution for enhancing security and cutting virus-related downtime.”
Qualcomm kicked off its next-generation desktop initiative in January 2009, when it began evaluating Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 Beta 1 for rolling out the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Enterprise. In April 2009, the company started by testing the Windows Internet Explorer 8 Internet browser, and then in June 2009 began a carefully structured Windows 7 implementation.
“We created eight subprojects so that we could thoroughly evaluate the many aspects related to the implementation,” says Doose. Qualcomm divided IT staff into separate groups for imaging, security, marketing and training, hardware, mobility, the Active Directory service, printing infrastructure, and application compatibility.
The Application Compatibility process, in particular, was rigorous. By using information gathered with Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit and generating additional reports about applications throughout the company, Qualcomm identified more than 7,000 distinct applications for further evaluation, categorization, and prioritization.
“The Application Compatibility Toolkit was extremely important in giving us a foundation for determining whether these applications would run on Windows 7,” says Dula. “We could see if other companies had already tested the applications and, if they did, then we didn’t have to test them ourselves. Considering that testing one application could take several hours, the entire process could have been massive.”
“I can’t emphasize enough how essential Application Compatibility Toolkit is to a large-scale rollout of Windows 7,” Hewett adds. “Not only was it a timesaver for Qualcomm, it gave us an extra layer of confidence that was invaluable for such a business-critical deployment.”
To document and share the information with the company, Qualcomm IT staff created a Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 site to aggregate the 7,000-plus applications. All the testing results were collected using a survey that queried application owners about the results of the tests that they conducted and the respective Windows 7 compatibility status. In the event that there was no desktop solution for a particular application, the site provided guidance for Qualcomm employees—such as, “Available via Remote Desktop Services,” “Request a Windows XP virtual machine,” or “No solution at this time.” Additionally, Qualcomm created a website that compared the SharePoint Server 2010 data against the local computer’s installed applications. This gave employees the opportunity to quickly check whether their systems were 64-bit capable, the current compatibility status of their installed applications, and guidance on what to do with flagged applications when upgrading to Windows 7.
In September 2009, Qualcomm began using the publicly available version of the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 to deliver Windows 7 Beta to 50 pilot users. It extended the rollout to 150 more users in December 2009, when Windows 7 was released. IT staff spent the next six months focused on the implementation, which included many subprojects to address infrastructure changes needed to support the Windows 7 64-bit rollout.
Qualcomm went live with its next-generation desktop in June 2010. All newly purchased desktop and notebook computers—as well as devices that technicians determine should be upgraded during break/fix servicing—have 64-bit hardware and the 64-bit version of Windows 7. SSDs are part of the standard platform for notebook computers. As of October 2010, Qualcomm has installed Windows 7 on more than 7,800 computers. The company expects that most of its 20,000-plus computer fleet will be moved to Windows 7 by the end of 2012.
Qualcomm uses Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 to deliver traditionally installed applications and plans to begin testing its Operating System Deployment feature by February 2011. “Because the infrastructure is in place and we are so familiar with it, it makes sense to use System Center Configuration Manager instead of Microsoft Deployment Toolkit as we roll out Windows 7 to large groups of users. In addition to using System Center Configuration Manager to push updates, we’re considering empowering employees with self-service capabilities so that they can install the desktop image themselves,” Doose says.
The company also decided to use Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V). “We tested App-V in 2008 and knew that it could help us simplify and lower the cost of deploying and supporting applications. However, we held off on implementing App-V enterprisewide because we wanted to wait until it was integrated with System Center Configuration Manager,” says Dula. When a newer version of App-V was released in February 2010 with support for both System Center Configuration Manager and 64-bit operating systems, Qualcomm decided to include the product in its next-generation desktop platform. In September 2010, IT staff deployed the App-V client to all Qualcomm desktop and notebook computers. The IT staff is now offering virtual applications as an alternative to traditionally installed applications.
Dula notes, “Although it’s too soon to predict how many applications we’ll virtualize, we expect App-V will become our preferred tool for packaging applications, particularly when users need fast turnaround. And we’re excited about the efficiencies that we’ll gain from using the same System Center Configuration Manager infrastructure and methodology to distribute virtual applications and operating system images.” Benefits
Qualcomm is using Windows 7 Enterprise and Microsoft Application Virtualization to improve the usability, performance, and security of its desktop computing environment, while optimizing application deployment. The company expects that this will result in a marked decrease in help-desk calls and IT costs.
“Using Windows 7, we can provide the next-generation desktop platform that our employees need to drive innovation—a high-performance, secure, and agile environment that is extremely easy to use,” says Hewett.Boosted Usability and Performance
Qualcomm employees who have Windows 7 installed on their computers have seen a significant improvement in usability. “The docking station issues simply don’t exist with Windows 7. This is an enormous relief for our mobile users,” says Hewett. “Windows 7 is aware that the equipment that the laptop computers are snapped into are docking stations, and handles hardware layers much more seamlessly.”
Connecting to conference room projectors is hassle-free with Windows 7. “All we have to do is press the Windows logo and “P” keys on the keyboard, and choose whether to duplicate the desktop image or display it only on the external projector. Employees don’t have to worry about resolution issues. Everything appears exactly as it should,” Hewett notes. “This is just one of many tricks that Windows 7 provides users to make life easier.”
Other usability features of Windows 7 that Qualcomm employees have found particularly beneficial include Snap, which makes it possible to view documents in different windows side by side; the enhanced Windows Taskbar, to which employees can append applications for easy access; and Windows Search. “The richness of the results obtained from Windows Search is especially useful. For instance, if I want to change the screen resolution, I just type “resolution” to access that capability. And the integration with Microsoft Outlook is superb, making it very easy to search through email messages,” Hewett says.
“The usability enhancements in Windows 7 have boosted employee satisfaction. User acceptance has been phenomenal,” adds Doose.
Hewett notes that it has been easy for employees to adapt to using Windows 7. “When you deploy a new operating system, you might expect help-desk calls to rise. But even after more than 7,800 installations of Windows 7, we have not seen an increase in call volume,” says Hewett. “The deployment has been surprisingly painless, not only because Windows 7 is more stable but also because our application compatibility process resolved many issues before users were upgraded.”
The performance of Qualcomm computers also improved significantly. According to Doose, “By using the 64-bit version of Windows 7 on 64-bit computers, we eliminate the 3.6-GB RAM cap that 32-bit operating systems impose and increase performance of our standard desktop computing platform. Even the most demanding user can run all required applications on one computer without any effect on response times.”Enhanced Security
Qualcomm computers with Windows 7 enjoy enhanced security. “Windows 7 helps us increase the level of protection on employee computers by reducing the attack vector and making it much more difficult for viruses to corrupt the systems,” Hewett says.
With User Account Control, Qualcomm can reduce the extent of administrator rights that it grants and give employees visibility into what may be installed on their computers. Software can now be flagged as requiring user permission, and this helps to reduce the amount of malicious software (malware) on Qualcomm computers. “User Account Control makes employees much more aware of what can happen to their computers when they download software,” Doose says.
||By using App-V, we’ll be able to shrink the entire application deployment time frame—from request through delivery—by more than 80 percent, from 30 days to just five days.
IT Staff Engineer, Qualcomm
With Windows 7, it is much harder for malware that does get downloaded to execute attacks. “Windows 7 utilizes address space layout randomization, which randomly arranges the position of key data areas. This helps obscure memory addresses from viruses,” Doose explains. Accelerated Application Deployment by More Than 80 Percent
Qualcomm expects that IT staff will deliver applications to employees much more quickly. “By using App-V, we’ll be able to shrink the entire application deployment time frame—from request through delivery—by more than 80 percent, from 30 days to just five days,” Dula says.
By using App-V, Qualcomm will no longer need to conduct extensive application-to-application compatibility testing. “We’ll come close to completely eliminating the question of whether applications will be able to run on employee computers without causing problems. Virtual applications can run on any computer, regardless of how it’s configured,” explains Dula. “Not only will the fast deployment turnaround help us handle requests for new applications more efficiently, it will enable us to deliver application updates more frequently.”Reduced Help-Desk Burden, IT Costs
Qualcomm anticipates that help-desk calls and related costs will go down when virtual applications become the norm. “Because virtual applications don’t conflict with any applications—whether virtual or installed—employees won’t run into nearly as many problems. And if application-related issues do arise, they will be less expensive to fix,” Dula says. “IT staff will not need to visit or take possession of employee computers to troubleshoot issues and re-image computers. With App-V, IT staff can just remotely access the computer, delete the virtual application from cache in seconds, and then refresh it.” Based on the $250 industry standard cost of an average desk-side visit, and considering the thousands of computers that Qualcomm IT staff support, Qualcomm expects the savings to be significant, reaching into the millions of dollars.
“The agility, desktop computer stability, and cost efficiencies that we’ll gain from using App-V will have a tremendously positive effect on IT staff and users,” adds Dula. “Employees won’t have to wait hours for their computers to be updated or application issues to be resolved.”
Using Windows 7 can also affect IT costs. Because of enhanced security, Qualcomm IT staff will not have to spend so much time reimaging corrupted computers. And because employees can run resource-intensive applications on Windows 7 without performance degradation, Qualcomm will not have to depend as much on its server infrastructure—potentially reducing the number of server computers—or provide users with a second computer to run resource-intensive applications. “We expect to see a substantial reduction in secondary hardware and server computers,” concludes Hewett.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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